Good Thread Post
July 1, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

For 37 years, Bothwell, a small town in Tasmania, has hosted an international competition to determine who can hand spin the longest 2-ply thread using 10 grams of wool.

Contributors to the competition work with the longest, finest fibers so that a yarn 6-8 fibers in diameter can be as thin and strong as possible. Spinners tweak their tools to exert the gentlest possible forces on the half-formed yarn, making ultra light spindles from bottle caps and bamboo skewers or testing various wheels and figuring out an appropriate balance between speed and delicacy. Many spinners share tips, tricks, and progress on the Ravelry Longest Thread group (free registration required).

Last year’s winner spun a 10g skein measuring 670.76 meters. This is about 30 times finer than typical worsted weight yarn and nearly 4 times finer than the finest available commercially-spun 2-ply wool.
posted by tchemgrrl (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Awesome. Reminds me of this Japanese planing competition.
posted by Think_Long at 10:13 AM on July 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Makes me think of Dido:
Eventually Dido and her followers arrived on the coast of North Africa where Dido asked the Berber king Iarbas for a small bit of land for a temporary refuge until she could continue her journeying, only as much land as could be encompassed by an oxhide. They agreed. Dido cut the oxhide into fine strips so that she had enough to encircle an entire nearby hill, which was therefore afterwards named Byrsa "hide"
posted by benito.strauss at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love the title of this post. Kudos.
posted by marienbad at 12:01 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to play Dido yourself: How to step through a piece of paper.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:36 PM on July 1, 2014

If you want to play Dido yourself: alternate.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:38 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thread (and textiles, more broadly) has a big presence in mythology - Rumplestiltskin, Ariadne, Hercules (okay, fine, I'm thinking of the Disney movie). I mean, the symbolic possibilities are endless, but I think it's also just there because fabric and thread are such a utilitarian necessity to our species that it goes unremearked upon, taken for granted, like water. I was curious, and found this article on textiles in mythology.
posted by Think_Long at 12:46 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by the young rope-rider at 4:55 PM on July 1, 2014

in terms of a bucket list for spinners, adding the bothwell spinin to the list would be a smart choice.

why? bothwell isn't usually high on the list of tourist destinations, however the process of getting there via the spirit of tasmania if you're roadtripping is really beautiful. bothwell isn't far from hobart, home of mona - great article in the australian "David Walsh's MONA success is the ultimate revenge of the nerd". if you're after what a small country town is like, the photos on flickr show the history of bothwell, including the nant estate + whiskey distillery from 1821.

the spinin itself is over 3 days - and there's a marketplace, sheepdog trials, workshops & events. spinners for the longest thread often use cormo - a breed of sheep founded in bothwell by the downie family. here's an interview with ian downie on 50 years of the cormo breed.

i'm working with the downie family to produce yarn from the world's first cormo - there was a crowdfund for the first ton, with the remainder of the first australian spin available on etsy as fiber & yarn, second batch asap at

thanks to for letting me know about this post.
posted by gusset at 5:42 PM on July 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do they make anything with that 10g skein? I am imagining lace that would almost be invisible - 670m is enough for a narrow shawl. What would you knit it on, 000000000 size needles? Looking at the Ravelry projects page - there's an orenburg shawl at 33g that's enormous. Thirty-three grams. Now I miss my drop-spindle again!
posted by viggorlijah at 6:29 PM on July 1, 2014

Wedding ring and Orenburg shawls would be my guess; they're both designed to ridiculously fine specs. I don't personally know any folks who have been involved with the contest and haven't found any projects; maybe people are tired of seeing the yarn by the time they finish spinning it. There are also folks who knit amazing miniatures (another FPP I was thinking about), but you don't need much yarn for those.

A few years ago, Spin Off magazine ("It's about making yarn by hand") had a sweater made with a yarn that won some largest-single-skein competition, knit quite loosely in a way that allowed the whole thing to be knit without breaking that long skein. Fun things to think about.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:45 PM on July 1, 2014

I'm curious about "the finest available commercially-spun 2-ply wool." Is it this maybe?
posted by clavicle at 8:33 PM on July 1, 2014

Oh, this is wonderful! I don't spin (though I knit obsessively) but now I'm considering a trip to Tasmania for next year's event... and maybe to go see some cormorant sheep in person. I bought some of the wool mentioned by gusseting upthread and it is my favourite wool.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:27 AM on July 2, 2014

clavicle - there's quite a few superfine yarns - for handknitters, they're usually out of either italy (eg baruffa), japan (avril), or the uk (jamieson + smith).

here's the search results on ravelry for cobweb 1 ply merino + thread. all of them are really lovely to knit with.

i've done a workshop with margaret stove, and she's such an amazing lady - more about a well known recent royal commission at knitsch.
posted by gusset at 7:04 AM on July 2, 2014

Jade Sapphire and the Jamieson and Smith linked by gusset are the finest things I've worked with, and I spent a few minutes when working on the post without finding a two-ply finer than ~170 meters/10g. Looks like Margaret Stove's manages it though!
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:40 PM on July 2, 2014

670m is mad. Like viggorlijah mentioned, that's enough for a shawl! In only 10 grams!

The finest skein I've spun was about 165m/10g, but it was very delicate... I have trouble putting enough twist into fine yarn for it to be really useable. I tried to make a shawl from it but it couldn't stand up to the stress of pinning it out for blocking. Need more practice to spin a knittable froghair.

There is something giddy about knitting tiny yarn on tiny needles, though - it makes fabric so delicate and light as a feather. Garter stitch in fine yarn is magical, those sweet little ridges. If only I had the time to knit fine yarn - as it is, I have trouble enough finding time to finish projects in thick yarn...
posted by Gordafarin at 3:58 AM on July 3, 2014

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