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.
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.