This post is precipitated by a higher than normal number of inquiries over the past few months from people interested in learning to spin. So, for others out there who are wondering where to start, how to find an instructor, what equipment you will need in the beginning, etc. this is for you.
How to find an Instructor: Contact your local spinners and weavers or fibre arts guild to see who in your area is offering classes or if the guild will be hosting any special events for beginners. Spin-ins hosted by guilds often welcome visitors and are always an incredible source of information. If you aren’t sure if there is a guild in your area, contact your local arts council to see if they can point you in the right direction.
In my area (Vancouver, B.C.) we have two schools. The School of Sweet Georgia (SOS) offers both in-person and online classes. Coniagas Textiles Handspinning and Fleece School offer in-person classes. Both schools run classes for a full range of skillsets, from the absolute beginner to the more advanced spinner. Left photo: Sherry Stewart of Coniagas Textiles inspecting one of their beautiful fleeces. Right photo: Gemstone colourway on Corriedale fibre from Sweet Georgia.
Equipment and Materials: What you need to begin.
- wheel and bobbins
- kate on which you place your bobbins for plying
- orifice hook
- niddy noddy to wind your handspun into skeins for wet finishing
- Plying. Plying is when you twist two single strands of yarn back on one another. This gives your yarn strength and increases the grist of your handspun (grist being thickness). You can put your spinning wheel bobbins on a kate and ply directly from those bobbins in this scenario you will need 3 spinning wheel bobbins and a kate. Another practice involves transferring the single strand from the wheel’s bobbin to two secondary bobbins for plying. The secondary bobbins I use (Leclerc plastic sectional bobbins) are available from weaving supply shops. In this scenario you use 1 spinning wheel bobbin, 2 secondary bobbins, a bobbin winder and a kate. Note: 1) Spinning wheel bobbins are significantly more costly than sectional bobbins. 2) Weaving bobbin winders are used to wind sectional bobbins or you can use a drill (videos for this technique can be found online).
Fleece – Don’t feel as if you need to start off with a whole fleece. Some farms that raise sheep for their fibre and stores that sell spinning supplies sell smaller quantities. As little as 200 grams is a manageable amount of fleece to get you started.
Roving – Corriedale and Falkland fibre are relatively easy fibres for beginners to handle. Ask the supplier to direct you to a roving with a longer staple length. Somewhere in the 3.5-5 inch range. Most beginners blast through 100 grams of fibre pretty quickly. So if you are mail ordering the fibre, you might want to order 200 grams.
Book Recommendations: There are several good books on spinning. Two that stand out in my mind that I would recommend to beginners are Anne Field’s Revised Edition “Spinning Wool, Beyond the Basics”. This book was written by an extremely experienced spinner and teacher and can easily be used as a workbook to help you as you work on your spinning skills. Another book that contains a lot of good solid information for beginner spinners is “In A Spin” by Pat Old, another incredibly talented spinner and teacher. A good source for new and used books on spinning is the Eugene Textile Centre https://www.eugenetextilecenter.com
Magazines: Our spinning community is quite fortunate. We have two excellent magazines containing interesting articles and awesome information on spinning. Spin-Off Magazine and PLY magazine are available in some bookstores, spinning and weaving supply shops or by subscription.
Buying a Wheel: One option is to rent a wheel. Many guilds or shops that sell spinning supplies have wheels for rent. Most people can tell if there is a yearning deep within to learn to spin or if it is more like an interest that piques their curiosity. For those who yearn to spin I would suggest you spend the extra money and buy a wheel that you will grow into. A wheel that is not just a beginner’s wheel, one that will serve you for years to come. Manufacturers of good versatile wheels include Lendrum, Majacraft, Schacht, Kromski and Ashford. Things to consider which will help you with your choice include: whether you want an ergonomic double-treadle wheel, if are you drawn to worsted or woollen spun yarns, do you want the wheel to be portable, do you want the option of spinning a variety of yarn thicknesses (if so you will want a wheel with a range of ratios). Check out different manufacturers’ websites, and read about the different wheels and what they each have to offer.
- find a diagram or photo of a spinning wheel. Learn the names of the different parts to begin to learn the jargon.
- search out videos to help you understand the difference between spinning woollen and worsted.
I hope this offers up a few ideas as to where to begin your journey. And last but not least don’t be discouraged if your spinning does not look perfect on your first go. Be kind to yourself. It is not as easy as it looks and it takes practice. My first attempt looked like dreadlocks. But if you put in the time (a minimum of 20 minutes a day) know you will “get there”. Know too that the art of spinning is a balancing act between the knowledge in your brain and the knowing in your hands and it takes a while for your brain to trust your hands and to let them do their job!
Good luck and happy spinning!