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Wet Fingers & Flax Drafting


Wetting my forward hand while the back hand holds onto the point of twist.




Only using my back hand to direct/funnel the fibers to my wet forward hand 



Bringing the twist up the fibers, wetting them at the point of twist.


Q: I watched the Cotton, Silk, and Flax dvd. It was very interesting and helpful. When you were here, you taught me to use one hand for drafting the flax but in the video you use both hands. Did you discover that it was better with one hand? If so, why?

A: Yes, I have learned a great deal more about flax since the video was created. I find I prefer my yarns that have been spun with much wetter hands and more twist than I was using at that time of the DVD.  I try to keep my wet forward hand on the point of twist, (that place where the twist ends and unspun fiber begins), so that I can finger in as many fibers as possible. Wet-spinning the extra twist makes the yarn shinier and less apt to get fuzzy as a finished piece.

This is not the only choice, I have watched other spinners who prefer to alternate their wet hands. However, once the fibers in the drafting zone become wet it is harder to see and guage exactly what is happening. And damp fibers are harder to re-open if that section that has too many or too few fibers.

Here is the sequence, when I wet-spin flax First I need a towel on my lap and perhaps under my extended legs as I drip water everywhere.
  1. Staying out away from the orifice, I hold the point of twist with my back hand while I wet my finger and thumb of my front hand.
  2. Then I replace my wet hfingers on the point of twist and move back into the drafting mode. The back hand lightly funnels the fibers, but the distaff is actually holding the flax.
  3. Then when my fingers are still damp but no longer wet, I re-place my backhand on the point of twist while I reach forward and wet my front finger and thumb.
It is rather seamless now that I have repeated it so often. I usually continue to treadle while exchanging hands and wetting my fingers.  I also wet my fingers when I am plying. During plying I keep my wet front index finger between the plys and my thumb and middle finger on each side. Since the back hand is tensioning the two plys, I rewet my front hand when I have brought the twist all the way back on the tensioned plys and while I am moving the plied yarn into the orifice.  Although I prefer wet-spun yarn, it is easier for new students to start spinning flax with dry fiber so you could see the drafting process and guage how much twist is needed, before beginning to wet-spin flax.
PatsyZ

What type of dye do you use?

Q. What type of dye do you use? I have Procion fiber reactive dyes that I use for another purpose, and the instructions say they can be used with wool. I dyed two batches and it seemed to come out okay, but on the various spinning sites I've visited I have seen no mention of Procion dyes.

A: I use both fiber reactive and acid dyes for my wools. The difference seems to be that if you use the correct amounts of dye, vinegar and heat, the acid dyes can actually exhaust the dye pot so that all of the dye bonds to the fibers. Then the dye pot water will be almost clear.

However, you can't use acid dyes with any plant fiber, like cotton, flax, hemp or ramie, so I keep both kinds of dyes. If I am traveling and need to dye both animal and plant fibers in the same workshop, I will carry my fiber reactive dyes. They bond to cellulose/plant fibers when an alkaline like washing soda is added and they bond with protein/animal fibers when an acid like vinegar is added. But fiber reactive dyes also bond with the water so the dye pot never exhausts. Traditionalists always insist on acid dyes for protein and fiber reactive for cellulose.

How do I keep from overspinning?

I think my tension problem is just not quite being used to spinning again. I have a castle wheel with a screw adjustment to tighten the tension. I like to run as tight a tension as I can manage in order to keep from overspinning, and I think I've just been too aggressive for my current skill level.

A: What kind of wheel do you have? When you say a castle wheel is it a double drive? That would have one drive band that goes around the drive wheel twice, once on the flyer whorl and once on the bobbin whorl. A single drive wheel has a drive band that goes around the drive wheel and the flyer whorl, and then a separate band that goes over the back end of the bobbin.

It sounds to me as if you need to slightly adjust everything. If you keep your tension very tight then it becomes harder to treadle, and you must treadle faster to keep up your momentum. If you treadle too fast then you get over twist unless you tighten the tension which causes the treadling to be harder.

If that seems to be the case then you need to reverse the cycle. Try this with an empty bobbin and a leader that doesn't slip. When you put the bobbin on the flyer make sure that it spins freely before you put the drive band on it. Also make sure that the large drive wheel spins freely when the drive band is not on it. If either the drive wheel or the bobbins are sluggish then you need to see what is keeping them from moving freely. See if you can fix it. A good oiling may be all you need, but if the wood has warped a round file will fix the inside of a bobbin.

