I have been incredibly lucky to be exposed to people who are good at their chosen crafts. I should edit that to read *generous* people. I was taught to spin on a late summer afternoon by a kind woman and given a spindle plus a few ounces of fiber. And another one from Deborah Castellano! Now that I do this all the time, I can see how easy it is to acquire multiple spindles and I an in eternal excess of floof. So perhaps the gifts weren’t much on their ends but to me they was quite generous.
These gifts got me into the entire world of fiber prep and its related crafts, so it was a really big deal. But I had lucked my way into it. Early on I noticed that it seemed hand-making yarn and similar arts always seem to happen most more than an hour away from me and a lot of the tools are pricey and it is still “exotic”. This is not a well known craft in metro areas. This is not a craft you can get into by going to Michaels. Why is this? Why is something so simple and portable not out there more. What are the barriers to entry? If you want to knit, there are needles a plenty at chain stores, and good, durable synthetic yarns to boot. There are fancier options, but you can get really far without those. Also, knitting has more people just plain talking it up. Why not the humble spindle?
Now, just because something doesn’t happen in my neighborhood doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen at all. But spinning seems to be a missing link in the craft world around me. It took me a while to find the cheap seats and I wonder if there are other people in my situation. There are many resources out there, many people are generous with their time and talent. Supplies can also be had pretty cheap. So why is it “weird” to make your own yarn?
I have been a bit fixated on how to communicate the accessible nature of handspinning to the non-spinning world. Weaving seems to have a similar treatment, but that’s for another post.
Let’s talk first impressions. When I was a baby spinner (as opposed to the toddler spinner I am now) some of the first things I googled up were expensive (gorgeous) spinning wheels and expensive (gorgeous) specialty fibers. And let us not talk about “fiber snobbery” still kicking around out there. For those unfamiliar, there are two camps in fiber arts: one says to use only high-quality organic materials (and sometimes high-quality investment tools) to really “do it right”. The other says to use what you have at hand. This can be daunting to the neophyte. I took this as a challenge 😉
Non-spinners who want to learn….let me tell you you do not need to spend a lot of money! You can learn the basics and even more using one of our simplest, oldest, best tools: The Spindle!
Do I recognize the value of high-quality tools and fibers? Of course! But I think that’s just one of the roads you can go.
Learning to spin teaches you greater control over what type of yarn you use. It can teach you many things about visual arts and textiles. It can also be very relaxing. The spindle, or the glorified stick, is light, strong, portable, and can make all manner of exciting stuff.
NB: I am still a noob and barely know anything! But this is what I have learned so far, so have at!
No money: Read up
It doesn’t cost much to learn the basics, even before you get your hands on the tool. It doesn’t cost anything, if you can access free wifi or a library. If you’re going to approach a craft with an eye to penny pinching, it helps to orient yourself somewhat before you get dazzled or intimidated. Here is a playlist of videos that helped me learn about handspinning:
Make note of the terms: fiber, roving, leader yarn, drop spindle, shaft, whorl. This will help you later on, even if you barely know what you are talking about, because you’ll be able to discuss questions and problems intelligently with more experienced spinners who will most likely help you.
If you’d prefer a book, Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont is very, very helpful. You can find used copies on sites like Alibris, Powell’s, and Abebooks as well as Amazon.
Money/some money options: getting spindles
So, how do you start? If you have been given a spindle, right on! If you want to buy one and there is no spinning community in your area (or at least if you don’t know it yet) Etsy is a great option. You can find spindles for under $10 and of course the sky is the limit if you want to spend more and get fancy. The Knit Store on Etsy has a find model of $4.99 plus shipping here. But seeing as they all work on basic principles of physics, why get fancy in the beginning? You can also Ebay and Amazon it – but I found the prices on Etsy more reasonable.
I started with what is called a “top-whorl” drop spindle like the one in the clipart up top. That means the weight, which generates the twist in the fibers (turning them into yarn) is at the top of my spindle. There are variations, but I have yet to play with them. You can start with that model or any other – as long as you start!
No money options: getting spindles
All you really, really need is a stick when it comes down to it. That’s how we started in the stone age and there’s no shame in starting there, too. If you can get your hands on a straight, smooth stick (a short dowel, knitting needle, and maybe even a pencil) you have your shaft. Smoothness is key so your yarn doesn’t stick, so I would not use sticks from the ground unless you have the means to turn them and work then until they are smooth shafts.
Now for the whorl. This is not a strictly no-money option, unless you have some stuff laying around. That being said, the cost of making a basic spindle can be negligible. If you want to “drop” the spindle it needs weight. A CD works perfectly fine. Something round, flat, and light would work. You’ll need to stick the shaft through it and affix them, so you will need to rustle up some rubber bands or O-rings. In the video, you’ll notice the maker also uses hot glue, so if you have a glue gun it’ll come in handy. If not, do your best for proof of concept.
Money/Some money options: Getting fibers
This is the tricky bit. Unless you have a farm nearby, you’re probably not going to stumble into loose fiber. Also, if you’re a beginner, you may want to start with prepared fiber so you can get to the spinning faster. I did this somewhat ass-backwards – as you read above I got both prepared fiber and plain wool. Luckily, I enjoy the entire process, beast to yarn. But that’s a lot of work.
To start with, I’d recommend looking on Etsy/Amazon for “roving”. Roving is fiber that has been cleaned and brushed out nice and light into a long “tube” of floof. All you have to do is rip a strip off and start spinning. Sometimes roving comes in fun colors and has funky bits like sparkly stuff added in. Funky roving is no more or less valid than plain colors. But I would say the smoother the better when you’re just starting to spin. Also, if you’re allergic to wool, there are alternatives and plenty of synthetic fibers. I’ve even had luck with a chunky synthetic yarn from Michaels. Super bulky yarns are trendy at the moment, and I noticed mine was barely spun – roving!! I have been untwisting it and pulling it apart for a couple years now. It was Loops and Threads brand, but damn if I can recall the style. But investigating in-store can show you which yarns are yarn and which are basically just roving.
Plant fibers (also called cellulose) are gorgeous, but really silky and slippery. I found those to be a challenge, but if you’re up to it – have at it! If you can find sample sizes or grab bags of various materials, even better. This will let you get your hands on many different types of fibers so you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Personally, I don’t care too much about what I’m spinning as long as I can pull it apart and make yarn out of it.
Just be careful in the beginning – I found out the hard way I can’t tolerate angora rabbit. So remember that the fluffier the fiber the more likely it will puff about and get in your face. Also cotton is trickier to spin in the beginning because its fibers are so short.
No money options: Getting fibers
Short of untwisting commercial yarn and pulling it apart (which you may be able to glean from someone who is destashing), I’m not as familiar with completely free ways to acquire fiber. There are some nifty videos on youtube about converting newspaper to yarn and even knitting/crocheting with plastic bags. So this is possible but takes ingenuity. And that is going to be my next project 😉
In the meantime, if someone else knows more about using really non-traditional fibers in spinning or yarn construction, please, please talk to me!! I’d love to learn more. But this is the end of my personal munchkin land for now.
Take care and happy crafting!