Handspinning, A Very Useful Skill

my first two-ply

I am a history buff.  I can’t keep my hands out of the pie.  I have done everything from medieval recreation to taking an archaeology-themed vacation.  When I was 16, no less.

The ingenuity of people in the past is endlessly fascinating to me.  I love to discover how similar we still are in all the little ways that matter most.

I am drawn to stories and depictions of how people survived, thrived, lived, loved, and fought from neolithic England to colonial Michigan.

I think my interest in history is entwined with my interest in homesteading skills, like making jam, growing vegetables, sewing, knitting … and spinning wool into yarn.

The funny thing is, I resisted handspinning for more than 10 years.  A friend tried to teach me on a drop spindle, but I didn’t take to it and chose to focus on weaving for a while instead.  As I got deeper and deeper into knitting — and reading blogs about knitting, and looking at pictures of handspun — and began to think I might want to try spinning again.  Maybe I was more of a wheel spinner?

I looked into taking classes.  The Spinning Loft was still located in Michigan then, but I had very young children at home and it seemed impossible at that time to get to a class that was 40 minutes away.  I went to check out a local fiber guild, Spinner’s Flock, where they plopped me in front of a Louet S10 and gave me a quick lesson.  My friends and I practiced treadling and drafting, and we spun some spectacularly chunky, uneven “art” yarn.  I went home with a fire in my head and practiced spinning on a drop spindle.  It wasn’t so bad after all!

my first handspun

At next month’s meeting, I signed up to be a member, paid for a wheel rental, and took home the Louet where I promptly spun up some lovely singles — then accidentally plied in the same direction and got some super twisted funky art yarn that is pretty much unusable.  I suppose now I know how to fix it.  But it’s nice to see where we’ve come from, eh?

crazy orange art yarn

Renting a wheel every month wasn’t feasible for me because I couldn’t go to every guild meeting (those darn kids!). I resolved to spend more time with my drop spindle, which although slower production-wise, was making me MUCH better at drafting.  Ultimately I was getting more yarn for my wool by slowing down.

At a Spinner’s Flock Fleece Fair sale, I bought myself a colorful braid of hand-dyed combed top and spun it up on my drop spindle.  Determined to try plying again, I wound my first two cops off onto toilet paper tubes.  I then turned a shoebox, a couple of 14″ knitting needles, and the cardboard tube bobbins into a rustic, homemade lazy kate and plied off onto my spindle.  It was so exciting.  I felt like I was finally, really making my own yarn.

my first two-ply

And I had no idea what to do with my new handspun!  I could only guess at the gauge and it was obvious that I didn’t have much yardage.  Excited to keep playing with spinning, I shrugged this problem off.  I would figure it out later. (And I did.  Am.)

I eventually borrowed a wheel (an Ashford Traveller), gave it back, borrowed another wheel (the Majacraft Suzie Pro that I am still using), and was gifted a broken wheel that I quickly got repaired (the Louet S15 that I still use).

my spinning wheels

I spin on my wheels more than I spindle, but I have great respect for the power of the spindle.  For thousands of years, people made clothing by hand — starting with fiber and a spindle.

ancient spindle whorl

Today I know spindlers who can really cruise and it’s not always an obvious equation that wheel spinning is faster than drop spinning.  For those of us who don’t do this for a living, production has a lot more to do with how much time you spend at spinning than how quickly you can crank out the twists per inch.



Spin the Rainbow

Photo of chain-plied Kauni pencil roving

I can finally do an acceptable chain ply (aka navajo ply) without tying myself in knots as I become a human crochet hook.

This Kauni pencil roving, gifted to me by a friend,

Photo of Kauni pencil roving

became this chain ply:

Photo of chain-plied Kauni pencil roving

I got about 216 yards.  It’s probably worsted weight, but I never really know until I start knitting it up.

This yarn is a bit on the, um, strong side of the yarn-softness spectrum.  I have no idea what I’m going to make.  Maybe it will go into a colorwork yoke or become a slouchy hat or fabulous legwarmers.

