What do you think of when you hear the words “spinning wheel?” You know, that old wooden thing they used hundreds of years ago to make yarn from sheep’s wool in order to have clothes and blankets. Some may think of Rumpelstiltskin, the old tale of a poor miller who told the King his daughter can spin straw into gold. Locked away, she was demanded to spin gold or face death. OR you may think of an Amish community, sitting in a candlelit room. Point being, what you don’t think of is a 30-year-old in 2016 sitting behind a spinning wheel with a handful of sheep's wool, a crafty mind and Pandora tunes.
It was this past Christmas when I discovered the art of spinning. I was looking to expand my craft products and typed into Google, "Where does yarn come from?" The search results blew me away. Yes, most yarn is factory made, but there is a small community of people that actually spin their own yarn, with the wheel and everything. My mind was overwhelmed and excited at the potential of making my own. As I stared at photos of spinning wheels, I thought, “This is it!” My next craft was in sight!” I researched spinning wheels for the next three weeks and by the fourth week, it was in a box on the front porch. Bursting with excitement, I put the wheel together the same day. I was a proud new owner of an Ashford Kiwi 2 Spinning Wheel and I could not wait to fulfill its destiny!
It took two hours to assemble, but alas, it was ready. That wheel was ready to spin, ready to create, ready to put a stamp on my next craft adventure! The package also came with 2 lbs. of Polwarth, just one of many different types of fiber! From alpaca to mohair to bamboo to silk, the variety is endless. I even read you could spin dog hair, I have not tried this yet, though my hairy mutt would make a great test experiment.
The Polwarth I received came in the form of Roving, which means it has already been carded and combed; or processed. To be noted, fiber is not cheap! In hindsight, those 2 lbs. were an incredible deal considering I would ruin most of it while practicing. It took two months to go through it all, meaning it took two months to figure out how to spin.
Frustrating to say the least, those first eight weeks were spent practicing, practicing, and practicing. Without much progress in month two, I was slowly losing sight of my spinning dream. Video tutorials made it look so easy and I was far from getting it. I would compare spinning to that rub your belly and pat your head exercise, but on steroids. The amount coordination it takes to spin is unreal. You are doing so many things at once, so quickly, it is enough to make your head spin. Before I could understand the instructions, I had to learn the language like double treadle, drafting, pre-drafting, scotch tension, orifice, bobbins, and leader thread, just to name a few!
So this is the process. You take your pre-drafted fiber (slightly pulled, thinned out), start treadling (food pedals), grab your leader thread (or starter thread), put the fiber next to the leader thread and start spinning, the fiber will catch on to the spinning leader thread, then start drafting (pulling on the yarn to thin it out) to control the amount of fiber that goes onto the thread and through the orifice and finally onto the bobbin. Important to remember: 1) Treadle slowly and 2) Draft fast. The combination of these two things ensures you are not over-twisting or under-twisting. Again, easier said! You do this twice to create two “singles” – one on each bobbin. Then you ply the two singles together in the opposite direction. Confused yet?! Then there is this wooden object called a Niddy Noddy, this strange wooden stick allows you to stretch out the yarn and count the yardage. Then you have to wash the yarn to "set the twist." Let the yarn soak in warm water with wool wash for 10 minutes, then you have to whack the yarn against the side of your house to get the excess water out and to “shock” it. Lastly, you hang the yarn to dry in hopes that it hangs straight. If it twists at the bottom, it means it is over-twisted. Whew! I think I covered it all. It took practice, practice, practice to get this reasonable down pat.
I remember waking up some days and saying to myself, "THIS will be the day I figure it out!" I said that for nearly eight weeks and then one day at the end of February, it clicked. I figured out what worked, what didn’t work, and got really good at whacking the yarn against the house. I even sold a skein or two online, much to my surprise! I would not call myself a pro by any means, but what a joy to find something that intrigues you, decide you want to learn how to do it, put in the time and effort it takes to figure it out, and see the end result. As the saying goes, you can do anything you put your mind to!