When everything spins freely then put the drive band on making sure you are on your slowest drive speed. It would be the largest drive whorl on your wheel. Then pull the leader through the orifice and hold on to the leader. Now, reduce the tension on the drive band so that the flyer slips and doesn't turn when you treadle and hold the leader. Starting at that point you want to slowly tighten the tension on the drive band, while treadling, until the flyer turns and doesn't slip anymore. Now you may need to let go of the leader and let it completely untwist. When the leader is untwisted, check the take up while treadling. This should automatically adjust the tension on the bobbin if it a double drive wheel. You should feel a gentle take up when you move the leader toward the flyer.

If it is a single drive wheel with a separate bobbin adjustment then begin adjusting that knob slowly like I mention in the last note. You may have to go back and forth between adjusting the flyer and then the bobbin. Do all of this with just the leader.

Using a lighter take up tension, will require you to learn to feed or move the yarn into the flyer, instead of having the wheel take the yarn from you. At first it will feel strange but it will allow you to have a greater degree of control over your spinning and to change sizes and amounts of twist when you choose.

Do you have any advice for plying?

Do you have any advice for plying? I have started spinning again after leaving the wheel for many, many years. I'm thinking that these first few bobbins of yarn aren't going to be as uniform as I would like, so plying might make a better overall yarn.


A: Yes plying will usually help an irregular yarn. As far as plying hints go, my simplest recommendation is to ply until the yarn looks good. Of course if you spun Z (clockwise) then you will ply S (counterclockwise). The two parts will nest together and both parts will puff up a bit. If the yarns are under-plied then the two parts, look thready not really nested. If the yarns are over-plied then they both begin to be compressed and get tighter, there will be less definition between the parts. Counting the treadles can help in the consistency but watching closely is best. If you have a double drive wheel then the yarn continues to ply as it is pulled into the orifice. If it is a single drive then you can usually pass the yarn in quickly without adding much plying twist.

It is also helpful to not pass the yarn all the way into the orifice. Stop when the newly plied yarn still extends about 8 inches from the orifice. With your forward hand pinch that spot while you tension the next length so that both parts are equally taut. Then let the plying twist advance up the new length counting and watching the twist. When it looks sufficient let it wind unto the bobbin.

What are your recommendations for oiling the fleece before carding?

Do you have any recommendations for oiling the fleece before carding? I used to do a fair amount of spinning, but have not for 30 years. I recently acquired a couple of fleeces from some meat sheep ( I think Columbia). They were dirty enough that they required washing before carding/spinning. I washed and teased the fleece to get out the VM, and could now card. I dyed some of this fleece in the wool. I recall from prior days that I used to spritz cleaned fleece with an oil/water emulsion prior to carding, but in surfing around various shops for handspinners, I haven't found any mention of this. Have the procedures for handling dirty fleece changed?


I think your sense that the information is not out there, reflects the fact that many, many spinners use prepared roving more than their own fleece. The prepared rovings are drier and consequently spinners have become used to spinning drier fibers. It is difficult to say whether it is better or worst for spinning, I just think it is a current trend. When I started spinning in '81, spinning in the grease was the norm. If you washed your fleece then you reapplied oil to get that slippery feeling. Today I use a smaller amount of an oil spray more to control static rather than replace that slippery feeling.

If you would like to use a oil and water spray, I always recommend a 4 parts water to 1 part oil. The type of oil should be something that will wash out easily. Perhaps you would like a baby or body oil, or a vegetable oil.
In my classes some people prefer to use a conditioner and water spray. Again I recommend it to be a 4 to 1 ratio. The conditioner can be a fabric or hair conditioner.
Lay the clean fleece out on a protected table and spritz the air above the fleece so the mist falls on the fleece like a light rain. Roll the fleece up turn it over and spritz the underside. Then let it rest for at least an hour maybe longer. This will give the water time to evaporate and leave the oil or conditioner on the fibers, ready for carding.
When I am using wool combs, I keep my spritzer besides me since the combs seem to create more static. I often need to spritz the wool while I am combing. How much you need will depend on how dry your environment is and the "slippery feel" that you like. I definitely used more spritzing when I lived in dry Colorado than I do now in Illinois.

What do I do about moths?

I have a basket (well, many baskets) filled with yarn. One basket has about ten skeins of handspun and one skein of commercial yarn. The only one that the moths got to is the commercial yarn. Is there any reason for this? I'm disappointed, but not as much as I would be if it were my precious handspun!! Thanks for any thoughts.

It may only be that they came into the house on that skein. If there is a food source the moths don't go very far. But it means that you need to do some serious moth control now.
I believe firmly in strong sunshine and cleanliness. If you have sunshine this time of the year where you live, that is a very quick easy type of control. Lay all of your skeins outside in the sun. Vacuum well inside the baskets and around, the moth eggs look like sandy colored salt grains and the droppings look like ground pepper. If you see that in the bottom of any basket that is where you need extra attention.
You could also just re-soak all of your handspun in hot soapy water in the washer, NO Agitation of course. Leave them for a couple of hours. Then rinse and hang to dry.

