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beth smith

Product Review: Ply Magazine

product reviewsSasha Torres1 Comment


Oh boy. I may not have much time to spin, but I've been grabbing time to read about spinning every time I get a new issue of Ply. Have you subscribed yet? If not, run, do not walk, over to their website and do so. Really.

Full disclosure: two of my favorite people in the world, Beth Smith and Jillian Moreno, constitute the editorial board of Ply. And you know that I'm a huge fan of Jacey Boggs, the magazine's editor, as well as of her teaching, her writing and her fantastic if short-lived podcast, Insubordiknit. But really, the folks at Ply are bringing it. Ply is wonderful. Here are three reasons why: 

  1. Focus on intermediate and advanced spinners. Each issue looks at a single topic, like woolen spinning, or spinning for color, or silk, or plying in real depth, and each starts by assuming a reader who has some spinning experience. So the woolen issue assumes that its readers know what "woolen" means, what "worsted" means, and what the difference is. From that starting point, it looks at "woolen" a zillion different ways: Jacey, in an article called "Lying About Longdraw" shares how she "tricks" students in her classes into spinning long draw. Beth explores the elements of "true" woolen spinning—short fiber carded into rolags, spun long draw—but also talks a bit about her own journey from diehard worsted spinner to woolen aficionado. Amy Tyler writes about spinning lopi-style woolen yarns, Amelia Garripoli explains woolen spindle spinning, and Stephanie Gaustad describes double drafting. Also in this issue: James Perry on unsupported longdraw and Abby Franquemont on spinning from the fold. There are also articles by Esther Rodgers and Lacy Ziemkiewicz on preparing fiber for woolen spinning, and one by Jillian on nine ways to spin a batt. See what I mean? Real depth.
  2. New and diverse voices. Ply is doing a fantastic job bringing new voices into the conversation. I'm particularly delighted to see a regular column by ergonomist and spinner Carson Demers on the ergonomics of spinning; the "Tip Jar" feature, with quick tips from spinners on some aspect of the topic at hand; and archaelogist Christina Pappas' articles on spinning history. Two of the highlights of the color issue for me were articles by David Schultz of Southern Cross Fibre on choosing a color palette and Felicia Lo on combining colorways. As I recall none of these authors has yet been tapped by Spin-Off, and it's wonderful to hear from them.
  3. Debate, not orthodoxy. Because every issue of Ply is organized around a topic, with articles that approach that topic from many different angles, it masterfully avoids erecting or reinforcing spinning orthodoxies. As the list of articles in the woolen issue suggests, Ply is built on the notion that there are many different routes to making beautiful yarn. One of my favorite elements of Ply is "Hot Button," in which spinners debate something like predrafting. With opinions ranging from Michelle Boyd's "Predrafting is the devil," to Deb Menz's "I do what I need to do," the magazine manages to undo even the most doctrinaire positions by putting them into the context of a debate. Similarly, the magazine's "Stealth Reviews" section features three anonymous reviews of a single product. I suspect that anonymity makes it easier for them to say what they really think (ask me how I know), and, again, no one voice gets the last word.

I could list more reasons I love Ply: the lovely glossy paper, the highly illustrative photography, the diverse models that grace every issue, the truly lovely and inspiring projects. But the point is you just need to subscribe and join the conversation. As I said: run, do not walk.

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Color theory 101: knitting naturally

dyer's notebook, what we doAlicia de los ReyesComment

For the last post in this color theory series, I'd like to introduce you to Beth Smith, an accomplished spinning teacher. She's written for Spin-off and Knittyspin and is on the editorial board of Ply. Her book, The Spinner's Book of Fleece, is a detailed guide to finding, prepping and spinning different breeds of wool. Today, she's sharing why she prefers to spins undyed fiber.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Beth Smith loves to spin white wool. 

I am Beth Smith and I have a white wool problem. Well, not a problem, exactly—but I love to spin it, weave it and knit it. (And if I was better at crochet I would probably crochet lovely white dresser scarves with white thread.)

My friends know this about me and tease me to no end. Most of my friends dye their wool, and the ones who don’t buy it dyed. When I signed up for the Sheepspot Fiber Club, I asked if I could please have the undyed fiber.

When I teach classes, most of the fiber is undyed. Not necessarily all white—but no added color.

I have my reasons.

Let’s start with the basics. Personally, I like the look of white. I do wear plenty of color, but I like how I can see the twist and the texture a bit easier through the white and shadows of the fiber. 

In addition to making the texture more obvious, working with natural fiber opens your eyes to the different shades of natural white from different breeds of sheep. Very few breeds are pure, snowy white; they range from eggshell to creamy yellow. I have long had a weaving project in mind where I make something to wear that takes advantage of these very subtle shifts in color and value.

I never get bored spinning white. I just finished a project where I spun and plied the yarn for two white skirts. I needed a total of 11,000 yards of two ply yarn. That’s 22,000 yards of singles. And I never got tired of it.

I have, however gotten tired of spinning some dyed fiber.

I also like to teach with undyed fiber. The breeds we study must be undyed to completely show the texture and crimp of freshly scoured fleece.

But I also use plenty of undyed wool for my skills classes, for two main reasons.

First, my students can easily see differences in twist in white wool. I often talk about how the amount of twist affects the finished project, and it is important for students to be able to easily see the differences in the yarns they are spinning. 

The second reason is that there are slight changes in the texture of the wool when it is dyed. I can’t say exactly what the changes are, but you can feel a difference. Regardless of the breed (even Merino!), undyed fibers slide past each other a bit more easily. There is also much less possibility of compacting or fulling, which sometimes happens with dyed fibers. So it's for the students' own good!

I understand that not everyone is going to have the same loving feelings toward white wool that I have—but I do hope that those people who take my classes will be understanding of me and my color-free leanings. I love working with undyed fiber. If you don’t think I’m serious, check out my book full of undyed yarns!

All photos © Beth Smith.

If you'd like information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!