At this time of year, we seem to always have a huge crop of new spinners and would-be spinners looking for information about getting started. So I thought I’d take a morning and pull together an overall post linking to things I’ve written on the subject and various other resources too. What’s more, I’ve been spending part of my holiday fixing and updating old posts with current information, so you may find a few new things.
Bear in mind this is a list of information and resources for those who are brand new to spinning; I’ve tried to keep from going too far into the more intermediate or potentially esoteric stuff that could be confusing for a beginner. We’ve got plenty of space for that under a heading other than “Getting Started.”
1. What do I need to get started spinning?
I wrote a whole post about that entitled What do I need to get started spinning? — start there! You can do it with as little as $5-10. At a minimum, you’ll need a spindle and some fiber. You can make the spindle, but you’ll probably want to be sure you start with fiber in great condition.
2. What kind of fiber should I get?
Here are a few suggestions. If you’re wondering what some of the terms mean, here’s an explanation, complete with handy pictures. You’ll need to register for a free account with Spin-Off and download the PDF, but it’s worth it — there are all kinds of great resources there.
3. Are there any books or magazines you recommend?
Interweave Press’ Spin-Off Magazine is a must. Start here and browse around and through the links. The “big name” in spinning magazines, Spin-Off has been around for over 30 years and is always worth a read.
PLY Magazine is also a must. Founded by spinning teacher Jacey Boggs, PLY is a grassroots, community-driven magazine about spinning, and you’ll want every issue — they’re based around a common theme, so each issue is an excellent reference at many levels of expertise.
Some excellent books when you’re starting out:
Start Spinning by Maggie Casey. Maggie is the owner of Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder, and a spinning teacher par excellence.
Spin Control by Amy King picks up where Maggie’s book leaves off, and teaches you how to take control of your yarn.
Respect The Spindle is my own humble offering in the field, dealing with spindle spinning topics from beginner to advanced.
Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts is the canonical book about spinning with a high whorl spindle, and an excellent resource.
Respect The Spindle is more or less one of my spindle classes condensed to an hour in DVD form. It shows many of the techniques from the book, but also works fine as a standalone video. Like the others, it’s also available for download.
4. What about online sources?
There are tons! More than you can shake a stick at, even if it’s wrapped in yarn. I’m going to pick out a handful of online resources I recommend highly for new spinners, though.
One thing to bear in mind as you delve into the world wide web of spinny stuff is that as with anything online, there are good sources of information, and less good sources, and even sources that are filled with falsehood. It can be hard to know which is which. And whereas formal publication usually ends up being something done by people with a ton of experience in a given subject, casual publication like having a web site is something anybody can do. That doesn’t mean casual publications are bad — far from it! But it does mean, as a reader, that it pays off to spend a little time figuring out who’s giving you information, and what that person’s perspective is.
For example, my perspective is that of a spinning teacher and writer about spinning, who’s been at it for almost 40 years in a variety of contexts. I will obviously see things differently from someone who started spinning a couple of weeks ago. Does that mean you should only read one of us? Absolutely not; but it’s worth thinking about the differences in perspective or experience, as you read things. Consider: my experience trying a brand-new prototype spinning wheel is probably not going to be the same as a brand-new spinner’s. Which perspective you’re after is up to you. You may be looking for instruction (in which case I’d recommend seeing what an experienced teacher has to say), or you may be looking for a peer group as you start out on your spinning journey (in which case, you’ll probably be most interested in meeting fellow new spinners). One of the fabulous things about the online spinning world is that you can have all of those things.
KnittySpin is the spinning focused section of web pioneer Knitty.
Spin Artiste is always great eye candy, and I love the interviews.
You can find all kinds of things — and share your own — with hashtags on all the social media sites that support them. You’ll probably never run out of anything to look at with #handspun, and if you use social media, sharing about your process is a great way to meet new people and learn new stuff yourself.
Beginning in 2015, I’ll be updating my own youtube channel extensively and regularly, including selecting the best videos I run across by other people and organizing them into playlists for your viewing pleasure.
