Handspinning has to be one of the most rewarding crafts there is. It is incredibly satisfying to start with basic fibre and turn it into yarn, then create a finished item from that yarn.
The most commonly asked questions, from puzzled observers of a spinning demonstration, go something like this:
"But why bother???"
"But surely you can BUY yarns ready to use, can't you?"
"But you don't even need to knit sweaters or weave or crochet stuff! You can buy everything readymade in this modern world, and surely that's got to be easier?" etc etc.
These are all valid questions, of course, but in essence what these people are really asking is:
There's no set answer to this; inevitably every spinner will have their own response, comprising different points - because there's usually more than one reason why someone spins.
Just a few examples:
►Some of us spin simply because we have fibre-producing animals - be they sheep, goats, rabbits, llamas, alpaca, camels (yes!) or any combination of a long list of potential fibre-donors - or access to some - and want to make something from their wool, fur, hair etc.
** For more info on the range of fibre-bearing animals and how to use their wool, fur etc, I highly recommend Wild Fibers, a magazine I only recently discovered and on which I am now totally hooked...**
(Incidentally, the answer to another frequently asked question is - No, we don't have to kill animals to get their wool or fur or hair - with the exception of possum etc. - we simply shear or comb it off and it gradually grows back, just like your own hair does when cut...)
► Some of us spin because we are sick of machine-made look-alike uniform items and crave something more individual.
► Some of us spin because we need to relax and unwind at the end of a long stressful day at work or with a young family at home. I promise you that the sheer tactile pleasures of spinning and its related processes provide a gentle relaxant for mind and body that isn't available in the pharmacies or drugstores at any price. (Though it has to be said that this cure for stress should really bear the warning that it can be addictive.) There may be the odd occasion while first starting out that you get frustrated and despondent. Possibly even homicidal, as I did with my first spindle - see My Spinning.
But don't panic. This is normal. Break through that first barrier and you are home and dry.
► Some of us spin because we are seeking a special yarn. Dedicated knitters, weavers, crocheters or designers often search high and low for yarns with particular textures and colour or fibre composition, only to find that what's available is either way beyond their financial reach or just not quite what they had in mind. Then discover that they can actually produce whatever yarns they desire - by using simple spinning tools and possibly some dyeing. A door then opens into a world of new and exciting possibilities.
There are many more reasons of course.
Learn to spin, and you will soon have your own answers to the Why question, to supply to curious onlookers.
One of the chief joys of this craft is that one can never learn all there is to know, or reach the boundaries of spinning. Indeed, there are no finite boundaries to this amazing craft.
There's always another technique to try, another fibre or blend of fibres, another colourway - and of course, another spindle or wheel. Tools are a matter of personal choice combined with financial constraints. Some find that a simple spindle and maybe a pair of hand cards are all they need or want, being so portable. Others choose a wheel or several - plus a myriad other tools such as drumcarder, pickers etc - and will argue fiercely the merits of their favourite models. Yet others use both, choosing a spindle over a wheel when portability is vital. Really handy to while away dreary hours in hospital waiting-rooms, long worrisome hours by sickbeds - or pleasant hours on holiday - anywhere that even a travelling wheel might be too awkward to tote.
If you are at all interested in spinning - and you've read this far, therefore it follows that (if you're not already a spinner, wondering what I'm saying about your beloved craft) you may be interested in learning! - then you might well ask another common question.
"But how would I get started? I don't know the first thing about all this, but I'd like to try"
Great! Don't worry... I taught myself from a book! (see My Spinning) There are plenty of good spinning teachers, experienced suppliers who offer lessons if you purchase a wheel (and you can sometimes hire one for a while to be sure you really enjoy spinning) - and plenty of 'ordinary' spinners if that isn't an oxymoron, who are often more than happy to share their skills with a beginner, simply for the pleasure of seeing their face when they produce that first length of 'real' yarn.
There are several good spinning magazines - Spin-Off from Interweave Press being perhaps the main one and highly recommended - and these all carry advertisements for teachers, supplies and equipment. They will also have details of your nearest guild or spinning group, or you might find this information in your nearest library. There are also guilds and spinning groups in many parts of the world, and these always welcome new members. And if you are as isolated as we are here, you needn't feel left out in the cold. There's always the amazing world of cyberspinning, through which you can gain so much in both knowledge and friendship.
Another question not often voiced but definitely often thought - you can usually feel the vibes of uncertainty -
"Who spins? Will I be thought odd if I learn?"
To which the answer from me anyway would be - Well maybe, by some! But why worry. Spinning is no stranger than a lot of other interests and makes a lot more sense than most... There's something useful or beautiful or both at the end of the process, after all - unlike many other pursuits. Spinning won't addle your brain or your liver, or land you in court. Not unless you skewer someone with a spindle...
Spinning is for all ages, all types of people, all income brackets and all occupations. Investigate, and you'll find an incredible diversity of spinners. There's no such animal as a stereotyped spinner. You'll find we range from the wealthy person who spins purely for pleasure and owns an array of the most exquisite hand built wheels, through the small-scale shepherd/spinner (hard-pressed in these times of low wool income) who tries to add value to their fleeces by marketing handspun yarns and sometimes finished garments, to the penniless student who owns a drop spindle or (if lucky) a battered wheel, but who wants to connect with their creative inner self by practising this ancient craft.
No spinners are strange, in my book!!
"OK. You've sold me on the idea. How do I go about buying my first spindle or wheel?"
I would say to this query - Support your local dealer if you can, i.e. are fortunate enough to have one nearby - they will be able to get you started too, more often than not, also troubleshoot if required, and supply any spares or add-ons that you may need later. Is your situation too remote? No worries. Try mail order. Long-distance tuition? There are books and videos available to help you get going. I learned from a book, see My Spinning. and OK this isn't ideal, but it is quite possible. Later I had access to videos and also grabbed every chance of talking to other spinners and having lessons, however impromptu. Join an email spinning list, and you immediately have access to a fount of knowledge and encouragement. (see Cyberspinning)
What to spin? If you don't have your own fibre animals there's a huge choice of natural fibres available from producers and dealers - choose any of the wools, from superfine Merino through the wonderful range of medium wools, to the coarsest - they all have their purpose, and are usually available in a range of natural colours or ready-dyed. You may be lucky enough to find free or cheap fleeces, and start from greasy fleece, or you may be able to afford and opt for semi-processed ie sliver or top, ready to spin. Then there are all the other naturals, such as camel, angora rabbit, mohair, even yak... not forgetting cashmere, of course, or even your own dog's or cat's fur... Try combing these and you'll be surprised what you can harvest. No fluffy animal is safe from a spinner's voracious appetite, once it is whetted...
If wool and hair fibres are too warm, how about cotton. Or silk (plenty of choices here, everything from the cocoon through to top, via various stages). Or flax, or ramie... There are modern manmade fibres available too, from recycled plastic through to recycled blue jeans. And lots of sparkly stuff, even holographic fibres, for some really cool effects!
It all depends on your end purpose. You may want to weave a tapestry, make a rug, knit a sweater, create a glamorous evening wrap or simply clothe the kids. You have a great choice of materials waiting for you. Some dealers offer sampler packs, which I highly recommend, so you can test-spin an ounce or two of various fibres and see which you like before getting lumbered with a large amount of something you later regret buying.
If you have already tried spinning and been discouraged because it seemed too hard, don't worry. All you need is help, if you really want to try again. And there are plenty of dedicated, friendly people out there just waiting to help you get going.
Go on, take the plunge - and may I wish you Happy Spinning!
Last updated 1st August 2006