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.



Well, well, well…

It has been a quiet year (here, anyway) with a beautiful, but hard-to-read theme.

How about we change things up?

A new theme and renewed purpose.

After thirteen years–lucky, lucky thirteen–working in traditional publishing, I am stretching my wings to encompass the online realm.  Right now, let us simply enjoy each other’s company, shall we?  In two years’ time, my little people will all be in school and I will be able to devote myself to my freelance career fulltime.  Yikes!  So this is the time to enjoy.  The time when my seven-year-old son still says “I love you, Mom,” while we’re walking home from school (as he did today).

What have you been enjoying lately?

I’ve been sinking deeper and deeper into the soft abyss of spinning.  I have been blessed to borrow two spinning wheels and be given another–simultaneously–this past year.  Talk about wow.  So it is time to give back before there’s some sort of karmic backlash, like a rubberband snapping back into my face.

The borrowed wheels are an Ashford Traveller (very easy to spin on!) and a Majacraft Suzie Pro (the Cadillac of spinning wheels, as one friend put it).  Then someone was cleaning her house and gifted me with a Louet S15 that she had bought second-hand and never used.  It needed love and repairs but–OMG!  It was mine!

Through my local fiber guild, Spinner’s Flock, I got in touch with Linda of Cape House Farms, a local Louet dealer.  She fixed my baby up right and told me it was more than 30 years old.  I went straight from Linda’s beautiful property to Knit Night, my heart so light and bubbly with excitement, my arms full of combed Border Leicester that she gave me to play with–and I discovered that I couldn’t spin on this wheel to save my life!

Cue violins.  Pass the antacids.

Luckily there is always knitting to get my back (love you BFF!) so I wasn’t empty-handed that evening.  But after closing down the coffeeshop, I stayed up late doing research.  I learned that most Louets, the S15 included, are bobbin-led wheels.  The other two I’ve been using are flyer-led.  I made a few small adjustments to my drafting and treadeling and–behold!–Rapunzel is back in the house.

Rapunzel reference aside, I make no great claims to my spinning quality.  I am simply enjoying the process.  First question out of everyone’s mouth when I show them my spinning is “what are you going to make?”  Fair enough.  If you asked me about the angle of twist or Z/S spin, I would just look at you cross-eyed anyway.  But I have no answer to this popular question.  I left the last guild meeting wearing my latest skeins of yarn like a cowl and that worked well enough.

Until I got too warm.