Use lock structure to make yarn fit for a prince
The first time I saw Margaret Stove preparing wool for spinning, I thought she was joking. This was at SOAR many, many years ago. She had these exquisitely fine Merino fleeces, and she was separating them lock by lock, and washing them lock by lock. (Most of us back then were just throwing whole fleeces into a tub and dealing with the chaos later.) As I watched Margaret through the process, and saw the results she was getting, it started to make sense. Keeping the lock configuration meant she didn't have to card or comb—a huge time saver. And it didn't take very many locks of this fine, pampered wool to spin the few hundred yards she needed for one of her exquisite lace shawls.
Spinning a fine, fine yarn
All these many years later, Margaret's skills as both spinner and knitwear designer have held up well and expanded considerably. Her work has been shown internationally, she has taught all over the world, was even commissioned to spin and knit a christening shawl for Prince William (the one soon to marry darling Kate). Her knitting book, Wrapped in Lace: Knitted Heirloom Designs from Around the World, was just published by Interweave and is getting rave reviews for the deep techniques and lovely patterns.
So it was great fun to join Margaret in our video studio right after this year's SOAR to watch her go through the whole process, one step at a time: Her lock method of washing, and a way to speed it up; her lock preparation prior to spinning (which is basically to pick off the ratty tips); the precision with which she can spin cobweb-fine yarns that, for all their delicacy, are extremely durable and bouncy.
The knitted socks on my to-do list
You can see all this in Spinning For Lace, as well as learn the science and logic behind her techniques. (Her knowledge of textile properties is encyclopedic, and she does not hesitate to put her work under a microscope to understand it better.) I don't know that I will ever knit a ring shawl, because I'm just not a good lace knitter, but I can surely imagine knitting some wonderfully soft and durable Merino socks from my own three-ply yarn spun with her method. Oh, joy in the process, joy in the wearing.
PS—Did I mention that Margaret is from New Zealand? You will detect that as soon as she opens her mouth to speak. Lovely.