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Wool Cake for Beginner Spinners

Handpainted rovings are seductive. Plain and simple. I know I am not alone when it comes to purchasing a handpainted braid or two with complete disregard to breed, staple length, etc. Sometimes my purchases are based solely on the yearning to work with the bewitching colours before me. But unlike newer spinners, I have enough experience under my belt to decide after the fact how to best prepare and spin the fibre.

It is hard when you are first learning to spin to keep the wheel treadling in the same direction, have just the right amount of tension on the brake band to draw the freshly spun strand onto the bobbin, keep the twist forward of the forward hand (worsted forward draft) and learn how to draft. Add to this list of challenges several yards of a beautifully prepared combed roving or top and most newer spinners are more likely than not to end up with a very thick rope of twisted roving. Twist likes to travel along a straight line after all and can slip past a new spinner’s fingers and into the fibre supply in the blink of an eye. And if the twist works its way down the length of fibre a few feet deep, it becomes nearly impossible to draft.

One of the things that can help with this dilemma is to make what I call a Wool Cake. With the help of one handcard you can reorganize the fibre into a preparation that is a bit easier to manage when you are new to spinning.

  1. Open up the first foot of the handpainted roving width-wise.
  2. Pull off a shorter length of roving from the “mother” braid.
  3. Lightly load some fibre onto the handcard. You are aiming for a thin veil of evenly loaded fibre.
  4. Lift the fringe slightly.
  5. With palms facing, bring your hands together on either side of the fringe and lift the small batt of fibre from the carding cloth.
  6. Set the small batt aside. Take note of the direction of the fibre alignment.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 three more times. Lay each batt on top of the other with the fibres aligned perpendicular to those in the batt below.
  8. Sweet! Now you have a Wool Cake which will feed both your desire to spin and your wheel.
  9. Gently pick the cake up with your fibre source hand and spin from one of the corners. While the forward hand manages the twist, the fibre source hand’s job will be to gently cradle the fibre prep.

The “icing” on this Wool Cake/fibre prep is how it helps newer spinners:

  • you don’t need to card the fibre which can also be a challenge when you don’t have the experience to prepare carded rolags and roving without neps, knots and noils.
  • you quickly realize that loading/charging fibre onto the hand card requires a light grip or the fibre will simply be brushed through the teeth and not be given up to the card. As you spin, the fibre source hand must also have a light grip or the fibre cannot be drafted/pulled from your hand.
  • the individual fibres in the preparation outlined above sit in disarray. They are jumbled, as opposed to in parallel formation. This makes it more difficult for the twist to jump too far past a new spinner’s “pinching” hand.
  • it is easier to actually see the fibres drafting from the fibre hand
  • if the twist does make its way past the pinching hand it is a bit easier to get the twist back under control and continue on with spinning.

After the newer spinner gets a feel for controlling twist and drafting fibre, they will of course move on to spinning from other fibre preps. A Wool Cake is just a spring board for their dive into the world of fibre. Enjoy!

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