Show Notes · Stuff You Should Know

Episode 5: All Things Spinning

The first in our spinning series – Episode 6 will include ways to select spinning tools, and this Episode will cover the basics.

We think that everyone should give spinning a try! It helps you understand yarn structures, how different fibers work together, and gives you more knowledge to make better yarn selections. Spinning is also good for your mental health – take some time for yourself and meditate a little bit over your wool.

At the very basic level, you’re taking fiber and turning it into yarn. Any sort of fiber can be spun – wool, animal fibers, paper, money, plant fibers, fabric scraps – we’re mainly talking about wool today. It’s the easiest thing to spin and the best for beginners to learn on. Essentially, you’re taking a small amount of fibers and twisting them together to make them hold together.

Drafting is the act of pulling the fibers apart, to control the thickness and weight of the plies that you are spinning. Follow this link for a short video about drafting.

Equipment costs can be as inexpensive or as expensive as they need to be. You can start out with some very inexpensive fiber, and you can even make your own spindle. Follow this link for some instructions on making your own spindle.

Follow this link for a Learn to Spin YouTube video. Follow this link to find the Learn to Spin kits that Sarah mentioned.

It’s rare for a spinner to begin with raw fleece – it’s much more common to start with prepared fiber. The most common types are combed top and carded rovingTop will have all of the fibers aligned in the same direction, preparing it for worsted spinning (i.e. short draw or forward draw). Roving will have the fibers aligned randomly, is made by carding the wool, and is prepared for woolen spinning (i.e. long draw).

VM is “vegetable matter”, the straw and grass that gets caught in the wool while it’s on the sheep. Second cuts are the small pieces of wool left behind if the shearer has to go over the same part of the sheep twice.

If you’re preparing your own fiber and you want combed top, you’ll be using wool combs, like these, or a hackle, like this. A hackle can also be used for blending. If you’re making roving, you’ll be using hand cards or a drum carder. A flick carder is used to open up locks, and a blending board is used to make custom blended rolags.

Skirting is the process of removing the dirtiest parts of the fleece (such as from around the tail and the legs) before washing. If you’re starting with a fleece, you’ll have to clean and process it. If you’re buying at a festival, fleeces should be labeled with whether or not they’ve been cleaned or skirted (in general, an unskirted fleece is going to cost less than a skirted fleece, but you’re going to be putting more time into cleaning it). There are lots of different ways to wash a fleece, follow this link for one tutorial. If you’d like to hear a dedicated fleece washing episode, please let us know in the Ravelry group!

There are tons of different ways to handle color when you’re spinning, especially when you’re dealing with hand-dyed fiber. Follow this link to read a great article from Interweave about some of the different ways to deal with your colors in hand-dyed fiber.

Pre-drafting is one method of preparing your spinning fiber, and involves drafting the fiber before you sit down to start spinning. It is frequently taught to beginners so that you can practice the other mechanics of controlling a wheel or spindle without worrying about the drafting aspect.

We want to stress that you DO NOT need to buy anything fancy or expensive to start spinning, but in general learning a new skill is a lot easier when you’re not fighting against your tools. Paradise Fibers, The Woolery, and WEBS are all great places to get fiber and tools. It’s best to start with a medium-grade wool.

When you’ve spun some yarn, you’re going to want to wind it onto a Niddy-Noddy before you wash it. Follow this link to watch a video about how to wind yarn onto a Niddy-Noddy. Tie off the yarn in a couple places, soak it (with wool wash if you like), squeeze or spin the water out, and give it a THWACK. Follow this link to watch a video about thwacking your handspun! Thwacking helps the yarn soften and bloom a little bit.

NOTE: further research has determined that weighting your handspun yarn is recommended for yarn spun with weaving in mind, not recommended for yarn spun for knitting or crochet. Anna will henceforth stop weighting her skeins – the more you know.

It’s always a good idea to spin, wash, and swatch – especially if you’re spinning with a project in mind.

As always, thanks for listening!


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