When I first started spinning just about two years ago, I figured that spindle spinning was the way to go since it didn't take much room and the investment was minimal compared to a wheel. Well, one thing led to another and I ended up throwing caution to the wind and getting a wheel. Sadly, I really haven't used my spindles much since. It's not that I don't enjoy using my spindles, it just that when I'm home I almost feel obliged to use my wheel and when I'm away, I knit. So with that being said, my interest in hand spindles was rekindled in Rita's last class on plying with a handspindle.
Rita started off the class by demonstrating the usual way to ply from both ends of center-pull ball. She recommended holding the ball on one thumb to help control the tension of each strand. This wasn't a new technique for me so I dove in and started plying. It didn't take long for me to start fumbling with the spindle and ball until the tension between the singles got uneven and I ended up with a tangled mess instead of a nicely plied yarn. Rita was quick to point out that I had just encountered one of the pit falls of center-pull balls. Of course, she had a solution.
Rita then introduced us to what she calls a "ply ball". It's a simple felt ball made out of a roving strip that has been wound into a ball and held together with a piece of yarn (see picture on the left). The ends of the yarn are tucked into the ball using a tapestry needle and the ball is felted in a washing machine.
After showing us the ply ball, Rita took one of her center-pull balls out and started wrapping the ply ball with the yarn from each end of the center-pull ball. Once all the yarn from the center-pull ball was transferred to the ply ball, she easily plied from the felt ball without unevenly tangling the singles. She admitted that this technique introduced an additional step in the plying process but thought the benefit gained from being able to easily control live singles outweighed the additional time. It works great for me, since it's easy to focus on one thing at a time; first winding two (or three) singles onto the felt ball and then on plying.
Just think of all the plying possibilities. Instead of wrapping the felt ball with two ends of a center-pull ball, three ends of three separate balls can be wrapped around it to make a three ply. Rita went one step further and also demonstrated how this simple felt ball made the Navajo three-ply technique quite easy to do from a spindle, and arguable easier than with a wheel.
The small skeins on the left were made using some of these plying techniques. The one on the left is a two ply and the one on the right is a three ply (from three balls). By the way, I was using Bluefaced Leicester roving which was a dream to spin.
To end the class, Rita mentioned that the felt ball can be used to store a larger amount of spun singles than will fit on a spindle. When the spindle is full transfer it to the felt ball. If it is already wrapped with a single, just join the single from the spindle to the one on the felt ball (like a join when spinning) before winding on.