I’ve been learning to spin…

This autumn I found the opportunity to join a local spinning group. I wasn’t sure how I would get on especially when the woman who would be showing me what to do said “it’s very straightforward, as long as you have good hand to eye coordination”.  One of the more publically acceptable names my youngest brother calls me is “Ten Thumbs”. It didn’t bode well…

Bobbin and skeins

Some of my early spinning efforts – l-r – bobbin of Jacob humbug singles, 2ply skein of my first ever spinning, probably Jacob, and two skeins of Blue Faced Leicester humbug mix.

As it turns out, the hand to eye coordination is completely overrated in terms of being able to produce knittable yarn, or maybe I’ve grown less clumsy with time…anyway, I had a lot of fun, bought my own lovely spinning wheel with much encouragement from the people at the group* (hmm…maybe they just couldn’t bear to see what I was doing to the group’s equipment!), and am thoroughly pleased with the whole experiment especially as once I’ve worked my way through a few animals I can go on to flax and nettles, not to mention growing and processing some dye plants…

Kromski Sonata spinning wheel

My spinning wheel. It’s made in Poland by a company called Kromski. This “model” is a Sonata and it folds up flattish to store more easily, in the green bag you can see in the background.

Household illness over Christmas meant that my intention of working my way through a dozen bits of sheep from Wingham Woolworks didn’t work out, but I’ve managed to trek through a few, ply and knit some up, including the unidentified (probably Jacob) fibre I first spun and plied at the group.  I keep reading about keeping a spinning diary as it’s good for helping you to progress and useful to refer back to previous results…knowing my recordkeeping I don’t think that will happen, but here’s the story so far.

I started off with Blue Faced Leicester tops in a humbug mix. Tops as far as I can tell, are washed, carded, and combed, so they are very smooth and all the fibres face in one direction, and in most cases also formed in to a loose rope that holds together. The humbug refers to one or more natural colours mixed in to the same rope, in, yes, a humbug effect. The Blue Faced Leicester colours were very subtle (I thought it was a white sheep but I assume there are grey ones or bicoloured ones…I haven’t looked that hard yet), light greys and cream. Wingham Woolwork and one of my spinning guruesses agreed that humbug shades are good to start with as you can clearly see the angle of the spin as you go along, and having tried it, I agreed.

Blue Faced Leicester also seems to be highly recommended for beginners; I think this is due to the length and texture of the fibres; although very soft and pleasant to handle they seem to be very cooperative. And so I found: I certainly made much smoother yarn than my first effort (which admittedly was with carded fibres, some of them very badly carded by me). I haven’t weighed it out exactly but I got 65 wraps of two legs of an Ikea Bekvam stool**, and 82 wraps of three legs, with my first two skeins, and some of the 100g of tops left to try something else with.

The next one I tried was a Jacob humbug top. Again, the preparation of the fibre seemed to have helped me a lot. Although it feels coarser and firmer than the BFL (look at me ma, using acronyms already) it’s still made a much more consistent product than the fibre I used at the group.

Next up was the white BFL. Oh dear. I don’t know if this is the fibre, me, maybe it’s mislabelled, maybe white wool is always softer, who knows. But I couldn’t get on with this very well at all. It was uneven, it kept breaking, eventually it snapped a final time while I was spinning and I lost the end and couldn’t find it no matter what I tried. I eventually took scissors to the singles on the bobbin and am using the chopped up threads for stuffing!

I left the white BFL for a while, finished the Jacob humbug (50 and 57 wraps of three legs each, again leaving some top to compare/try on the drop spindle when I learn). I washed and dried my skeins of humbug BFL, Jacob and random-brown-probably-Jacob and knitted some tension squares. The humbug BFL is very nice, soft, light and warm, and even the poor quality first yarn looks so much more even, knitted up – it’s very encouraging. I even measured wraps per inch, or tried to, to gauge appropriate needle sizes. 9 wpi for my lumpy first yarn, so I went for 5mm needles, and 15 wpi for the BFL so I went for 3.75mm needles.

Handspun yarn and samples

Clockwise from top left: two-ply Jacob humbug, two-ply probably-Jacob, my first ever yarn!, two-ply Blue Faced Leicester humbug, first-yarn sample square, BFL humbug sample square.

Then I had another go with the white BFL…it was just as bad again, breaking off altogether when it wasn’t lumpy. I spun two approximately even bobbins full and moved on to white Shetland; which was lovely. Coming to a natural pause in the Shetland I decided to ply the BFL as I was obviously on a roll; it snapped four times while I was plying which is no surprise really as it was so uneven. So any suggestions on where I or anything else is going wrong with that are welcome. I’ll wind that off and wash and knit it, and take all the bits (single, two ply yarn, sample square and tops) along to my group next time I go to see if anyone can offer any advice.

Next step is to spin another bobbin of white Shetland and ply it, wash and knit it. I will also turn some of the remaining yarn from the Jacob, unidentified yarn and the humbug BFL in to coats for little decorative sheep just because I think it will be funny. And then I shall select another victim from my box…Devon, Dorset Horn, Texel, Massam, Black Welsh, Manx Loghtan, Swaledale, Lincoln, and Whiteface Woodland. I know not all of these are beginner friendly but it should be educational!

*And also from the very kind Alison of http://alisonandhughshandmadethings.co.uk – I knew she’d bought the same wheel, a Kromski Sonata, and thoroughly bent her ear about whether it was a good choice. She concluded it was and she was quite right!

**As far as I know this isn’t a traditional unit of measurement.

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One thought on “I’ve been learning to spin…

  1. weekend knitter says:

    Your first spins look delicious! And the Kromski is what most of our visitors learn to spin on when they visit the mill so I know it has to be a perfect choice (though I don’t own one of my own). They’re so ornate and beautiful though. And I love a wheel that is portable. You’ll get a lot of mileage out of a wheel that can go with you. You’re going to love it!

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