Jan. 27th, 2010

argos: (snowy argos)
It's snowing again. Maybe an inch, they say. The odd thing is it's really cold. Normally we get snow here when temperatures are hovering within a few degrees of freezing, and it stops and just blows around once we get down below 20°F. Not this time, though.

Spin spin spin. Yak down. Yak yuk yuk. Actually, the first time I tried spinning yak I was far from impressed. It looked like dryer lint and smelled like belly button lint from a gorilla who needed a bath. And it was full of dust, on top of everything else.

The second time came after I'd figured out, with considerable effort, how to spin cotton. Cotton and yak share a characteristic: the fibers are quite short, well under an inch and generally close to a half inch (one cm. or so.) This means that everything you learned from spinning wool and flax has to be forgotten and you start over from the beginning. The methods that work with these short fibers are both counter-intuitive and in fact usually won't work with ordinary wool or flax. Using what I'd learned from cotton, I could spin the yak down. It was kind of lumpy looking, and the color was about the same as dog poo, but at least that sample didn't smell like dog poo (or much of anything else.) Still, I wasn't excited about yaks.

In October last year, our spinning study group decided to re-approach cotton. It seems that when we tried it the first time, I was the only one who got lucky and actually developed some proficiency with it. Everyone else sort of got it to work but thought it wasn't worth the bother. Now another member has broken the barrier (by using the same tool I did, the book charkha) and there's new interest.

In the two years since our first attempt, though, I've spun a mile or two of cotton thread. I wanted a different challenge, but one that would apply what I learned from cotton. So... Yakkity yak yak. Fortunately, The Fold has several kinds of yak now. One of them is a natural silvery gray and quite pretty. I thought yaks were only brown or sort of dirty white beige, but I was wrong. I got some gray yak down, and tried it on the charkha. Easy enough, it seemed. So I moved to the spinning wheel.

Like cotton, yak requires a different approach to the wheel. You increase the twist speed up to the maximum or nearly so, and back off the yarn tension as far as you can take it and still get the yarn to wind on when it's ready. And like cotton, yak falls apart if you misstep. As it turned out, I had few mishaps. I found I could use my cotton skills and make a fine, consistent thread. No carding or combing needed, because this yak is clean and fluffy. Just grab a pawful and spin it. Two bobbins now sufficiently filled, all I need to do is ply them together tonight and I'll have about a hundred yards or so of laceweight. By the time I get all four ounces of fluff spun, I'll have easily enough to make a nice scarf or shawl if I knit a lacy pattern. It feels almost as soft as cashmere and just as light. Since yaks are high altitude cold weather beasts, I suspect it will be warm in spite of the light weight.

Conclusion: All yaks are not yuck, but some are yuckier than others.


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