Yak Yarn Causes Intense Geekery

Posted in spinning by tchemgrrl on March 5, 2012

Science ahoy. You have been warned.


2.3 ounces, 195 yards of 3-ply fingering weight yak-merino blend. The fiber came from (oh big surprise) Susan’s, specifically the “Fondle This” fiber of the month club from 2010.

I was not a big fan of spinning the fiber, to be honest. The brown yak down had a pretty short staple, 1.5 inches or so, and the white merino had a longer staple, about 4 inches. While spinning, it was difficult to keep the two fibers from separating out. The first few makes would be very light in color, being mostly Merino, and the last few makes would be very dark and require significantly more twist to hold together.

I hadn’t seen this sort of behavior in a blend before, and aside from it being kind of frustrating, I found myself thinking about chromatography a lot while spinning this. With the big stuff coming out first, my hands were acting a bit like the pores in a GPC.

In gel permeation chromatography, you put polymers through a multiscale maze. There are big wide paths that are relatively straightforward, and skinny little paths that will take forever to get through. Little molecules get stuck in the little paths, but big molecules can’t fit, and so the big guys get through first while the little guys are still taking a left turn at Albuquerque. Something about the way I was spinning was making it easier for the longer fibers to get through, and slowing up the shorter ones.

One way of dealing with that was by changing the length of my draw. When I’m not thinking much about it, I start with my hands 3-4 inches apart, draw until my hands are nearly a foot apart, and then go back to the home position. Well, that’s a thing: from the home position, I was right in the staple length range for the merino, but too far for the yak. Moving my hands closer together made a significant difference. There was still more merino at the beginning, more yak at the end, but it wasn’t as startling.

The second way of dealing with this was by changing size and thickness of the fiber lump that I was dealing with.

In chromatography, when you’re trying to maximize separation, you try to arrange it such that the whole sample starts at exactly the same time (or as close to that as possible). If one piece of sample starts the race 10 minutes after everything else, it won’t end the race at the same time as its chemically similar compatriots. So you do a quick little pssht to get a small, high-concentration sample in all at once. The fiber equivalent would be grabbing one staple length from the full width of a piece of top and spinning that. Which….is more or less exactly what I do when spindle spinning. Hmm.

So instead I started stripping the top down into 4-6 thinner pieces, and taking 2-3 staple lengths at a go. That way, there would probably be a little merino in reserve way at the end of the fiber, and I wouldn’t be pulling out every little bit of it right at the beginning, with it all hanging out in front together. This seemed to be effective, too–less of a pure-merino start, though I still had a small wad of yak in my hand at the end.

The last thing in chromatography is that, sometimes you’re doing it just to see what’s in your sample, but other times you’re trying to purify what you have, and you can toss the stuff you don’t want. So, I tossed most of those little yak wads. There wasn’t more than a few grams in them anyway, and life’s too short to fight unpleasant fiber.

Even with all these modifications, it wasn’t the most pleasurable fiber, and I was still getting variations, and the yarn still imploded now and then in a yak-heavy spot that needed more twist than I was giving. But it got spun.

I did a pretty harsh wash to this, hoping to full the merino enough to hold the slippery yak in. I am still worried that it’ll shed some, but what the hell, the horrible fiber actually won me over in the end. I think it’ll make a nice little cowl.



2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. How’m’I doin’? « Fiberlog said, on March 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    […] 11-Yak/merino spindle project. […]

  2. Shawlette « Fiberlog said, on January 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    […] before my trip, and the short but still non-repeating pattern appealed to me. The Yak-merino that I spun up this past spring seemed like it would go well, so on the most total of total whims, I grabbed the skein, the copy of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: