On this particularly frosty Fiber Friday I'm truly thinking about fiber. Fiber in its simplest form. Without it, where would we be? Covered with hides, for one thing. Leather and fur are very versatile but I simply cannot imagine a world without our wonderful natural fibers. The luster of silk, the warmth of wool, the softness of cotton and the smooth coolness of linen.
Ever since I was a young girl I've been fascinated by spinning wheels. Not just because of what happened to poor Sleeping Beauty (hasn't everyone looked at a wheel and wondered, "Where's the spindle?"). The simple act of twisting fibers together to form a yarn has always been magical to me. The fact that the act of creating a knitted, crocheted or woven cloth all begins with this basic step never ceases to fascinate and beguile me.
As an adult, I first learned how to spin using a drop spindle. I still think this is a good place to start. It may not give fast results but it gives your hands the chance to learn how to draft and manage fiber and control twist without the distraction of pedaling a wheel. There is an excellent tutorial (with videos!) on learning to use a drop spindle available online at The Joy of Handspinning: http://www.joyofhandspinning.com/HowToDropspin.shtml
A few years ago I was asked to purchase a wheel from the mother of a friend. My friend had recently passed away and her Mom wanted to sell the wheel to someone who would appreciate it and especially someone who was close to her daughter. I don't know why it had never occurred to me to buy a wheel - being already so fiber obsessed - but it hadn't, and so shortly thereafter I found myself in possession of my first spinning wheel. A beautiful 1970's Clemes and Clemes "traditional" castle wheel, just like this one (photo courtesy of Clemes and Clemes
The biggest challenge for many beginning spinners is learning to treadle the wheel. For this reason, if you are learning to spin, consider practicing first without fiber (or even a bobbin or flyer on the machine), just treadling until you get the hang of it. When you've become skilled with the wheel's treadle, you should be able to start and stop the wheel without touching it with your hands. The Clemes and Clemes traditional wheel has quite a bit of weight to the wheel, so once it gets rolling it keeps on going! The treadle is made so that you can push with your toe or your heel on the pedal, which assists not only with starting and stopping the wheel, but I believe it promotes better muscle use. Most find it easier to treadle a wheel with double treadles. It's really all a matter of personal preference. (For lots of information on how to spin using a wheel, check out The Joy of Handspinning website, http://www.joyofhandspinning.com/
) When treadling your wheel becomes a natural rhythm, it's time to put a bobbin in the flyer and get spinning!
Once you've mastered the basics of wheel use, the world of fiber opens up to you. What will you spin? It depends on how you intend to use your yarn. Knitters and weavers may have different needs for yarn diameter, strength, etc. We all have personal preferences for what we like to make - in my case, I like to knit primarily DK weight yarn or heavier so I don't spin fine yarns unless I plan to do a lot of plying. I do take the time to measure the diameter my yarn as I go if I have a specific project in mind, but generally I spin within a fairly consistent range where I know I have a lot of project choices and I worry more about producing a consistent yarn than achieving a particular diameter. As a beginning spinner, I still have much to learn but am looking forward to every moment of the journey.
If you love textiles, I would strongly encourage you to learn to spin. If the feel of a beautiful cloth thrills your fingertips, think how much they would rejoice in the soft whisper of the fibers as they slip through your hands into the drafting zone and are guided into a perfectly twisted strand. The sound of the wheel going through its rotations, the rise and fall of the treadle and the motions of the fiber flowing through your hands provides a uniquely calming effect that is the perfect counterbalance for our stressful, fast-paced world.