What are the best uses for llama and alpaca fiber?

Help, I have just begun spinning but nobody in my guild spins llama or alpaca. When spinning my llama the yarn appears beautiful, but when knitted or crocheted it becomes so dense you could make armor out of it. Any tips you could give me would be greatly appreciated. I own four llamas and three alpacas and want to use their fiber.

A: Llama or alpaca fiber, is best when considered like cotton or linen fiber. Since it lacks the crimp and spring of wool, it is harder to use without careful consideration of the knitting or crocheting styles.
The yarn can fuzz out as you use it and you can allow some room in the stitches for that, but since it has no memory, you need to search for stitches that are stretchy by themselves. If you are a beginning knitter, the garter stitch and seed stitches are good for adding stretch to the fabric.
If you are good at lace knitting, then a fine spun alpaca can be very luxurious. It has the advantage of not closing up the holes that you put into your lace work.
If you want a more regular knitting yarn size, spinning very fine and making a 3 or 4 ply will put air inside the yarn between the plies. It still won't have much stretch but it won't be as dense.
If you are crocheting, work with a larger hook and "size" each loop by tightening it on the thick part of the shank then resisting pulling the loop smaller as you work with it. That takes some mental concentration when you first start, but can be very effective, since the body of the yarn will help to hold open the loops later.

What do you think of the Rigid Heddle loom?

I have been spinning for a while and just learned to weave using a Rigid Heddle loom. I was told that I couldn't use my handspun on this loom. But I'm not sure why. And I was also told that this wasn't really weaving, but a child's play toy.

I would have to completely disagree with your informants about the rigid heddle loom. I think that the rigid heddle loom can provide a great deal of pleasure for handspinners to use their handspun. Here are several reasons why I like the the simple RH loom.
1. Usually handspuns show off best in a simple weave structure. The RH loom does tabby best.
2. It is economical, since the thrums are very short. It is reasonable to warp up single projects. I hate to waste great amounts of my handspun on loom waste.
3. It is a gentle loom for fragile yarns.
4. You can use a variety of textured yarns in the "slots" and smooth yarns in the holes. Even fuzzy bouclé mohair yarns in the "slots" work great.
5. Simple warp floats can be accomplished with a stick behind the heddle. The stick can remain in place the whole time, by pushing it back on the warp beam. Then just slid the stick up to the heddle when the floats are desirecd.
For the record, in 1985, the handspun wool skirt that won the National Make it Yourself With Wool contest was mine and was woven on my 32 inch wide rigid heddle loom. This skirt was woven with all singles spun yarns.
I always liken the rigid heddle to a guitar, a toy in some hands but truly an instrument of quality when learned and treated with respect. Besides it's portability, and low cost are important assets.
True it doesnot do everything well, it is not useful for twills, or long yardage. But don't discount it completely.

How do I crochet with my yarns?

I am a pretty good spinner but when I try to crochet with my yarns they split and generally look bad. What am I doing wrong? Someone said I am spinning the wrong way, but this is the way I was taught. Then the person next to her said she never had any problem with her yarns for crochet.

A: Twist is a physics thing, and it can be created many different ways. In relation to fibers and yarns it often has to do with winding or wrapping around something. Think about trying to wind up ribbon, do you wind it around the tube or roll it for the best results?
When I crochet there is a definite effect on the twist of my yarn. It may very well have to do with the way I hold my hook and catch the yarn and the fact that I am right handed. Each time I circle the hook I create a Z twist. That means I am removing a S twist, and the result is the yarn unplys if it was plied S.
If you want to see whether or not YOU are inserting or removing twist the way that YOU crochet then use a thin flat ribbon and work several stitches for a few rows. Try chains, single, double, and see what happens. If your ribbon begins to be twisted then look at the direction of the twist. This / is the direction of a Z twist and this \ is the direction of a S twist.
I tend to spin fine and softly and crochet with the hook facing me, and the yarn circles the hook in a clockwise direction for each loop. Consequently I create 1 Z twist in the ribbon each time I make a loop when I crochet. (four Z twists for an American double crochet).
For me then it is easier to spin the single S and lightly ply Z so then I get a tighter plied yarn as I crochet. If I know ahead of thime that the yarn will be used for cochet.
On the other hand if one spins a medium size wool, plies firmly and usually does only single crochet or chain stitch, you may not notice any thing happening.
Try the flat ribbon on any technique where you are wondering about whether you add or remove twist. Like on your ball winder, or your nostespinne or bobbin winder or knitting or embroidery. It is a very concrete way to find out if YOUR method is adding or substracting twist. I'd enjoy hearing your results.
PS Most (not all) yarn sold as "crochet" yarn has the last twist as a Z. I even saw a chinese crochet yarn where the label noted in English, "notice the Z twist". A friend was bringing it to her Aunt, since her Aunt couldn't find good American crochet yarns.

