Emily of Tin Can Knits recently wrote in an Instagram post, "Spinning is time-consuming as hell, and it doesn't make much sense to anybody who hasn't already caught the bug (kinda like knitting). But I tell you, I love it SO HARD." Me too! That was my first response. My second was that I wish more people understood how amazing and rewarding it is to handspin.
If I had a dollar for every person who has told me they would like to learn to spin, but they are worried it will take away from their other crafting time. Guess what, it will! But that is okay. Spinning, like all crafts, ebbs and flows. Sometimes I spend a lot of time spinning, sometimes knitting, or crocheting. But what if I had never learned to spin because I was afraid it would cut into my knitting time? In all likelihood I would not own a wool mill, but that is a little extreme. For most handspinners, spinning is therapeutic. It is truly a chance to get back to the animals, to feel their fibers slip through your fingers while making the yarn and being able to design your project from scratch. The rhythmic act of treadling, and letting the wheel take your fiber is so soothing, I often lost track of time and everything else going on in the world.
For most people, learning to spin is not intuitive. It takes time, a lot of practice and patience. It's important to remember that people have been handspinning for a very long time, originally out of necessity. If they could do it with the most primitive of conditions, you can certainly do it too!
Learning to spin was not easy for me. In fact it was one of the most challenging things I have had to learn as an adult. I had a lot of frustrating times sitting at my wheel. Even learning to treadle (using your feet on the peddles to turn the wheel) did not come easily to me. I had moments where I would get it. Then sit down the next time and feel like I was starting all over from the beginning. And of course there were times when the fiber just flowed easily even if I had no idea why. I trudged on, determined to learn this new craft. And eventually I got it! How? Classes, watching others, videos (DVDs and YouTube videos alike) and practice. So much practice. What I am trying to say is that if you are like me and handspinning is not intuitive, don't give up. You'll get there and it will be so worth it!
If you have been thinking of learning, have tried it once or you are already in deep as a Beginner, I encourage you to push on. I have created a list of my top tips for Beginners, or things I wish I had known as I was starting out learning to spin.
If you live in the area and are interested in learning to spin on a wheel, please feel free to comment and we can set up a one-on-one class (outside with safe practices to keep us all healthy).
Kim's 10 Top Tips for Handspinning Yarn for Beginners
1. Practice. 10 minutes a day. This is not a craft that you can learn from one class and expect to be able to pick up a week or month later. Practice is key. Have a wheel and use it.
2. Start with appropriate fiber. The toothier the wool is, the easier it is going to be to spin. By "toothy" I am referring to coarseness. The more coarse the fiber, the more it naturally wants stick together. So while it may not be the most tactile fiber to start with, it will give you a higher chance of early success! Recommened sheep breeds: Jacob, Romney, Shetland Fiber to avoid: alpaca, mohair, silk, merinos and other fine wools or blends.
3. Fiber preparation is key. It's so easy to get pulled into those lovely hand-dyed wool top braids and batts. Stop! Don't do it! Not yet anyway. Instead go with fiber that has been hand-carded or processed at a mill as roving. These fibers will be less processed and in general this means less condensed which is easier to spin. Quick lesson: Top is wool that has been combed so that all the fibers are parallel. This fiber, especially when dyed, is often very dense and alick making it harder to spin for beginners. Roving is generally a much looser fiber as the wool has only come off the carder and is therefore less organized and less dense. Again I would avoid dyed roving and stick to natural colors.
4. Practice treadling. Easy enough! Treadle treadle treadle. If you are sitting in front of the t.v., treadle. Talking on the phone, treadle. No fiber needed just treadle. Getting yourself comfortable with treadling is half the battle right!
5. Understand adjusting tension and keep it light on your wheel. Keeping the tension light on your wheel will keep the wheel pulling fiber in from you at a slower pace. When you are first learning, slow is good. You definitely want to take some time to learn what type of tension your wheel works with (scotch, double drive or bobbin lead) and then once you understand, loosen your tension. There are endless videos and tutorials online so google and go!
6. Let your wheel take the fiber. The idea in spinning is that as you spin, the wheel is taking the fiber from you either in small or large amounts depending on how much tension is on the wheel. You are guiding the fiber, but the wheel is taking it. See tip 7 for how to guide vs. give.
7. Hold the fiber as lightly as you can. Guide vs. Give. I had a teacher say to pretend the fiber is a baby bird - if you hold it too tightly you could hurt the bird. The idea is that the lighter you hold the fiber the easier it is for the wheel to take the fiber from you. If you have a death grip on it, the fiber isn't going anywhere and you will be fighting your wheel. Believe it or not you can even just let the fiber rest in your hand, letting the wheel do 95% of the work! What?!!! I used to hold my fiber so tight afraid the wheel was going to take it too fast and then the fiber would break. Now I actually practice seeing how lightly I can hold the fiber as the wheel takes it in.
8. Oil and clean your wheel. Oil your wheel fairly often with an oil for spinning wheels. There are many options options available. I generally use wheel specific oil for ease of use but gun oil is another great option. Cleaning your wheel is a bit more of a chore. But those little fibers get into the tiniest of crevices and can slow down your wheel. Cleaning often and keeping those loose fibers out of your wheel will make for a smooth spin.
