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.