How do I finish cotton/wool yarn?

I just plied up some cotton/wool yarn and now I'm wondering how to finish it. Cotton is boiled to finish, wool should never be boiled. Also, when making a two-ply with one ply of cotton and one ply of flax would you finish these in the singles, before plying? I finished a cotton plied with flax by boiling, and the cotton shrunk to half it's size while the flax didn't. It is very usable, but I was wondering how others finish when plying different fibers.

In recent years, fewer spinners are boiling their cottons. I teach and have experimented with several ways of handling cotton. If you want to darken the cotton yarns, Pima can turn creamy, browns and greens can get darker, then simmering is required.
However, you can just wash your cotton yarns like any other yarn, in the sink with some detergent. I always wash my cotton and other fine skeins, as twisted skeins. This prevents the twist from shifting too far in the short fibers and drifting apart and from the fine yarns tangling on each other. It will be helpful to run a short yarn through the two loops to keep them from slipping apart. A twisted skein is very easy to wash and if it is cotton, even dry in the dryer. Your next question of finishing blended yarns, depends on the ingredients. When I teach blending I always recommend finishing the yarn with the requirements of the most fragile fiber. However, just as other teachers recommended the "abuse" method - slapping a wet skein around to encourage felting, which in turn felts the wool around all other fibers, every rule or suggestion needs to be considered by the results desired. If the two fibers are in separate plys, then I call it a mixed yarn, and great novelty results can be obtained by the finishing or abuse you give the yarns, since they can independently shrink, or full, but will pull the other ply along. Try a bit and see.

What's the best way to achieve a balanced ply?

Now, about plying mixed yarns from singles that have been previously set. I have been plying cotton with flax (or is it linen at this point?) and then dyeing it. It really makes a pretty yarn for weaving. In my first experiments I boiled the plied yarn - and I think I'll continue doing this for this project. But, I was planning, in general, to finish the singles before plying for mixed yarns. My concern here is that the twist will already be set and I'll have difficulty achieving a balanced ply. Should I be concerned about this?

Both cotton and linen can take the high heat of simmering. If you simmer and set the twist ahead of time, on both singles, you will need to experiment a bit more to find the correct amount of plying when you put the two parts together. You can ply until the yarns look plump and full, but the plied yarn will be very twisty.
However, after a soak, to thoroughly wet both plys the original twist will be revived. Neither of these fibers has very much "body" or resistance to being twisted. So it is wise to put a fairly firm twist on each as a single. It is also very helpful to save a short length of each single plied back on itself. The correct plying twist will be very much like the way they each plied back on the short samples.
I checked by plying together some very old singles, (15 years, I do save everything, big sigh!) that I had on hand, of cotton and linen, both had been simmered previously to set the twist as singles and I had the original self plied samples. After plying the yarn was very twisty and looked incredibly overplied. After soaking and washing, (reviving the singles twists) it makes a nice plied yarn.

How did my wool get over plied?

I recently spun some lovely wool and was very happy with it until I plied it. Wow! is it way over plied. I don't understand why. When I'm spinning I let it twist back on itself occasionally to check my twist and it didn't seem overspun or underspun. Any ideas what I might be doing wrong and how I can fix this?

A: You do not say if you had washed the yarn before you were concerned that it was overplied. The reason I ask is that it is very common for the twist in singles to go dormant while it is on the bobbin. This happens for many reasons, some are humidity, cleanliness of the fiber, amount of twist, and/or the amount of time it takes to finish spinning the bobbins for the project. Then when the dormant single is plied, the resulting ply looks twisty and is often regarded as overplied.
The good news is that the singles twist is just dormant and not doing it's share in balancing the plying twist. When the yarn is washed the twist in the singles will be rejuvenated and often appears to magically balance the plying twist.
Perhaps you have already washed the skein in question. If not please do so. Be sure that it is properly tied in three or four places so that the skein can be opened out after washing.
After it is washed and rinsed, blot out the excess water, and then put your arms inside the skein to snap it open several times. Now hold the skein at the top and look at it while it is damp. If the skein is turning with several twists it might need a plying adjustment. However if the skein only twists once on itself it is probably fine.
To adjust a damp skein that twists several times on itself, look at the way it crosses, is it with an S or a Z twist? If it crosses with an S twist it is underplied and needs more S plying. If it crosses with a Z twist it is overplied and needs a bit of ply removed by running the spinning wheel in the Z direction. The direction that the damp skein twists is the direction you should turn the wheel when correcting the skein.
I usually do the adjustment while the skein is damp. This way I know that all of the twist is lively and active. I place the damp skein on my swift, untie it at all points and quickly run the skein into the wheel in the direction indicated. While it is damp you can do the "drape" test by letting the yarn hang in a simple loop. If it hangs without twisting S or Z then it is a balanced yarn. If the yarn is dry, when you do the drape test then you may have a false reading from dormant twist.
One other consideration is the drive system on your wheel. If it is a double drive, the test should be done after the yarn has proceeded into the bobbin. Since double drive wheels pull the yarn in slowly it will gain more on the way into the bobbin if you check a length in front of the orifice. With other wheels the check can be done on yarn just before it goes into the orifice, since they can be adjusted to pull the yarn in quickly during this exercise.