9. Don't worry about the "rules." I tell all beginning spinners, don't worry about the rules. Just make yarn! This should be fun and shouldn't be stressful or a chore. If you are making yarn, you are winning! Later down the road, you can choose to be a more technical spinner if you would like. But for now, get the basics down and have fun!
10. Take a break. When those frustrating moments happen, take a break. Do something else and come back to the wheel refreshed. A new mindset could be all that is needed to have a breakthrough.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope these tips will be helpful to beginners and will hope to inspire those of you on the cusp of sitting down at a wheel and giving handspinning a try!
Please feel free to comment with questions, thoughts or your own tips.
Stay home, stay healthy, craft on and listen and learn from all different voices.
More than once I have gotten the comment from friends and followers asking "when do you sleep" or something akin to that. This got me to thinking that you all might enjoy following me thru a day just to verify that I do indeed sleep. Ha! So join me for a day in the life of....
For the sake of this "day in the life" and since harvest is just beginning I am going to let you in on a long day. Summer days are long around here! When Mitch is in full swing farming he often works until dark which during Oregon summer is around 10pm. All of this to say, I try to sleep as late as I can while still getting everything done in my day. I pull myself out of bed no later than 8am although truth be told 7am is always the goal. The first part of my day revolves around helping to get Mitch out the door. While he is exercising, I am making his breakfast, lunch, coffees and plenty of snacks to keep him going until that late evening hour. All of which he runs out the door with. After Mitch leaves comes the house animals. We have 4 dogs and they all patiently wait for breakfast, whenever that time may be.
Once the dogs are fed, I feed myself a little something and then we head out to the farm animals. Along the way I am most likely doing laundry, pulling weeds and watering outside. The dogs accompany me and usually run ahead in an effort to eat any possible poop or eggs they can find before I catch them. Gross but the truth!
As I wander down the hill on our property to the barn and sheds there is generally a cacophony of animal sounds coming at me. June the Shetland Pony starts the moment she hears the backyard gate open up at the house. Before she can even see us she is neighing. As I walk down the hill, the sheep to the east start talking and running down their pasture which quickly notifies the alpaca and Cuddlebug, the goat, that the food lady is coming. Nothing like the sight of 4 alpaca and their goat buddy tearing down the pasture for food. Before I reach the bottom of the hill I can hear our rams start up their morning song and the chickens in the barn stirring and clucking wondering why I sleep so late. It is quite a sight and sound!
Our chickens are free range so I open their coop door and off they all run to explore the outside. The sheep, alpaca and Cuddlebug get pellets in the morning. This is the highlight of their day! In addition waters need to be checked, horse poop needs to be scooped and June needs a good brushing in addition to picking her hooves which I do every other day. (This is basically just what it sounds. Using a pik sort of tool to clear out the crevices in her hooves of dirt, debris and poop). Once everyone is fed, watered and accounted for we head back up to the house.
Snack and shower time for me and then I try to get out the door to the Mill. My morning alone gives you some idea of why having shop hours was not great for our schedule. Only in the past couple months have I let go of trying to rush out in the morning. Instead I just stay calm, enjoy the morning routine and get out when I get out. That is a luxury of being self-employed.
Lucky for me its only about a 20 minute drive to the Mill and it is all lovely fields and backcountry. No traffic so plenty of time to relax, see what all the other farmers are doing and plan my day at work. I generally spend about 6 hours or so at the Mill. Since it is such a short day I really focus on a solid plan of what I can get done. An example of an average day was today! I washed wool and plyed yarn while running roving thru the drawframe. Once both of those were done (ideally around the same time), I started spinning the last batch of yarn for a client while steaming all the yarn that was already completed. I occasionally sit down to eat and generally I'm getting together orders to ship before I leave for the day. And the cleaning! I always underestimate the clean-up time. Nothing worse than coming into a messy mill the next day.
Once I return home I generally make an afternoon/evening tea and exercise before its time to start evening chores and dinner. I also write blog posts, work on the business and dye up yarns and fibers in the studio on those nights I'm not exercising. I'll admit a lot of my "days off" involve many of these small but important jobs I can do from home.
During harvest I do all the evening chores as well. Off season I am lucky enough to have Mitch who puts the animals to bed. But this time of year its part of my responsibilities. Evenings are much more quick. The dogs get fed and settle in for the night. June gets a little love time and her evening pellets. The chickens get closed into their coop for the night (In case you were unaware, chickens naturally return to their coops at dusk for the night) to keep predators at bay and depending on the time of year may hay the animals. Not a bad way to spend the evening and I almost always get rewarded with a lovely sunset.
Finally its dinner for us! As I mentioned, Mitch can get home as late as 10pm so we eat dinner pretty late. I try to have it ready for him so we can talk, eat and spend a few minutes together. This farming thing would be a lot easier if I didn't like my husband so much. But I really do enjoy his company so the first couple weeks of harvest are always a bit of a hard transition for me. The routine of course settles in and any random days he ends up not working we try to wander away from the property to somewhere we can sit, eat, drink a beer and just relax together.