What have you knit with gradient yarns?  Or what do you want to make with gradient yarns?

Spinzilla was a blast!

Picture of a small skein of woolen spun Cormo

If knitting in public isn’t weird enough for you, you should take up spinning.

What I learned from Spinzilla last week was that spinners are, on the whole, a very happy bunch of people. We like to get together and ogle each other’s fiber, wheels, spindles, kates, niddy noddies, and freshly made yarn.  We encourage.  We help.  We teach.  We skip tea in favor of wine.

In getting ready for Spinzilla, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I wanted to accomplish.  Did I want to spin 4 oz per day?  Did I want to make more fractal yarn?  Did I want to try a combo spin?

A couple days before Spinzilla began, I assessed the fiber stash.  I sorted it by prep this time and found that my roving bin wouldn’t close!  That settled what to spin.  As for how to spin it, I figured a spinning competition was as good a time as any to learn long draw, which is a production technique that produces a woolen yarn.  I was almost swooning at the thought of spinning up woolen yarns in many colors to knit colorwork item. Peerie Flooers, here I come!

I opened up my Craftsy class “Drafting from Worsted to Woolen” with Jacey Boggs Faulkner and practiced long draw on a few different roving samples.  After an hour of playing around, I emerged with a lumpy and deliciously lightweight mini skein of woolen 2-ply dark brown Cormo.

Picture of a small skein of woolen spun Cormo

The night before Spinzilla started,  pulled out some of my oldest stash: 7.5 oz of light grey roving with some pale purple and yellow carded into it.  It was mystery wool that I bought on sale from a shop going out of business back when I was baby spinner.  I prepped it by pulling off two yard lengths (measured fingertip to nose, nothing too fussy), splitting that lengthwise, then predrafting, or attenuating, each piece until it was about doubled in length.  Then I gently rolled each piece into a ball so it wouldn’t tangle.

Picture of grey/purple/yellow balls of roving

The prep helped immensely with speed of spinning and it turned out that this mystery wool was even easier to spin long draw than the Cormo.

My second major endeavor for Spinzilla was an 8 oz ball of mixed Icelandic and Border Leicester lambs wool from Kathy Westfall named “Two Black Lambs.”  It was sooooo soft.  The staple length of this fiber was longer, which made the long draw even easier than the mystery wool.  It felt like it was spinning itself!

Here’s my Spinzilla 2015 pile:

Picture of handspun yarns

As team captain for Happy Fuzzy Yarn, I pursued people to fill up my team of 25 spinners.  I am really proud that we had at least 5 people on our team who were very new spinners.  Even though this is a competition for most yardage, my focus was education and community.  I wanted people to feel welcome, no matter their skill level or time commitment.  I am so happy with what each and every one of us accomplished.  I’m not burned out like sometimes happens with intense events like these, and I am already looking forward to next year.

This Spinzilla, I fell in love with the long draw.  I am just getting started.  I can’t wait to try more breeds and see what happens. And my happy spinner friends, makers extraordinaire, will be there with me.



They put me in charge

Close up of handspun BFL yarn

Close up of handspun BFL yarnHandspinners of the world, I have good news!

Spinzilla sign-ups start today and I am a team captain.  For $10 you can join Team Happy Fuzzy Yarn Spinners and have a jolly good time with yours truly.

For the record, you can also spend $10 to join another team or, ye gads, go alone.  I will still talk to you, but our relationship may never be the same.

You don’t have to be a “good” spinner.  Wheel or charka or drop spindle or tahkli are all welcome.  This is a judgement-free zone and, in fact, this is a great time to learn from others — whether you are just getting started or (like me) trying to kick it up a notch.

Although this is technically a friendly competition to get the most yardage, we are in it for the laughs and the excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time making yarn for one week.  (Hellllo, stash busting!)


I think there should be team prizes, don’t you?

Reflecting on My Summer Spinning Ramage

Photo of a soft, fluffy pile of cormo pencil roving

My summer of family fun was also filled with lots of spinning.  I was just in the mood for it and enjoying myself immensely.

