Spinning long draw is a great way to create light, soft, fluffy yarn. As you spin, air is trapped between the fibers, which creates a warm, nicely insulating yarn. Long draw spinning can be a bit frustrating at first, because you need to manage your fiber and twist a little differently than in short draw spinning, but it’s a lovely method once you get your rhythm down. You can spin long draw with silk, alpaca and other types of fibers, but for now we’ll just discuss wool.
All photos via Laura Chau
Ready – What is woolen?
Long draw is a woolen spinning method, traditionally done with woolen-prepared fibers such as hand-carded rolags or batts. Carding removes tangles and debris from fiber, but doesn’t align the fibers like combing does. The mixed-up fibers contain lots of air between them, which is trapped through spinning long draw. This results in a soft, lofty, stretchy, bouncy yarn – compare this with worsted-prepared and spun yarn, which is dense and smooth.
If you don’t have batts or hand cards, don’t worry! You can also spin long draw from combed fibers such as commercial top or sliver, resulting in a semi-woolen (or semi-worsted) yarn. Wool breeds with longer staples, such as Leicester and Romney, are a bit easier to start out with compared with short staples like Merino.
Whether you’re using carded or combed fiber, it’s important that the fiber draft smoothly, without getting bunched up or breaking. If you hand-card rolags yourself, they’re ready to go – but with batts or top, you’ll need to do some good fiber preparation.
Start with setting your brake tension to be quite light (loosen the string or band). This will prevent your wheel from “sucking in” the fiber too quickly. Thread your leader through the hooks and orifice, bring the fluffy end of your fiber through the leader loop and treadle to add twist, joining the fiber to the leader.
Several things happen at once as you spin long draw. Hold the fiber supply loosely in your active hand (I’m right-handed and use my left hand; whatever is comfortable is fine). If needed, you can use your passive hand to lightly pinch or support the drafting zone, to give your active hand more to pullback against.
As you treadle, your active hand pulls back slowly, drafting the fiber out to the thickness you want. Twist travels into the long drafting zone, unlike in short draw. You need to pull back slowly enough that a small amount of twist travels up to hold the fibers together as you draft. But you also want to move quickly enough that you stay ahead of the twist, or you won’t be able to draft at all!
Once you’ve pulled out an arms-length to the thickness you like, stop drafting and allow the twist to travel up this section. You can test the amount of twist by stopping and giving your yarn a short pull between both hands — it shouldn’t break easily.
When this section of yarn has enough twist, bring your active hand back toward the orifice while treadling, to wind the yarn onto the bobbin.
Continue repeating the steps: pulling your active hand back to draft, add twist, and then wind on. Drafting long draw is a delicate balance, but don’t worry if it takes a few (or more) tries to get it right.
Long draw spinning tips and tricks
If you draft out a section of fiber that’s thicker than you want, you can thin it out. Stop treadling, pinch above the thick section with your passive hand, then use your active hand to draft out the thick section as if you were spinning short draw. Once you’ve thinned it out, release your pinching hand to allow twist up the fiber again.
If you’re trying to draft back with your active hand and it just won’t budge, you probably have too much twist in your drafting zone. Let go of the fiber, break it if necessary to access the end of your fiber supply, and allow the excess twist to leave the fiber. Try again.
If you’re trying to draft back and you’re pulling the spun yarn off the bobbin, try increasing the brake tension gradually. You can also use your passive hand to lightly pinch the yarn in front of the orifice, to give you a little more to draft against. Make sure you’re still allowing some twist into the drafting zone to hold the fibers together.
Give it a try! Long draw spinning is fast and fun.
You might also enjoy our post on short draw spinning.
And be sure to check out Bluprint’s growing selection of spinning yarn classes, featuring hours of close-up, interactive instruction from experts, like Felicia Lo, founder of SweetGeorgia Yarns and shepherd, spinner and fiber artist Dru Pettibone.