What exactly should Cable yarns look like, is there a difference between Cable and Crepe Yarns? How do you make the one that looks braided?

I wanted to ask a question about those interesting Cable yarns. What exactly should they look like, is there a difference between Cable and Crepe Yarns? How do you make the one that looks braided? Is this "eyeball and experience"?

A: I have copied a section from one of my spinning instruction booklets, Quick Novelty Yarns, here on line. Some recent books and articles use the two names indiscriminately but I prefer to use the term crepe yarn as one that describes an overspun yarn to be used in a collapse, crepe style fabric. Here is a scan of a cabled yarn so that you can see the distinct braided look.
A cabled yarn is usually a 4-ply yarn with a distinctive interlocking, braided look. It is made by plying a yarn twice. The first plying is in the normal direction, S if the singles were spun Z, but is tightly over plied. The second plying -- the cabling, reverses the direction of the last plying, so it is in the direction of the original twist. Very little plying is required in this last step.
The secret is to over-ply during the first plying. The correct amount of over plying is about three to four times the usual plying twist. For instance a medium size yarn spun Z with 3-plying twist per inch in the S direction, will need to be plied with 9-12 S twists. You must put in enough plying twist so that the plied yarn will twist back on itself. Checking the twist amount frequently is recommended. Let a short section fold back on itself. If it doesn't make the braided cable look, then there isn't enough overplying twist in that section.
You can learn do this visually by watching the pearls (definition between the plys), flatten out and become tight. It is also helpful to count the number of treadles, to keep from under-plying further in the bobbin. Many spinners will start passing the plied yarn in too quickly about midway through the bobbin, without enough over-twist to get a good effect from the cabling/second plying operation.
Another way to get a whole bobbin overplied is to make a simple S plied yarn and then run it back through the wheel one more time, in the same S direction as the before until it is over plied S. Whether you do this in one or two passes through the wheel this is all part of the first plying.
The second plying, the cabling is in the original direction, (the same direction as the single was first spun probably Z) it will be very lightly plied. In fact all it needs is about 1/4 of the original plying since the finished yarn is made of 4-plies.
For the second/cable plying, wind the overplied yarn into a ball so that you can ply from both ends or make up two bobbins of overplied yarn. Since the yarn must be so over plied, it can be snarly and difficult. Sometimes letting the over plied yarn set on the bobbin for a few days before doing the cabling can be helpful. You can also cable an over plied 3 ply for a 6 ply yarn. Or you can cable many styles of novelty yarns.

I'm still confused as to how much twist to use when plying my yarns?

I'm still confused as to how much twist to use when plying my yarns? I need some help with plying also. I've spun a fine singles, but find that I'm having trouble judging when I've put enough twist in when plying. I had to go back and add more twist after the first plying, and the yarn was nice and balanced until I washed it. I'll have to go back and add yet more twist to it. I know that when the singles sit for a few days, they don't act like they do when fresh, but I just can't judge what is enough twist in the ply. I reeeeeeaaaaly don't want to have to spin each skein two or three times! Help!

A: As a teacher, that is the most frequently asked question. And the easiest answer is often to just ply it until it looks really good with the "pearls" or "bumps" nice and distinct and plump. They look dead when they are underplied and flat when the yarn is over plied.
Another way is to take off a length of the old single, where you know it hasn't lost any twist. Tie the two ends together in an overhand knot. Then put it into hot water, actually any water will work, hot is just faster. It will immediately ply itself up to where it needs to be. Take it out of the water, shake it and let it dry. Then you can ply to match that little plied sample.
If a skein is still twisty, (more than one or two twists, after washing, and snapping a few times), the direction the skein is twisting, is the direction you need to add to the skein. In other words, if the whole skein twists on itself in the S direction then it needs more S twist. Conversely if it twists on itself in the Z direction then it needs more Z twist. I put it on my swift while it is wet and then just run it back through the wheel in the correct direction, checking to see how well it is doing by hanging down a long loop. It often doesn't need very much correction. Or it only needs correction in certain parts.
You can also save a great deal of trouble if you save a self-plied 8 or 10 inch length that you allow to ply on itself while you are first spinning the single. I hope this helps.

