Susan Z. Douglas (SZD): If the best ideas are brilliantly simple, then the pseudorolag is indeed one of the best. Rosemary Thomas began with a simple, extraordinary method for bundling fiber into a spinnable package.
Rosemary S. Thomas (RST): A friend gave me an old fleece which was, believe it or not, shorn in 1972! I had read about a new spinning technique, and I decided to try it using this old fleece. After a little experimentation, I felt that spinning from folded locks would give me the best results. However, the new technique called for a use of the hands that made it difficult to spin from a lock folded over my finger. Also, I wanted the not-having-to-stop convenience of spinning from a length of top.
I flicked a number of locks, laid them in a row, and then studied the matter. If I laid them out so that they overlapped slightly and I folded the whole bunch lengthwise, then wouldn’t it be a continuous-feed fold? That first try didn’t work because the whole thing fell apart. Then it hit me—roll them.
This fleece was too short-stapled to roll as I had originally planned, so I laid out two ranks of flicked locks, with the locks overlapping. I used a dog comb to aid in rolling the locks into a vaguely tubular shape. It worked! It worked perfectly! The fiber just flowed out of this tube like water from a jug. This preparation made the new spinning technique so much easier! I made lots of these tubes so that I could enjoy an uninterrupted spinning session. Seeing these tubes laying there on the table reminded me of something . . . what was it . . . oh, yes, rolags! And that’s how these rolls got the name pseudorolags.
Why the prefix pseudo? Well, these aren’t actual rolags because, as I understand it, rolags are the result of carding, and these are not carded but made from flicked locks. They spin much like spinning from the fold. I’ll leave it to others to determine whether or not this is a semiworsted or woolen spin, but all I know, and Susan’s experience concurs, is that once the pseudorolag is started, the fibers feed out of it much like they feed out of top.
I was perfectly happy to spin like this forever, using flicked locks to make pseudorolags, until Susan e-mailed me out of the blue. Her e-mail read, “. . . I also loved your pseudorolags. I’m going to try them, maybe with some color striping. Would you mind if I incorporated the technique into a class I’ll be teaching on color blending?”
Thus began a long and satisfying e-mail friendship and a long and satisfying two-person spinning study group that Susan named “On a Roll with Pseudorolags!”
SZD: I had in the past experimented with color blending using commercial top, hand manipulating the fiber using no tools. The results, while an interesting parlor trick, were not practical for preparing any quantity of fiber. So when I saw Rosemary’s blog entry about her pseudorolag technique, I perked up, thinking of the possibility of using it with dyed top.
I had two ideas to try. The first was to layer more or less complementary colors. I just grabbed appropriate colors from assorted tops and staggered thin wisps of them atop one another. I found that these pseudorolags spun up delightfully and that I just wanted to make and spin more and more.
Now why take apart perfectly good top only to reconstruct it? Perhaps some of the colors in a painted top are not appealing. Leftover bits from previous projects can be put to use. Boring solids can be sparked to new life. Color combinations and sequences can be changed and controlled. I like the nuances created by stray bits of adjoining colors. Another effect I enjoy is that of abrash, a term used for handmade carpets to describe dye variances. Each pseudorolag is effectively its own little dyelot, giving a distinctive character to the yarn.
When making these early pseudorolags, I did struggle a bit with coaxing the rolls around a knitting needle. I was demonstrating the technique for some friends one day when Cheri Taylor-Quinn, watching, exclaimed, “Chopsticks!” Indeed, holding the edge of the fibers between chopsticks (two knitting needles work as well) to start the roll is, for me, a refinement that makes the process effortless.
My second idea was a variation of the first, but using stripes and layers of color. The resulting pseudorolag makes a striped yarn, but unlike spinning directly from a space-dyed roving, there is depth and variety in each stripe because of the layers of color.
I shared the results of my experiments with Rosemary. . . .
RST: I just couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t run to my stash fast enough. I began playing with colors, too, and having so much fun! Forget flicked locks! Let’s play with color! Susan and I e-mailed back and forth and shared photos, and before we knew it, we were blending not only colors, but also different types of fibers, and even going so far as to make (gasp) art yarns!
Of course, this led to much discussion of how this gave us such control over our spinning projects. We also exclaimed, repeatedly, at how simple and easy it was to do. We didn’t need much in the way of tools—no need for carders, hackles, and so forth—we just needed fiber, spindles, and our ideas. We also didn’t have to worry about oddball items damaging our carders—we could throw any old thing into our pseudorolags, and we did!
By day, Susan Z. Douglas of Topsham, Maine, is a mild-mannered office assistant; by night, she knits, spins, and ponders life via e-mail with her friend Rosemary. Rosemary S. Thomas knits, spins, and generally enjoys life in Pueblo, Colorado. You can follow her meanderings at www.rosemaryknits.blogspot.com.
This article was published in the Spring 2011 issue of Spin Off.