Spinning is like an old flame I have a hot rendezvous with every few years. It doesn’t fit into my everyday life, but when we get together, sparks fly! In the same way that I love knitting with speckled yarns, knitting with handspun brings me BIG JOY. And spinning the yarn myself? Well, that’s like adding an extra layer of icing on the cake.
I first learned to spin on a drop spindle in 2008. In 2017, the desire came back stronger than ever, and I bought piles of fibre and a little e-spinner. Now I’m enjoying another summer of mildly illicit handspun pleasures. Ever since I dug into my Precious Stash, I decided I MUST spin the exquisite batts I’d been hoarding away. Spinning is time-consuming as hell, and it doesn’t make much sense to anybody who hasn’t already caught the bug. But I love it SO HARD.
Transforming fluff into stuff is delicious magic
As a designer and maker, I get really excited about completely transforming materials with my own hands. Spinning yarn out of fluff is all about this. The entire process is a sensual pleasure: the selection of fibre, the process of drafting and watching the twist transform fibre into yarn, and the soaking and finishing process. With spinning, you spend so much time enjoying the material before you even cast-on!
Oh, but this love makes no sense
In a fit of anxiety about spending so much time on my spinning obsession, I mentioned to my husband, “Handspun just makes no sense. It takes SO long to make, and then you still have to knit the sweater!” He literally laughed out loud and said, “Emily, you do knitting for a living. Do you know how much sense that makes?” Point taken.
101 rookie mistakes
Alongside the pleasures of spinning have come plenty of surprises. I’m accustomed to being very competent as a knitter, so when I make the most basic of mistakes spinning, I have to laugh at myself – even when I feel like crying over the mess I’ve made!
Like, how the hell did I switch the twist in the middle of a bobbin?! One day while plying, I realized part way through the process that I’d spun half of one bobbin in one direction, SOMEHOW switched the direction of the twist, and spun the remainder of that same bobbin in the opposite direction. So beyond a certain point, it wouldn’t ply with the other bobbin of singles. WHOOPS! That’s a do-over.
Or, how haven’t I spun NEARLY enough for a small sweater?! I recently started a sweater project with 200g of a lovely green batt, which I spun into singles. To stretch the batt farther, I spun the other ply in a coordinating colour. I figured I could make a cropped sweater with about 400g of yarn. A couple of weeks later when the lot was complete, I measured the yardage and discovered that, while it looked and felt like DK weight, there was only around 750 yards of it! At that point, I realized I should google “how much fibre do you need to spin a sweater?” I quickly learned a pretty basic fact: handspun tends to be denser than comparable mill-spun. OOPS! I’ll need to spin 800g of fibre to have enough yarn for my cropped-sweater project. Time to begin again!
Spinning a sweater is my goal!
Alexa and I both like to have at least a dozen (slightly unreasonable) master plans on the go at any given time. So to add to this year’s impractical list, I plan to to spin and then knit a sweater from handspun.
I’m considering knitting a Flax sweater (it’s a free pattern, so check it out!). Or perhaps a Strange Brew sweater because apparently I just can’t stop experimenting with yoke designs. But I might change my mind and make something with a bit of pretty lace, like Windswept or Ironheart.
Because it’s my first time with this kind of project, I’ll spin the yarn first, and then let it tell me what it wants to be, depending on the gauge it knits to, and the colour and texture of the finished yarn. I might even use it to work up a new design! In any case, I know I’ll enjoy every sensuous minute….until we meet again.
Tell me about your spinning adventures
Being new to spinning, I’m most interested in the spinning tales of others. Are you a long-time spinner, or maybe new to the craft? What are your top tips or pitfalls to avoid?