Glorious Hairball

So last blog post I said that plying all my little yarn turtles together into a 2-ply lace weight was either going to be glorious or a total hairball.  As it turned out: both, actually.

I had an intimation that there was going to be trouble because I am one of those people who is absolutely incapable of reaching into the center of a center-pull ball and coming out with a single strand.  My center-pull balls are invariably gutted, spewing forth a wad of yarn at least half the size of the original ball, which may (or may not) contain that elusive free end.  Before I’m done there is yarn spread all over the room and I may (or may not) be restraining myself from cursing.

So while the logical side of my brain was saying “Turkish spindle, center-pull ball, no winding off before plying, this is gonna be great!” my intuition was saying “uh-oh.”

I started the way one usually would with a center-pull ball.  I reached into the top of my little yarn turtle with a wee hook and started fishing around for the free end.  The first two balls gave up the free end relatively easily, lulling me into a false sense of security…

(Note: when plying fine silk, do not let one of the singles fall into this crease at your knuckle, it hurts!)

Hand position

The third and subsequent balls, however, were not so cooperative.

Now, when a ball of commercial sock yarn turns itself inside out.  It’s a mess, but not a disaster.  The yarn is nice and balanced and needs a bit of winding up before you begin weaving or knitting, but it’s not the end of the world.

Overspun silk and cashmere singles?  Where not only does the yarn, off tension, immediately curl itself up into eensy weensy beehives…but the short-stapled cashmere reaches across the singles and twists together creating “handcuffs” that weld the beehives together.

It was not pretty.


The picture above does not tell the full story.  Imagine me, standing in my kitchen, tensioning an ever-elongating snarl of yarn with my left foot, right knee, both elbows, ten fingers, and my mouth.

There is no picture of that because these things always happen to me late at night when the whole house is asleep.  And really, would you wake your husband up in the middle of the night to take a picture of you half-strangled by yarn?

Things working in my favor at this point?

  1. I am one of those folks who considers untangling knots a fun intellectual challenge.
  2. I’d just spent six weeks spinning these damn singles, they’re hand-painted cashmere and silk, and failure was not an option.
  3. A book on tape was playing in the background, House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones (who also wrote Howl’s Moving Castle.)  The narrator had a very soothing voice which was a big help at crucial moments.

After untangling about 100 yards of snarl, and suffering only two yarn breaks along the way (overspun silk and cashmere is surprisingly strong, I was amazed at the abrasion and tension the singles could handle) I decided THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY.

And then I had what I can only describe as a “duh” moment.  And made an amazing discovery.  Are you ready for this?  I turned the yarn turtle over.

See, when you reach in from the top of the cop (yarn turtle) that you’ve just spun on your Turkish spindle, you have to dig all the way to the bottom to find that free end.  And then you have to drag it up through all the layers you wrapped on top of that free end while you were spinning.

When you turn the yarn turtle over, the free end is right there.  And best of all, it’s not covered with any layers it has to drag through.  It’s like the top of a cone of yarn, or a weaving pirn.  It just pulls the heck off with NO TANGLING OR SNARLING WHATSOEVER.  You have to keep it under tension with your hand, to keep it from plying back on itself, but you don’t have to worry about it tangling with the other layers of yarn.

From the Bottom

I finished plying all the rest of the yarn turtles with no further tangling issues whatsoever.  The bottom of the turtle poofed up a bit during plying (like a cone) but because it was feeding from the top layers, there was no friction with other layers and no snarls.

Mama Turtle

I swear, standing there in my kitchen in the middle of the night, I felt like I’d discovered fire.  I was simultaneously hit with the feeling that (a) I was a genius and (b) the absolute certainty that if I took this discovery to Judith MacKenzie McCuin she would smile kindly, pat my shoulder, and say, “Of course Syne, everyone knows that.”

I’m 100% sure all spinners in Turkey know this.  What I don’t know is whether this is common knowledge with the spinners over here.

So tell me, if you use a Turkish spindle, did you know about the whole ply-from-the-bottom thing?  Am I the only one who missed the memo?

In any event, the payoff is below.  330 yards of 2-ply lace weight spun at 2640 ypp.


It is soft, lustrous, and has a wonderful play of colors that this photo just can’t do justice.  I am totally smitten.  And I have no idea what to do with it.  Ideas percolating in my head currently are:

  • Weave huck-lace.  (I’d love to see the silk shine in the floats.)
  • Knit a Faroese shawl. (I doubt I have enough yarn.  Right, knitters?)
  • Put it in the stash and wait until the perfect project presents itself. (This works more often than I’d believe possible.)
  • Buy more of the hand painted top and make a bigger project.  (Trying hard to resist this last, because I want to spin from my stash this year.)

Any other suggestions?

Please share your thoughts: I enjoy your comments and feedback!