In Defense of Default Yarn

Default yarn has been getting a bad rap these days. When people talk or write about it, there is often a disparaging tone. I’m guilty of this. In the promotion for my class, Be the Boss of Your Yarn, I ask people if they are tired of making default yarn, and further imply that making default yarn is part of being in a rut.

I’m writing today to redeem default yarn. So let’s start by taking a closer look at what default yarn is.

Default yarn is the yarn that we make by routine. It is the yarn we make when we sit down at our wheel and simply spin. Making this yarn brings us to our spinning zone, relaxes us and gives us great pleasure.

When we make default yarn, we are often using one or more of the following:

    • our favourite fibres and fibre preparations,
    • our most preferred whorl or spindle,
    • treadling rhythms that feel the best,
    • and/or the drafting techniques we are most comfortable with.

2015-09-04 13.12.37It is important to note that default yarn is different for everyone. I know this because of all the spinners I work with in the classes I teach.

For me, it is the yarn I make when I am approaching a new fibre or fibre prep. I simply want to see what it does. So default yarn in many ways is my baseline. My default yarn is a two-ply yarn, usually spun using my largest whorl (6:1), the short forward draw, treadling about twice per draft, with a very gentle uptake. After a minute or two, I let it twist back on itself to see if I’m liking the twist angle and the thickness of the yarn. And from there I start tinkering. From the look of this wee sample, I may change whorls, increase the uptake, change my drafting technique, draft more or fewer fibres, or abandon the project altogether.

When I made the yarn for the Lupin Forest mittens, I was thinking mostly about colour and how to get the most out of it. For that project, I spun my standard default yarn. For the next project that came from that experiment, I changed my drafting technique and came up with a different kind of yarn. (The blog post for this project is on its way.)

Default yarn gets a bad rap when that is the only yarn you know how or are willing to make. So I’ve developed a way to draw attention to this and to help spinners come up with strategies to make different yarn.

In my class, Be the Boss of Your Yarn, we start the day out by making our two-ply default yarn using two colours so we can more clearly see the yarn. Then we make four samples of two-ply yarn using the same two colours, first with high twist singles and high twist plying. Then, high twist singles with low twist plying. The third sample is low twist singles with high twist plying, and the final one is low twist singles with low twist plying. These are all exaggerations, but from this exercise, we can start to better understand some of the elements of our default yarn. From knowing where we start, we are in a position to know much better what it is we need to change to get away from the default.

2016-06-20 11.30.29Here is what the sample cards from the first exercise look like. We lay them all out and chat about what we are seeing in our yarn and in other yarns. It is an ah-ha! moment for many students as they for the first time, start to understand what they are doing to make default yarn. Knowledge is power.

So don’t despair or worry about your default yarn. Embrace it. But also, try to understand it so you can do it more intentionally. And when you want to make a different yarn, you are in a better position to know which elements you need to alter.

Happy spinning.

One thought on “In Defense of Default Yarn

  1. Elena Dent

    I like to spin fine, even, consistent yarn. I often don’t know what I’ll do with it – so if it’s the same grist I can stash dive and see what colors appeal to me. I may decide to knit, but sometimes I’ll weave and I don’t want to weave a hand spun bathmat! If I need a thicker yarn I can always ply the yarn on itself again.

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