Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Theory of Types of Spinning

By Leigh

I have found the comments to my last several posts, especially Spinning the Cheviot, very interesting for two reasons. First, the experience others have had with Cheviot. Since this has been my first encounter with it, I find your opinions very informative. In my research about the breed, I noted that Cheviot are a white fleeced sheep, so it is interesting that my sample was light gray. Considering the softness of the white fibers in the sample, I have made a mental note to explore the fiber more at some point in the future.

The other comments which I find interesting are those about spinning itself. I have long held that there are different types of spinners. My theory is that there are those who spin by feel, intuitive spinners. There are those who spin from habit, rote spinners. And then there are those who spin according to specifics, technical spinners.

Intuitive spinners amaze me because they simply spin by “feel” and consistently create beautiful, appropriate yarns. Rote spinning is something I think we all have a tendency toward, because it is easy to simply spin out of habit, the result being the same yarn no matter what we're spinning. Technical spinners pay attention to things like fiber length, crimps per inch, twists per inch, twist angle, etc to create their yarns. Of course, in the end it's the yarn itself that matters, so who is to say that one way is better than another. I think it depends on what one wants out of spinning that makes the difference.

I didn't know any of this when I first learned how to spin. I purchased a spindle kit via mail order, which included so many ounces of roving and a how-to booklet. I set out to learn as soon as it arrived, following the written instructions as best I could. I really struggled with drafting and the resulting size of the yarn. This is my first handspun:

It is Lincoln, and as a singles yarn, it averages about 4 wraps per inch. It never did get plied. It sat around in a box for a number of years because I had no earthly idea of what to do with it. Eventually I made a braided wrist distaff with most of it.

This first yarn left me discouraged and feeling that I just wasn't getting the hang of the process. So I decided to purchase Melda Montgomery's drop spindle spinning video. What a revelation that was. I learned that I could actually pull the roving apart into narrower, more manageable sections and predraft them. This gave me the beginnings of the much needed control I had struggled for. I started to relax and enjoy myself. Once my singles were more manageable, I learned to ply.

This is my first 2 ply yarn and it became my first ever project from my handspun, a winter weight crocheted vest, which I still wear.

Once I got a taste of successful yarn, my appetite was whetted and I ordered more videos. This was where I was introduced to Patsy Zawistoski and Mabel Ross. From them I began to realize that it was possible to use the characteristics of the fiber and my spinning wheel in order to control the process enough to create whatever type of yarn I chose, for whatever purpose I wished. This appealed to me and I started to hunt out Mabel Ross's books.

It seems that there is a tendency of new spinners to try to spin finer and finer yarns. As I gained control of the process, I wanted to do this too, I think because somehow I felt it would prove that I was no longer a beginner. Much to my dismay however, I found that in spinning fine yarns, it took a very long time to fill the bobbin. Then it took another very long time to ply it. And after all that, it took a very long time to knit. This didn't suit my personality. I wanted quicker results! So much for fine yarns.

Soon I settled into a comfortable worsted weight size yarn spinning and I became pretty much a rote spinner.......

These were comfortable to spin and comfortable to knit.

This was fine until I got Angora rabbits. Yes, I could spin their fiber the same way I was habitually spinning, but the very nature of angora demanded something different, so I had to renew my acquaintance with the technical aspects of spinning.

As I gained more control of my spinning, I began to experiment with different sizes and styles of yarns. Eventually I dabbled some with designer yarns....

.... though I really think I'm a plain vanilla spinner.

Interestingly, the more attention I pay to the technical aspects of spinning, the more intuitive it seems to become. Perhaps this is the familiarity of experience? Now, if only I could make the same transition with my weaving!

Posted 13 Feb. 2007 at http://leighsfiberjournal.blogspot.com

Related Posts:
Spinning The Cheviot


  1. Great pictures of your spinning. I never thought to do that, or even to save it. It's all been knit or woven. I've worn some pretty funky looking socks!
    Cheviot: I bought one fleece and it was the harshest wool I ever spun. I suspect she was given the best feed and hay since she was a show sheep.

  2. Lovely post and lovely yarns, Leigh.

    With spinning, weaving, and any of the manual arts, it's just like the Carnegie Hall joke....Practice, practice, practice!

  3. Leigh - Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been wanting to learn to spin for ages and haven't taken it any farther than one little kinky ball of singles yarn. I'm afraid I don't yet fit into any of your categories. I haven't been sure how to proceed, but your recommendations for spinning videos sound like the perfect solution!

  4. Thank you Marie, Valerie, and Cathy! Cathy, I would absolutely recommend Patsy Zawistoski's Spinning Wool - Basics and Beyond for a beginning video for the wheel. It is loaded with lots of wonderful information and Patsy is an excellent teacher.

  5. Thanks again Leigh - when I received your comment I was just in the process of ordering those very two videos! I don't have a wheel now, but hope to one day.

  6. I find your comments on the types of spinners very interesting as I, too, have wondered about spinners. I learned to spin at an Army Rec Center in Germany - just sat down at the wheel and started to spin like I had been doing it all my life (past life?). When we came back to the states I took my first real class and the instructor asked me why was I there...she thought I was more advanced. Since that time I have tried to be more technical, but find that I always go back to the fiber telling me how it wants to be spun. Or maybe its my hands know what to do and the rest of me just follows along? Hmmm...interesting discussion, eh? :)
    Whatever you believe, your yarns tell the story - you create gorgeous yarns! :) Keep 'em coming!

  7. You're an amazing spinner. I also love all the tequnical information on breeds. Keeps me informed. Thanks for sharing. Happy Valentine's Day.

  8. Well, whether intuitive, rote or technical, you're a fine spinner (I mean that in the complimentary sense, not in the yarn weight sense!). And consistent, too. That's a great quality in anything....

  9. Well, I do spin relatively fine yarn (grin!) and yes, it does seem to take forever to fill up even the little Ashford bobbins. An electric wheel, however, seems the answer to a maiden's prayers......... Still can't fill a bobbin as quickly as a worsted weight spinner, but it goes much faster.
    But then, I also weave with fine threads, and I love knitting socks on size 1 and 2 needles...........

  10. Your Lincoln singles are amazingly good. I would love to be able to spin a thick, single that didn't end up looking like a pig's tail!

    What do you do differently when you spin your angora? I have some that I have never spun because I didn't know how to approach it.

  11. What a great post! Thank you so much for sharing ( all the way back to the first THICK singles!) I've never had a spinning lesson, but have had the blessing of watching over many peoples shoulders and learning from watching. I'm not sure where I fit into your spinner hierarchy, but I have spun mostly with merino (with a little bit of BFL and some alpaca) and I definitely see difference. What a learning curve I'm on. And on this Valentine's Day. all I have to say is 'I LOVE SPINNING!!!!"

  12. I would strongly agree with that last conclusion -- a true master is someone who has absorbed the technical aspects of the craft to the point that they don't have to think about it, they can just do it. But that is often the result of practice, practice, practice.

    It all goes back to the structure of apprentice, journeyman, master levels of teaching found in the old guilds of medieval times. 'Cause I think a lot of us really do learn that way.

  13. What a great post! Your words make me realize why it is that I love spinning, be it technical or intuitive....there is always growth and knowledge to be gained.


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