Friday, February 8, 2008

On Spindling

I haven't had a lot of time for knitting or spinning this last week, but we did get moved and the house is listed and has already been shown twice, so we're very excited. Unfortunately, the handyman that we had called to do the last needed repair just got the flu, so I guess we're going to be doing that ourselves tomorrow. :-P

I did finish knitting the handspun socks and spinning the Flawful Fibers January shipment, so if you're interested, check out the sidebar.

I don't have much time, so I'm going to cop out a little bit and paste in a post that I wrote over the holidays when I didn't have internet and then never posted. I always feel kind of weird putting up how-to-type posts because I haven't been doing this very long and I feel like it's a little pretentious of me. On the other hand, if I have information that might help someone, I don't want to withhold it. I have learned a lot from reading blogs and seeing how other people do things. So here goes.

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On Spindling

There are apparently people who can pick up a spindle and fiber and, without much trouble, create fine, even singles. Either that or a lot of people are lying on the internet (and that’s always a possibility).

Either way, I am not one of those people. When I took spindle to fiber, the result was something only vaguely resembling yarn, and I will not pretend otherwise. Just about everything I have learned so far about spinning, I have learned the hard way.

Not that I’m complaining. Spinning isn’t as forgiving as knitting – you can’t unspin the fiber and start over – but it is rewarding to stick with something and see progress over time. If I could spin commercial-quality yarn right off the batt (ha), it would just be a chore. It is it’s own craft, and learning it is half the fun.

In the interest of helping, or at least encouraging, others who are interested in spinning but off to a bumpy start, I will share what I have learned so far. Experts, feel free to chime in with additional hints, or to tell me what I’ve still got wrong.

Lesson 1: Maybe your first spindle should be a first couple of spindles, at different weights and from different makers and manufacturers. Play with them, and with different fibers. Experiment and see what you like and what works for you. Your first yarn doesn’t have to be yarn at all; it’s a learning experience. I bought some merino yarn and one spindle, and figured I wouldn’t invest any more until I could make good yarn with what I had, but making the yarn I wanted (sock yarn, natch) with the materials I had would be pretty difficult. If I had branched out earlier, I would have been less frustrated.

Lesson 2: Spindles are not one size fits all. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if there’s a limit to how fine you can spin with a heavy spindle and a fine fiber. I was eventually able to spin a fine yarn on my 1.8 oz Cascade Pilchuk spindle, but I had to put so much twist in for the single to be able to support the spindle that the yarn itself was hard and wiry.

Lesson 3: Don’t think your yarn has to be thin to be good. Let the fiber tell you what kind of yarn it wants to be. That merino made a really nice, soft bulky weight on the Cascade spindle once I stopped being such a control freak.

Lesson 4: Spindles are not perpetual motion machines. Yes, it will spin longer if you can feed it a steady stream of drafted fiber, but eventually it will stop. A well-balanced spindle can spin all the way to the floor, but don’t be surprised if it stops and reverses (a lot) while you’re just figuring out drafting.

Lesson 5: It really does get easier with practice. The faster you draft, the longer the spindle spins without attention. And you’ll start to be able to tell when it’s slowing down or reversing and fix it before it takes all the twist back out of your fiber and drops.

Lesson 6: The spindle will still drop sometimes. I find that mine start to drop when I’ve got them pretty full of fiber. It makes sense; if you’re spinning on, say, a 1 oz. spindle, and you spin an ounce of fiber onto it, now you’re trying to spin the same kind of yarn on a 2 oz spindle. At some point, you reach critical mass.

Lesson 7: When drafting, hold the fiber gently in one hand, and pinch and pull with the other hand. I had a death grip on the fiber in my left hand for the longest time, and it slowed down my drafting and gave me snarls of fiber when I got to the end. Easing up was the single thing I learned to do that made the most difference.

Here’s what I can do on a spindle now, after a few months of inconsistent practice. The skein was spun on the larger spindle, which is, I believe a 1.3 oz. Golding. It’s a bit underspun and basically unusable – it drifted apart a couple of times when I was skeining it, and I just finger spun it a little and tied it back together – but I’m proud of it nonetheless. The smaller spindle is also a Golding (.6 oz?), with the same Shetland top.



sophanne said...

Those are good words. I bought a spindle and got so frustrated. (that of course led to the purchase of a spinning wheel) I am realizing now that the frustrations may be par for the course.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that! The tips are really helpful. I can spin passably with a spindle but really want to get better. I have an angora bunny with soft fur just calling me!

Anonymous said...

Such wisdom is always welcome (and wise, I might add). Glad to hear things are moving along for you! Can't wait to hear more, eventually no pressure of course.

whitney said...

Thank you so much for this post! This is really helpful for me. I totally have been doing the "death grip on the fiber" thing with my left hand!

Anonymous said...

That yarn looks gorgeous!