As with web sites, videos on YouTube vary wildly in terms of the quality of information they contain. There are some reasonably well-produced videos that contain horrible misinformation. Wherever possible, try to take a minute and figure out where the video came from — someone who spends a lot of time spinning, or someone who started a week or two ago? The more folks sharing what they do, the better — but be wary of authoritative pronouncements from people who haven’t been spinning any longer than you have! In fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that most people making really authoritative, “This is how you do it” pronouncements, instead of saying “Here’s one way to do this,” are relative novices.
Why do I think this matters with videos? Because ideally, I think you should be looking at good spinning practice, or good form, if you’re looking for something to emulate and practice. If this was dancing or gymnastics, I would be saying you’re better off watching someone who’s been dancing for years than someone who just started and has never been to a class or performed or anything.
6. What are some great places to shop for spinning equipment and supplies?
Well, here are a few of my longstanding favourites. These are people who I can call up and say “Hey, do you have… or can you get… and is there anything like…” and who I trust with every fiber of my being (har har). These are the kinds of folks who you can go to with a dilemma and they’ll solve it. They’re the ones you can trust if you can’t make up your mind. These people are pillars of the larger fiber community. These are the people my family calls up to figure out what I should get for Christmas.
Carolina Homespun was my local shop when I lived in the SF Bay Area. If you are in that area, run, don’t walk, and then camp out and wait for Morgaine and Lann to let you in, if that’s what it takes. Make sure you visit them at every fiber show where you see them.
The Fold, better known as “Toni.” Not only does Toni Neil have an incredible full-service fiber shop — at least, I assume she does although I’ve never actually been to her shop, only her booth at various events, and dealt with her lots on the phone and in email — but she’s someone who Makes Stuff Happen. Like, she talked Jonathan Bosworth into making spindles. That kind of thing. I can’t say enough to praise Toni. I just can’t. She’s too fabulous.
The Spunky Eclectic is run by my longtime friend Amy King, author of Spin Control. I’ll put it this way: I call Amy up when I need a treat for myself, and can’t figure out what it should be. I place standing orders with her, and when there’s a new product on the market, she’ll know about it, have tried it, and have the scoop. And she can Get Things Done. When I have a task I know I can’t get to in time, I can count on Amy to do it to my standards and beyond.
Village Spinning & Weaving is a fabulous shop in California, and another absolute don’t miss at any fiber event where they’ve got a booth.
If you’ve talked to that list of people, and they can’t find what you’re looking for? Then you can’t have it; it either doesn’t exist, is a treasure of rarity beyond compare and you have to hope someone’s leaving it for you in their will, or is backordered for however long they said. Seriously, if that list of people can’t make it happen for you fiberwise, nobody can. These are the folks you can call up in total chaos, confusion, despair, whatever — and they solve it, and give you a good deal besides.
7. Any other thoughts for a new spinner?
Just that, if there is any way at all for you to swing it, go meet other spinners. Take classes if you can, but even if you can’t or don’t want to, just meet other spinners. There are things about this that can’t be learned from books, videos, and so on. There are things that must be passed from one hand to another. You will get things out of a few minutes spent with other spinners that you can’t get out of years of spinning alone, even with the greatest references in the world. Spinners who’ve been doing this for a while make it look easy, and it is — with just a little practice. But in the beginning, just like riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument, you might be surprised to find it’s not as easy as it looks. The good news is it’s also not that hard — it just takes practice, and within a month you can easily be making lots of great yarn.
Oh, and one more thing: this. Consider it a yarn manifesto, and enjoy.
That’s it! Please feel free to share your thoughts about being a new spinner, and any questions you might have, in the comments.
Updated as of 11 February 2015, to reflect the latest wheels on the market and latest pricing.
Choosing your first spinning wheel is somewhat like choosing your first car. There’s a level on which it doesn’t really matter exactly what it is, because it’s going to do the trick to get you started, and odds are it’s going to be a little while before you’ve refined your spinning and your ideals for your spinning to a point where you really know what your exact needs are.
