Tuesday, April 16, 2019


In a bid to embrace the privileged urban middle aged white woman stereotype that I appear to be indulging of late, I've embarked on my most outré craft pursuit to date - spinning. Like with a spinning wheel. Like Hans Christian Andersen-y. Scott, who gets with my every creative endeavour has continued on his trajectory of support (he helped me to finish the pieces and he put the wheel together) but even he thinks I'm on the edge. Of course, he has to listen to me natter incessantly about this new pursuit; I don't really talk much but when I do I can't seem to stop and it's all about yards per pound and grist and twist angle. He advises that this is only slightly more tolerable conversation than that during the "giving up sugar" days of 2016.

While it may seem as if I conjured this up in a moment of wine-fueled joviality, I've been thinking about spinning for a long time. My favourite aspect of knitting is the tactile joy I obtain from fibre. I'm that person who researches everything about yarn properties and spinning mechanism (worsted vs woolen which I've recently come to learn take on the most amplified denotations in the spinner set). While I don't have much interest in dyeing anything (strange given my love of potions, I realize), I know all about the dye methods of my stash yarns. I'm that silly hobby-farm wannabe to whom they could market yarns from named sheep (as seen on the label!).

But I also love working with my hands. My hands are like my eyes, when I craft. I see with them. Brief sidebar: I've often looked at my hands with concern for their ever aging appearance and occasional, but significant, pain challenges. Let me formally apologize to my lovely, wonderful hands for this ungracious behaviour. They facilitate much of what gives me meaning in my life and I am eternally grateful for them.

At any rate, over the years, I've spent a strange amount of time on YouTube watching spinners in different parts of the world - each having a different lifestyle, background, fibre preference, drafting* techniques - spinning yarn on one crazy wheel after another. Those Saxony-style ones are wild! Given that I am working very actively to develop neuroplastic solutions for biochemical challenges, I'm amazed that it took me so long to realize that this could be my equivalent of a therapy animal. Moreover, though my body/mind is exhausted, my intellectual brain surfaces every once in a while and it needs something to which it may apply itself. Oh, friends, the topic of spinning is effing vast.

Spinning is political, social, economic, feminist, scientific, folkloric, mystical, religious. It encroaches ever-closer toward the beginning of the food and manufacturing chain of which commercial yarn is the end result. Just what it takes to scratch the surface about sheep, their fibre and animal husbandry is hours and hours and hours of internet "fun". Spinning technique is polarizing, in some ways, inclusive in others. It is a solitary endeavour in today's world, at least in person. You think it's hard to find knitting friends? Spinning wheels are rather an investment, so cut that pool by a factor of 100...

By way of deets: I deliberately bought a bobbin-led wheel. Not to spiral down the drain of spinning minutiae, but you know the tools make the artist. I wanted a wheel that would rely more on my emerging skill than the technical capacity (tensile mechanism) of the machine. Also, commercial spinning is bobbin-led. If it's good enough for them... I don't love fiddling with machines. I'd rather know my own capacity and achieve my outcome by calibrating my interaction with the wheel. The bobbin-led mechanism is good for beginners and good for experts. This wheel is one I can use indefinitely, skill notwithstanding.

I also prefer the compact-quality of a castle-style machine (one in which the bobbin/flyer mechanism is placed atop the wheel). Finally, I required a modern-wheel design to suit the style of my home and my own (strong) personal preference. Oh, and I wanted to buy something good - but to spend less than the 1200 bucks and upwards that the fancy wheels cost (to say nothing of the extra kit one must purchase to be set up optimally to learn this skill, see more below).

Meet my Louet S17. It's got the functionality of the pricier S10 but you buy it flat packed, finish it and assemble it:

For this effort, you save about half the price.