How do you work out how many twists there are per inch of yarn and how do you maintain it?

I have heard (read) people mention "tpi".. now I assume that tpi stands for "twists per inch". If that is the case, *how* do you work out how many twists there are per inch of yarn and how do you maintain it?

A: Yes tpi stands for Twists Per Inch. First as a COE recipient and a spinning teacher, I want to clearly say, many excellent spinners do not worry or struggle to understand tpi. They go by visual recognition of what good yarn looks like. And they also make a conscious decision ahead of time whether a certain yarn will be "hard" spun or "soft" spun. These terms refer to the amount of twist that holds the yarn together, whether it is a great amount making a tight, hard yarn or a small amount making a loose, soft yarn.
Consistency in drafting the yarn size and treadling "maintains" the amount of twist.
If you must know the exact amount of tpi, then you must unspin the yarn in question. Fiber choice, fiber diameter, crimp, body, yarn diameter, etc. all effect how the twist looks and feels.

What is the ideal amount of twist(tpi?) when spinning romney fleece "in the grease"?

What is the ideal amount of twist(tpi?) when spinning romney fleece "in the grease"? I am hoping to weave a soft "lap rug" when I am done spinning. I will probably make it 2 ply (just in case there are some really thin bits in the yarn.)

A: There seems to be two questions in #4 the ideal amount of twist? and spinning in the grease? Let me do the last one first.
Spinning in the grease is a personal choice that fewer spinners are making. In my mind it is a feel that you either like or dislike. I rarely spin in the grease now, but I like the feel (and smell) of a fresh clean fleece.
The amount of twist will not change, however you must be ready for the size of the finished yarn to change quite a bit since it will come clean and full in the first washing.
It would be wise to ply up a very small amount and make a little skein and wash it to see how much it changes in the washing. Save the little plied sample from question two, unwashed so that you can see the before and after difference.
There is no answer to the "ideal" amount for a romney. As I mentioned earlier size, plying, use, crimp and body all make a difference. However it is predictable that the yarn will be softer with less twist than with more since it is a lustrous medium type of fleece. So I would aim for the smallest amount of twist that plys back on itself and looks like good yarn.
Happy spinning, and remember to trust your instincts. Good yarn looks good, feels good and will be easy to work with whether knitting, crocheting or weaving or whatever. If you like the yarn you create and it works the way you want it to, then don't let anyone tell you it is not good yarn.

Is there a way to organize the wool into a ready to spin grouping any way other than through the use of a diz?

I'm very new to spinning, and at this point, I do not have a wheel, I use spindles. I spent last evening using a flick carder on some very dirty Romney I've been washing and made a nice stack of clean well 'flicked' wool. I was wondering how to get this stack into top/roving or whatever I should be calling it. Do I need to get a diz? Is there a way to organize the wool into a ready to spin grouping any way other than through the use of a diz?

A diz is a very simple tool, used to pull a measured amount of fiber into a roving. It is usually used with the large mounted wool combs. However, when my children were small I was uncomfortable having sharp instruments like the mounted English combs in my house. Nevertheless, I still wanted to blend the locks and then use a diz to make a roving. This is what I did.
I used a large hair pick, mounted it vertically and clamped it to the edge of a table so the tines were sticking up. Then I flicked and combed several locks like you did, and I mounted or stacked them on the hair pick. To begin the blending, I hand-pulled off a roving, very much like pre-drafting. Using one hand and then another. Then I lashed the fibers back on the pick. This step is called "planking".
To re-lash the fibers I kept one hand behind the pick and the other held the end of the roving in front. I put the end of the fibers on the pick, the hand behind held to the tips and I pulled the roving away from the pick leaving a small portion on the pick. It is a very simple motion and I kept repeating it until all of the roving was back on the hair pick.
The diz I used was from a corner of a plastic milk carton, with a hole punched from the inside, using an ice pick or an awl. A hole the size you find in a button will make a very fine roving, a hole about 1/8 of an inch is a regular size roving, a 1/4 inch hole will make a very thick roving. You can make 3 holes in the same piece of plastic and then experiment. Note, you only use one hole at a time. The curve of the plastic will serve to gently funnel the fibers toward the hole.
To start, smooth all of the fibers into a point and draft out a few fibers, twist them tightly in one direction. Then let them ply back, the loop of yarn should be tight spun and will allow you to thread it through the hole. If you know where a very fine crochet hook is, that will also work to pull the fibers through.

