Misadventures in Hand Spinning

Warning: Post may contain photographs of tortuously twisted singles, badly balanced yarns, sacrificial fibre piles and other scenes that may be distressing to experienced spinners.1 (9)

Much to the delight of my downstairs neighbours, I have decided to have another attempt at spindle spinning. Although I love wheel spinning, the total yards of handspun yarn I have successfully created using a hand spindle has stood at 0 for a very long time.

I first tried using a spindle after a fortuitous visit to the Spinning Weal, a magical treasure trove of a craft shop conveniently located near the M5 for a good break on a long car journey. I was looking at the sweet jars stuffed with various colours of merino when I had the chance to meet the wonderful owner, Sarah. Expressing some interest in spinning was enough to see Sarah pressing a drop spindle into my hand with all the fervour of a drug dealer that had found their latest victim.

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Although I left the shop with a nice bag of fibre and grand plans for a technicolour coat of handspun fibres, my first attempts at using a spindle were nothing short of disastrous. I’m not sure I managed to get a single bit of twist into any fibre, let alone work out how to draft or construct even a lumpy single.

I tried, I watched videos and got nowhere. It was only when I came back to the Spinning Weal for a spinning course with Sarah did I ever figure out how to turn fibre into yarn with the help of a little Ashford Kiwi wheel. I really struggled with spinning in the beginning, I had a great habit of letting the twist run into the fibre, so it became impossible to draft and was generally only good at jamming the wheel or making a mess.

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For the few seconds I could keep the wheel going and the twist feeding in, I could see that spinning was something I would really love. Through a bit of sheer bloody-mindedness and a lot of excellent encouragement and patience from Sarah, I had my eureka moment and my hands suddenly figured out how to spin. I still cannot understand why I found spinning so impossible in the beginning, nor can I reproduce any of the immensely convoluted problems I managed to do very frequently as a beginner but I guess it taught me to troubleshoot everything very well!

If you are ever near Clevedon, do go and check out the Spinning Weal. It is a wonderful shop that stocks all sorts of goodies alongside all the spinning essentials, from Oliver Twists embroidery threads to a wonderful range of quilting cottons. The customer service is unfailingly excellent and it is a haven of wisdom and funny stories.

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I haven’t looked back since I’ve had my own wheel and been contently spinning away on my Traveller since then. While the art of wheel vs spindle spinning is often a hotly debated topic, I’ve never had much interest in using a spindle. While the portability sounded nice, I’ve never found fibre to transport particularly well nor have I felt the need to ‘spin on the move’. Given that I am infinitely more productive on a wheel, being unable to spin a thing on a hand spindle, I saw no reason for that to change.

There was going to come a day though, with my nomadic lifestyle, where I was going to be stuck sans wheel for long enough that I was going to find myself wondering if it was worth getting out my completely ignored drop spindle and trying again.

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As I actually understand how to draft and, more importantly, how to pre-draft fibre my second attempt was less of a dismal failure than the first time around. Yes, I drop the spindle often enough that my neighbours hate me, yes I get the undrafted fibre tangled around the spindle in some unholy mess, yes I’m spinning singles with zero consistency but there is a random amount of twist going in and they hold.

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It’s not fast, it feels way too much like hard work but I feel like going back to the spindle has been a good lesson. The stress of the precarious moment when you’re drafting in some fresh fibre and just praying it will all hold gives it an unwelcome thrill that spinning at the wheel simply doesn’t have. I like how easy it is to ply a single with itself too. I just unwound the spindle onto a ball winder, making sure I still had access to both ends, then popped the ball off and off I went. I can see that this approach has a high risk of invoking tangled yarn nightmares, but as I hadn’t spun much at all, it worked out okay.

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Do I like what I’ve made? No. Do I think it’s remotely good? No. It just feels like a massive leap since the last time I tried. Maybe now I’ll actually do some research and reading and learn how I’m supposed to do things, rather than trying to figure it out on the fly. I’m not sure it’ll ever be my preferred method of spinning but at least now I can give it a go and maybe one day I too can have an obnoxious opinion based on my personal preferences! In the meantime, dear readers, does anyone have any resources specifically for spindle use that they would recommend?

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6 thoughts on “Misadventures in Hand Spinning

  1. That was a lovely post – really made me smile! I’ve always wanted to try spinning on a wheel, but one way and another, never got round to it, but I can spin more or less competently on a drop spindle, so I guess that’s something.

    Liked by 1 person

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