But you know I don't do set up by half measures. I've done as much internet research on spinning tools as I could undertake in 3 weeks - which is quite a lot, as it happens. And I determined that, in order to make 3-ply fingering yarn (my end-goal - and I'm happy to meander there as it's meant to be), in addition to my gorgeous wheel, I would require:
  • Stand-alone lazy kate
  • Extra bobbin (so I have 4 large bobbins)
  • Twist angle, TPI and WPI cards
  • Card tags (for sampling) / hole punch
  • Niddy noddy (for skeining and one of the methods for estimating yardage)
  • Magnifying glass (to see the angle of twist on tiny singles)
  • A subscription to Ply magazine. If you are thinking of spinning but haven't yet taken the plunge, invest in an issue of this mag. Just from ads alone it will point you in many interesting directions and it really is a fascinating publication. 
  • Combed top! (This is worsted-prep fibre). I got some super fun wools of different qualities - long staple, medium staple, low micron count (merino), higher micron count (BFL), dyed, undyed, etc. Peeps, this is the wild west of spinning. I note with interest that spinning high-quality fibre is as expensive as buying high-quality yarn - only you don't have to spend hours making the store-bought yarn?!
These are in addition to things I already own:
  • All the digital scales in the land
  • Swift
  • Skein winders 
  • A bobbin winder - cuz did you know a bobbin-led machine is also a bobbin winder??
  • A couple of good spinning books - just make sure you don't undertake this sport without Yarnitecture by Jillian Moreno 
  • A good clothing steamer
For posterity, allow me to advise that, as of this moment, I have no interest in preparing a fleece. That task is replete with bugs and grossness. Moreover, I currently have no interest in dying fleece. There are so many fantastic dyers out there - and they put together beautiful rolags (woolen-prep fibre method) and top (worsted-prep fibre method) that are gorgeously, expertly, dyed. The idea of bringing that degree of mess into my house (and potential for staining things) is not appealing.

What is appealing? Moving into the meditative trance that is spinning. You don't need to be able to make usable yarn to have an awesome time undertaking this activity. To date, I spin, learn and discard my handmade yarn rope.  It is every bit as gorgeously enjoyable as you would imagine having observed spinners on the internet. It really is magic. Also, bar none, it's the best biofeedback tool I've ever come across. There is a universe to understand in every draft and draw. I know that sounds extra, but I say it without hyperbole.

I have barely scratched the surface of my own entry into this topic - itself so vast that I have not the slightest idea of where I might find the next crevice, a foot-hold. One thing I did a bunch of research about (before determining that treadle spinning is where I'm at right now) - is the exciting world of e-spinners. These come in many price points and designs. They do not require treadling because electricity does that part for you. I opted for a standard wheel because, in treadle-spinning, mine is the energy - the current - imparted in the fibre. Having said this, I love the idea of electrical spinning too. The method is portable, exceedingly compact, requires less full-body coordination and it can make very consistent yarn, even as you lounge on the couch. Also, for people with mobility challenges, this may be a viable alternative when treadling isn't in the cards. Alas, I'm the kind of lady who will be inclined to purchase, should it come to pass, a fancy-ass e-spinner. Because, if I do end up buying one, it will be cuz spinning has taken as primary a role in my art. And, at that point, I'll buy the best - and most attractive - tool I can afford.

But today's questions: Do you spin? If yes, what's your wheel? Do you e-spin? If you do both, which do you prefer? Do you feel that you could not live without your flyer-led machine (Scotch tension)? What motivated you to choose the wheel you chose? Are you a "technical spinner" or an "intuitive spinner"? Note: I believe you can be both - this is more to ask about whether you do all the mathy things that come with spinning or just let yourself spin something, the details of which are not interesting to you. I wanna know! Also - what was the best piece of info about spinning that you learned, as a beginner? Oh, just tell me anything!

* Drafting is the art of lengthening the fibre (in accordance with the staple length) to ensure, along with treadle speed and twist, that the yarn is of the grist desired. Grist is a measurement of density / amount of fibre in a length of yarn.