So there you go! Needlesss to say I sleep well! On my days off from the mill you can fill in those hours with cleaning pastures, coops, the house and running the errands. And maybe a little extra knitting time. Farming is no easy life. There is a lot of work involved, a lot of long days and for us, working as a team is the way we get thru it. I hope that gives you a little peek into what a day in the life looks like! And don't worry, I do sneak in some knitting and spinning too!
Thanks for reading! Stay safe, stay healthy and please, listen to all the voices.
Wow you guys! I think I better start with the biggest thank you to all of you who have taken the time to visit, read and comment on my previous post. It has been one of those days and you all truly helped lift me up! It never occurred to me that the comments would be so amazingly supportive and thoughtful. Thank you!!! A couple more days and I will pick the winner of the giveaway.
My plan is to post once per week. Then today happened and it seemed a day to share. A not so perfect day at the Mill...
It started off with me dropping off the last 3 foster kittens at the Humane Society. I cried a lot last night and this morning as I said goodbye. The two tabbies are going to someone I know and they will have a wonderful life! The black girl has yet to find a home and I absolutely fell in love with her. Letting them go was rough, but they have had a positive and healthy start to their lives and that was my job. So why didn't we just adopt her? The long and short of it is we are full and on a tight budget. I have enacted a "no new mouths" to feed policy and I am trying to stick to it.
Despite my better judgement I decided to go into the Mill to do just a couple hours of work. My spinner is down for a couple days as we had to order a new bearing and as these times have it, the distribution center it comes from had an employee contract Covid-19 so shipment is a little delayed. That's ok, I am working on a big client order so I can finish running the already processed rovings thru the drawframe and finish the last bit of carding so we are all ready once the spinner is up.
The carded rovings are passed thru the drawframe in an effort to further align and even out the fibers prior to spinning. The more even the roving you have, the more even the yarn will be spun. Immediately upon starting up the drawframe I had a problem. The rovings were feeding just fine thru the first half of the machine but started backing up prior to exiting. Likely another bearing out. Grrr.
Ok, that is ok. I'll just finish up with the carding. As I went to prep the carder the vacuum duct, which pulls dirt and debris out of the machine while it runs, fell apart into 3 pieces and dropped dirt everywhere. I screamed my most frustrated scream, climbed off the ladder, called Mitch to tell him all the machines I had broken, then left. Ha! I'll teach this day.
I am one to always look for some sort of bright side. For today, I took some pictures of the new colors available in our Shyra yarn (Shetland/Pygora blend) and I love them together! You all are the first to see. They are available now in our online shop in limited quantities and dyed to order.
And then a super bright note on this day! Word that the Supreme Court has upheld that Civil Rights laws protect gay and transgender rights from workplace discrimination. Finally a win!!! Now that is a way to end the day!
Ok ok, I was looking back thru the blog and realized I have done this several times. With the best of intentions, picked up blogging again and then quickly run out of steam. I am hoping that this time, with a plan and some renewed energy, I will be able to follow thru for you all and myself a little better. I am scheduling out topics and dates. Ya know, using a calendar to make a schedule!
Here's the thing about me and business, both times I have done this entrepreneur thing I have fallen into it out of a love. The first with dogs and this time with fiber. Both times I had business plans, fought the fight with the banks to get funding and then dove straight in. Lucky for me, both times I took off running with enough customers that I did not have a moment to look back and evaluate if I was running things efficiently. Milling wool is labor intensive and there is a lot of overhead with thin margins. If I want to be truly successful it is time to sit down and really evaluate the business as a whole.
So here I sit working on the business. In all that is happening in our world, I have been looking for different voices and stories and one that I have found and truly admire is Mimi G Ford (mimigstyle on Instagram). She is a self-made maker/business owner and has a podcast about business called Mimi G's Business S.H.E.T Podcast. Reading her story and listening to the podcast have been inspirational to me. They are giving me the energy to get back into the business mindset, sit down and work on it (as well as in it), and in general just feel more invigorated and open minded about what I want from it.
Some of you may have noticed the recent name change on Instagram from ewethfulfiberfarm to ewethfulfibermill. I changed it for a pretty basic reason, Milling is what I do! Yes we have a slew of farm animals but I do not by any means consider myself a shepherd. I love them and I keep them alive and happy, but I do not put merely the time and effort into them as those truly breeding and raising flocks for sale. What truly gets me going, even on my off days, is Milling! I will of course still post endlessly about the animals, the grass seed farm and our life because it is our story, but the Mill is my profession and that is what so much of my life revolves around. Wool, dirt, lanolin, fiber and ultimately processing yarn.
So there you go! I'll be back soon. And if you have taken the time to come visit my blog thank you! Please comment below for a chance to win a skein of Oregon made Ewethful Yarn (no superwash ever) and some of our lovely stitch markers. One entry per person and I will pick randomly from the comments after end of day Wednesday June 17th . (Helpful hint: I don't have a lot of readers so you have a good chance!)
Thank you for visiting! Stay safe, stay healthy and listen to all the voices!!!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill. I create hand spinning fibers from locally sourced wool and teach others online how to hand spin their own yarn.