HOW TO FIND A WHEEL
In some respects, the best spinning wheel to start out with is one that someone will let you borrow or rent; this is especially true if the person doing the lending is going to be able to spend some time with you in person showing you how it works and getting the ball rolling for you. If you have such an option, it’s an unbeatable first choice. You might be surprised at how readily you can find such an option, too: handweaver’s guilds and sometimes knitting guilds may have loaner wheels, and so may spinning teachers. Shops may do rentals and layaways. Experienced spinners may have extra wheels to lend out as well. At any time, I usually have at least one wheel out on loan to a new spinner — and often more than one.
The second best thing you can do is find a fiber shop or fiber show that you can get to in person, where there is a selection of wheels that you can try out, again with expertise handy to help you figure out how things work. This is what experienced spinners will generally tell a new spinner to do if at all possible — there are so many individual variables that it’s impossible for someone to be sure that what really works for one person will work as well for another person.
It’s not an absolute requirement that you find in-person assistance, but if you have never spun before, never seen anyone do it, and have no idea how wheels operate mechanically, it will make a huge difference to be able to get a little orientation. A few minutes with an experienced spinner can save you a world of frustration and possibly even prevent unnecessary damage to your equipment. If you absolutely can’t meet a real live spinner or do any in-person testing, don’t let that stop you from learning to spin — but if you have the option of going to a real full-service spin shop, or meeting with experienced spinners, don’t miss out. It’s an incredible leg up on getting started.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW WHEN I GO SHOPPING?
Those things said, there are a few things to consider when you start wheel shopping, which a little advance thought about can really prepare you to get the most out of a trip to try out wheels. The first is your lifestyle: where, and when, do you expect to spin? Do you have a good-sized dedicated space that’s where you expect you will always be spinning, or are you uncertain? Do you want to be able to spin sitting on the sofa watching TV or visiting with other people? Do you think you’ll want to take your wheel with you from place to place, or travel with it? If nothing else, this can help you rule out choices because they simply won’t fit your lifestyle or your space.
The second thing to consider is if you have a sense of what kind of yarn you feel you’re most interested in spinning. Although a skilled handspinner can spin pretty much any kind of yarn on pretty much any type of equipment, the fact remains that different setups are not always best suited to the same things. Although the majority of modern “mass-produced” wheels are aimed at being multitaskers that can easily handle a wide range of things, if you know for certain that you have a specific interest that’s on one side of the spectrum or another, you might do well to choose a wheel that’s less aimed at versatility across the middle ground, and more tuneable for what you think you want to focus on specifically. If that’s the case, a good idea might be to contact people who you know regularly spin yarn like what you want to spin, and ask them what kind of wheel they use. Chances are spinners will be delighted to expound upon their wheel choices and give you all sorts of useful information that you can add to the pile of things to think about while you shop.
Most newer spinners shopping for a first wheel, however, are not likely to have complete confidence that they know exactly what they want to spin most of the time. In this case, it makes very good sense to choose one of the aforementioned multitasking wheels that currently dominate the spinning wheel market. In addition, many new spinners these days do not have ready access to a real live spinner who can help troubleshoot or answer questions or show things in person, and must rely on literature and the Internet for help. This can mean it’s a good idea to choose a wheel that many other people use, so help is just an email away, or even already present in searchable, archived mailing lists and forums on the web. Don’t discount how instantly you can find the answers to your questions by searching through past discussion! Chances are good that if you have a question, someone else had it first and it’s been answered. The Internet is a great resource.
NEW OR USED?
Used wheels can offer a great value, and with proper maintenance will retain essentially the same price value that you paid for it; if you decide you don’t like it after all and want to sell it, you’ll get almost all your money back. You can often get a much higher-end wheel used than you’d be able to afford brand-new; and sometimes, someone who is selling a used wheel will be selling it with a range of add-ons, accessories, and extras which they won’t be using anymore without that wheel.