First up was “Frothy,” a delicious, pink blend of Cormo, Border Leicester, Coopworth, and silk from Fiber Trends that I finished plying in early June.

“Frothy” called to me in the depths of winter and although I don’t think of myself as a pink girl, I couldn’t resist her siren song.  I’m so glad I didn’t.  This was fun to spin, fun to ply, and I keep looking at it and petting it and dreaming of what this 500+ yards of DK weight yarn will become.  Probably a shawl.

“Frothy” was spun up on the Majacraft Suzie Pro that I am fostering for a friend of a friend.  So I decided that the next project would be on my own Louet S15, who hadn’t been used all winter.  I chose another Fiber Trends roving that I picked up in February at the Spinner’s Flock Fleece Fair.  Called “Peacock,” it’s a blend of alpaca and wool in wild, but subdued colors, kind of like a tartan: burgundy, blue, orange, yellow.

Photo of fiber on a spindle

The alpaca in “Peacock” was too slippy for my mighty Louet S15, which kept ripping it out of my hands, making the the spinning No Fun.  After about of week, I did the big girl thing and switched tools, to my Schacht Hi-Lo spindle.  Now we are getting on.  Spindle projects are always slow going for me because it is not the project I reach for first.  Here in early October, the “Peacock” spindling is still ongoing, with no end in sight.

In mid-August I decided to clear out some leftover singles and practice my navajo plying.  I made quick work of Rambouillet leftovers and then took on the wheel-spun Peacock singles.  I’m happy with how these turned out although I struggled to get the n-ply going.

Then I started spinning the green glitter mohair batt (wool/mohair/silk noils/glitter).  This was one of those fibers I probably would have never bought for myself and I am so glad Julie destashed it in my direction because I learned a lot!  First, mohair is fun and easy to spin owing to its looooong staple length.  Second, a little bit of glitter (like angelina or firestar, not confetti) isn’t obnoxious at all; it just peeks out here and there.  Third, I might want to try making some blended batts of my own soon.  Just for the fun of it.

I spun this 8 oz up in about a week, which is pretty fast for my multicraftual self. It was so fun that it had my full attention — while watching Life on Mars with Matt in the evening (I like the UK original version better, but we ultimately watched both series).

About two weeks later — slowed down by the start of the school year, etc — I navajo plied the leftover singles.  That was a lot less successful (it’s worse in real life than in these pictures).  I’m not sure why, but maybe it needed more twist in the ply.  No tears though, this was just a practice with leftovers and gives me stuff to think about.

I also navajo plied (on the wheel) some leftovers from the yarn I spindle-spun for Julie as a thank you gift.  Also less successful, also done on the same night as the green glitter mohair n-ply so another theory I have is that I was just off my game that night.

This clearing out of leftovers was all in preparation to finish a years-old project.  I got this red and gray probably-Tunis from a local vendor when she closed up shop.  Red is not really my color so this was purely for the practice of spinning.  I started spinning it on an friend’s Ashford Traveler, even plied up two skeins of it, then wound the remaining singles on to cardboard tubes when the wheel went back to its owner.




I wound the singles on to my Louet bobbins, had some trouble with directionality and I think I had to ply that last skein the opposite way of what I normally do, but no worries, I am just making yarn, not winning prizes here.  One of the things I tried while spinning this fiber was playing around with blending the red and grey in some areas and separating the colors in other areas.  I am interested to see how that looks when knit up.  The wool is a bit scratchy, so it is definitely destined for outerwear.

Now I am working on spinning some dark grey cormo pencil roving.  This wool is very clean and smooth and soft.  So soft!  At first it was a bit of a challenge to spin on my mighty Louet S15.  I really like spinning on that wheel, but it has a powerful take up owing to its bobbin-led drive.  But I found that if I get just the right draw on the cormo, it’s not a fight.  I’m already halfway through!

What’s on your wheel or spindle?