Now hold the diz with one hand and pull all the fibers that fit through the hole, pull about 2/3 of a fiber length. Release the fibers and grasp them near the hole again and pull through more, continue in this manner until all of the fibers have come through. If it is too difficult to pull the fibers, move the diz about 1/2 inch away from the mass of fibers, (you are gathering too many fibers). If the roving starts getting too thin, move it back into the fibers, (the diz is not gathering enough fibers).

I usually place a smooth box under the roving and just let it fall into the box. Of course, it is helpful to do this when the cats and the little kids are not in the same room. They find the drifting roving irresistible.

Do any of you know if the JOY's flyer is prone to wobbling if NOT bent?

The flyer on my JOY wobbles, but by several testing methods I have determined that it is probably not a bent flyer but something else. Ashford says that some wobble is to be expected, the dealer wants me to wait and see for a few months. Do any of you know if the JOY's flyer is prone to wobbling if NOT bent? The whorl wobbles, too, but in a different direction. The flyer wobble is about 1/8" total, but when you figure the orifice is only 3/8", that's a big proportion of the thing.

A: I hope this can help you understand some of the dynamics that occur with any castle style wheel, and particularly a flyer that is only supported at the back end. There are two physical things that you may have identified as the JOY flyer wobble.
If as a spinner you have been used to a traditional wheel with the flyer to the side, there is a small noticeable wobble when moving to the JOY. It comes from a few physical factors.
First, any flyer that is only supported at one end instead of by two maidens is apt to "wobble" as it is turning. The end that is supported is turned into a sealed ball bearing. If the flyer were glued into the support then it would be firm. But as spinners we want the flyer to turn and put twist into our yarn as we spin. The extended end amplifies the movement that is necessary as it spins.
Secondly, you may be feeling the rotation in the orifice. In most castle style wheels, that only have a back support, the length the yarn travels inside the orifice is much shorter than on the traditional wheels. Perhaps only 3/4 of an inch compared to 2 inches. You know this because the traditional wheels need a longer threading hook to pull the yarn through.
The wobble that one feels, actually comes from the exit path the yarn travels toward the bobbin as the flyer spins. With the shorter inside length it is not moderated inside of the orifice.
The other physics factor is that the orifice is directly in the center and most people spin straight into it, instead of slightly off to the side as traditional wheels often require, (since the flyer is off center).
If you will try just for a bit, to draft without being lined up to the flyer, you will see the difference that I'm trying to explain. Drafting off center can be done by simply sitting a bit cock-eyed to the wheel.
This phenomenon comes with most of the straight-on, center flyer style wheels. Some people are more sensitive to it and find it annoying, others find it is like a counter telling them how many twists have been created.
Delta or hook style flyers are found on other style wheels. If you don't draft straight toward these flyers then you get the a flick or jerk on your yarn as as it comes off of the side of the hook or the delta.

One other note is that I do my drafting as far away from the orfice as I can be. I never "feed" the yarn into the orifice of any wheel. But I sit well back in my seat and usually have about 18 inches of yarn between the fiber and the orifice. That distance also reduces the feel of the wobble.

I use my JOY wheel for most of my teaching since it is so portable and quick at bobbin changes.

For alpaca, what ratios are used, therefore determining which wheel to buy?

Soon I will begin carding/spinning classes using the instructor's equipment, and will be learning with wool. Eventually, my goal is to spin Alpaca with my own equipment. I see that different wheels have different ratios, such as 4:1 through 12:1, etc. For alpaca, what ratios are used, therefore determining which wheel to buy?

