Some days spinning is very upbeat. I put on happy music, pick bright colors and shake off the funk of a crummy week. Other days, it’s meditative. No need for music. The wheel and spindle make their own sounds to pair up with the feel of the fiber moving across my hands. My thoughts drop away, and I am completely absorbed in the act of watching the yarn appear .
Spinning is incredibly cool on so many levels. Each time I take out some fiber and a spindle, it hits me. I’m about to play with something amazing that came from a living thing- a sheep, an alpaca, a cotton plant. Magical things will happen in the interplay between with my fingers and the fibers, and at the end of it, I have beautiful yarn to play with! I also know that while I spin, I will shake off all sorts of ugly thoughts and baggage that I’ve been carrying around during the day. I’ll replace the yuck with the smell of the fiber, the look of the colors coming together, the sound of the wheel or spindle, and the feel of the fiber moving over my fingers.
My breathing will fall into sync with the rhythm of spinning. On one level, the world becomes very small and immediate. While I spin, I’m apart from the million little thoughts pecking at me during the day. On another level, I become a part of the long tradition and history of fiber arts that is at the core of societal development. I feel a tie not just to the people who have developed the craft but to the community of people who continue to find new ways to express themselves through fiber.
When I step away from the wheel, I take that feeling of peace and connectedness into the rest of my day.
Fiber: Malabrigo Nube Piedras Spindle: Turkish Spindle from Snyder Spindles
New spinners fixate on thin yarn. After making super thick, slubby yarn, thin yarn looks like the sign of an expert spinner, a person with mad skills and precision control!
Actually, thin yarn isn’t the big spinning challenge. Variation in wraps per inch & twists per inch show more in a worsted weight single than in a laceweight single. No one type of yarn stands out over another. For me, a spinning rockstar can spin exactly what he or she wants within the limits of the fiber type.
I started spinning with a spindle like a boat anchor, a small bag of dense, lightly felted roving, and a thin book called Hands On Spinning. The information in the book WASN’T working for me. It is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it if you are someone who follows directions. It asks you to start out hand twisting a little piece of string. I spent about 20 seconds on that & then jumped straight to the ‘flick that spindle’ part. I wanted to spin, not hand twist fiber.
It didn’t click for me that the act of making yarn took place between my hands, not in the spindle or the wheel. I kept thinking- ah, I need a different spindle. And, if only I had a wheel.
I didn’t need a wheel or a different spindle. I needed to concentrate on learning how to manage fiber. There were tears. Lots of frustration. I learned to get the basics of drafting going by micromanaging my fiber supply. I could flick my spindle with the best of them & have enough twist for yards and yards of drafting. My hands stayed glued together and did a fair amount of double drafting and fiber play to get a consistent yarn. Eventually, it was thin, consistent yarn! But it was rock hard. Over spun, over handled. Lifeless.
To fix that, I taught myself all sorts of coping mechanisms to adapt for what was really a fundamental error in my technique. I added a cool little roll to take the extra twist out of the fiber. I predrafted like a demon. All good techniques to know, but not things I should have relied on to spin a basic single ply yarn. I didn’t care. I was spinning- a slow, tortured spinning process- but look, I could make soft and pretty yarn.
Eventually, I found a guild and saw other people spin. What they did looked so relaxing! They just sat there with some fiber in their hands, did a little hand wiggling, and yarn appeared. It was magic!
I started over, but I had lots of bad habits to unlearn.
If I am micromanaging my fiber, I remind myself to separate my hands and to check the length of my fiber staple.
I check to make sure that I am not over-tensioning the fiber supply with my fourth and fifth fingers. I’m a knitter and instinctively grab onto the fiber with those fingers. I try to remember the baby bird image (“hold your fiber like you are cradling a baby bird”). But in the end, what works best for me is envisioning the fiber sliding off of my fingers like water running over rocks.
See the post on drafting for more about this
To keep the yarn consistent, I tape a little sample to my wheel. It sits right in my line of sight, reminding me of the goal. Every once in a while, I pull my yarn over to the sample and do a spot check. Then I check to make sure that I am keeping the density of the yarn the same. I can match the singles width, but the amount of fiber in that single will vary. (see upcoming post on Grist) This shows up when I ply, so I fold back the yarn on itself to make sure the plied yarn matches as well.
And last but not least, I have a control card for spot checks to make sure I am not drifting from the overall plan (assuming there is a plan!)
To use the card, I lay the single in the groove to get an estimate of the wraps per inch. This is pretty cool, so I will do a post just on control cards soon.
Wheel: Schacht Matchless Single Treadle
Fiber: Story Spun Yarns hand dyed merino roving, Very Blue
Tools: Control Card: Rosie’s Precision Spinning Control Card