A: Which wheel is a very complicated question, since there are many factors like -- ease of use, style of design, availability, price, etc. to keep in mind when choosing a wheel?
Here are two flyers with a wide variety of speeds. The very large whorl is a very slow 2:1 and the tiny whorl is a fast 18:1. The larger the whorl the slower it is and the smaller the whorl the faster it is. The actual ratio is a mathmetical comparison to the size of the drive wheel.
However, the ratio question is a good place to start. Most modern wheels being offered at this time have at least 2 to 4 different ratios which will give the spinner a range of speeds. You should find a wheel that offers a slow speed ratio between 5 and 7:1, a medium speed would be between 9 and 12:1 and a fast speed is usually over 14:1.
Here are the reasons I would look for all 3 speed ranges:
When you are first learning to spin and when you are learning to spin a new fiber or a new hand technique, it is good to have the slow speed. Most thick yarns and many novelty yarns are easier to spin on a slow speed. The slow speed gives your hands plenty of time to keep up with your treadling.
The medium speed is suitable for most of the sweater weight knitting yarns that you might want to spin. Usually it is a great all purpose speed.
The fast speed is great when you are spinning a fine lace weight yarn or have gotten so comfortable with a particular fiber or preparation that you can just cruise while you spin. Many people like to ply on their faster speed. If you are going into production you may need an even faster speed, today there are wheels made with 40:1 or higher ratios.
As far as the best speed for spinning Alpaca, it will probably be in the medium range, once you are comfortable with the slippery feel of the fibers.
There is also the question of which drive system is best for you. This question is very subjective, your experience may depend on your teacher's comfort with different drive systems and your own nature. Each system has it's own quirks and limitations and exciting possibilities. Each system has it's very strong supporters. A good spinner can spin any fiber on any system. I feel it is best to learn to spin on any one wheel and then after you are comfortable spinning try out the different drive systems. I think it is confusing to try too many wheels when you are still having trouble making the wheel go all the way around or being frustrated with the drafting.
There are 4 basic spinning wheel drive systems:
A double drive wheel has a drive band that turns both the flyer and the bobbin at the same time. The bobbin is always turning just a bit faster and pulls the yarn in slowly. Traditionally this was a fine yarn spinning wheel. Many antique wheels used for spinning flax into thread are double drive wheels. Schacht, Ashford and many of the Rick Reeves wheels are double drive wheels that have been created with multiple speed and take-up options. There is only one adjustment knob, but choosing the correct combination of flyer whorl and bobbin whorl determines the take-up of the yarn.
A flyer lead, scotch brake wheel has a single drive band that leads or turns the flyer around. The bobbin lags behind as the scotch brake gently slows it down, this causes the yarn to wind on. Ashford, Majacraft, Lendrum are the major makers of these wheels. This wheel requires two adjustments knobs, one for the brake band and one for the drive band, unless it is a stretch band. Some people see this as a versatile wheel for many sizes of yarns. It happens to be the drive system that I prefer.
A bobbin lead wheel often has a stretchy drive band that turns the bobbin while the flyer hangs behind, causing the yarn to wind on. This is often considered the best for creating a thick yarn since it has a very snappy draw on. However, the yarn must be strong enough to pull the flyer around. The newer models have lightened up the flyer so that this wheel can also be very versatile. The Louet, the Kiwi Ashford, and the Babe are good examples of this wheel.
A spindle driven wheel is the fourth major drive system. This wheel does not have a flyer, only a spindle that is turned by a wheel. The spinning is all done off the point of the spindle and then wound on in a separate action. The large antique walking wheels and the small Indian charkas are all spindle driven wheels. The Rio Grande is a modern treadled spindle point wheel.
Have fun as you learn to spin and then look around at the available wheels in your area. If you can get to a conference of some type after you learn to spin, it is fun to sit and try as many as you can before you choose to buy.

Is the ratio set by whether or not the bobbin turns on the spindle? Is this also how you determine "tpi"?

If I tighten the scotch tension so that the bobbin does not turn on the spindle I can't really control the "pull" and the fleece goes through the orifice too fast.

A: No the ratio is not set by the movement of the bobbin.
The ratio is set by three things (the first 2 are the most important) 1) the drive whorl that you are spinning with and 2) the amount of yarn that is drafted per treadle. 3) the way that the yarn feeds into the bobbin. If you consistantly allow a small amount of yarn to move into the orifice, the yarn will gain a few more twists as it makes it's way into the bobbin.
If on the other hand you do a long 20 inch draw and then allow it to wind on in a very quick manner there will be very little extra twist from that created during drafting.
You should never tighten the bobbin so that it stands still. On a single drive, scotch tension wheel, the bobbin should be free to turn the exact same speed of the flyer while your are drafting. But have enough braking tension so that when you feed the yarn towards the flyer the bobin slows down and pulls the yarn in. If the bobbin can not freely spin it sets up a whole series of difficulties that make spinning uncontrollable.

Should I tighten the drive band to slow down the flyer then tighten the scotch tension to avoid over twisting?

To avoid over-twisting, should I tighten the drive band to slow down the flyer then tighten the scotch tension to avoid over twisting?

A: If you feel that the yarn is over spun, or too hard, check first to see if plying it will soften the yarn sufficiently. Plying removes between a third and half of the original twist. As you are spinning a single, stop and pull out of the orifice about 12 inches and fold it from the middle and allow it to ply back on itself.
This will show you what a plied yarn would look like from this particular single. It is prudent to knot it and remove this little plied piece to keep for reference when plying - IF you are happy with the results.
If it is still too tightly spun for your purposes then you have some choices, that pertain to the three factors of twist - see answer one. a) Move the drive band to a slower drive whorl (a larger one) if it is available. This changes the first factor b) Treadle slower c) Draft faster and feed the yarn toward the orifice faster d) Prepare your fibers better, These b,c,& d all change the second factor e) Use a faster wind on method ie-the long draw, This changes the third factor of twist.
Sometimes it takes a combination of actions to get the correct amount of twist.