However, as a new wheel spinner, it can be hard to know whether or not a used wheel is in good working condition and operating as it should. In some cases, people are selling wheels that have sat unused for a long period of time, often deteriorating or having pieces run off without anyone even realizing it. And sadly there are a handful of disreputable folks selling wheels that they know have problems, and such problems may not be apparent right at the outset. Consider, too, that you may not get much (or anything) in the way of documentation or manuals with a used wheel. You may be able to find such information online, but it’s not a guarantee, and even if you do, accuracy might not be 100% either.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR USED WHEELS
Don’t rule out a used wheel, but if you don’t have an experienced wheel spinner handy to help you evaluate it, or you can’t check it out in person, or you don’t really know the seller, be aware there are risks and potential frustrations that you might encounter with your purchase. Excellent sources for used wheels can be a local spinning and weaving guild (where you also might find rental or loaner wheels), local fiber or yarn shop (perhaps they’ve got a for sale bulletin board), and several online sources, such as the Spinners, Weavers & Knitters Housecleaning Pages, Facebook groups like All Fiber Equipment For Sale, and various for-sale and marketplace groups on Ravelry. Although there are often used spinning wheels on eBay, condition is a much more hit-or-miss proposition with those wheels than these two sources; and the same goes for the classified ads in your local paper, or your local Craigslist, where you might get very lucky, but you also might not. If you are able to make contact with other spinners via the Internet, ask them to take a look at online listings for you and give you an honest opinion before you buy. You could save yourself quite a bit of time, money, and disappointment.
A used wheel that isn’t in good working order can end up costing you more than buying new. This doesn’t mean there aren’t great deals out there, but don’t assume that $200 used wheel is actually a better deal than a $450 new one — it could easily cost you $250 to get it working again. Or more. If you aren’t sure, and you can’t spin on it, you may not want to take the chance.
That being said, if you do want to see about a used or antique wheel, I’ve made a video that covers just the basic things you need to check out to be sure it’s even remotely viable.
ANTIQUE OR MODERN?
Antique wheels, while often beautiful, will be subject to all of the potential down sides of any used wheel, in some cases multiplied over a longer span of time. They also may be incomplete and really being sold as decorative items rather than working wheels, and can be expensively priced because of that as well. Even when an antique is in good working order, another thing to consider is that such wheels were generally made to spin specific kinds of yarn, and aren’t likely to be strong multitaskers. They’ll also often make use of more complicated systems to operate, and finding replacement parts or someone who can do repairs can be a bigger challenge. Unless you have someone handy who knows a lot about old wooden machines (or you are such a person), as well as about spinning, an antique wheel could pose a significant challenge for a new wheel spinner.
Most modern wheels, by contrast, are designed with versatility in mind rather than being aimed at production spinning of specific types of yarn; they often use modern materials and design elements like sealed ball bearings which make for less maintenance, simpler systems, and more readily replaceable parts.
While antique wheels are often quite fabulous, they can also be a labour of love to get working and to care for, and that doesn’t always make for an ideal first wheel experience. Does this mean you shouldn’t let your grandmother give you her old spinning wheel? Absolutely not — see the first paragraph of this article, that says a gift wheel is almost never worth turning away, and this is particularly true if it’s a wheel with which you have a personal connection. However, bear in mind it might not be the easiest first wheel in the world, and you might not be spinning the yarn of your dreams on it immediately.
Here’s how I boil this down: unless you are a spinner, don’t buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner. It’s like buying a used car from someone who’s never ridden in a car. They may not even know if it’s a spinning wheel. In fact, experienced spinners sit around all the time talking about the unbelievable thing they saw on craigslist (or wherever) that someone thought was a spinning wheel, but actually, it was a lamp or a plant stand or an antique grinder for wheat. There’s many a would-be spinner out there who has been taken in by a SWSO, or Spinning Wheel Shaped Object.
SINGLE VS. DOUBLE TREADLE
The cold hard truth of the matter here is that it pretty much doesn’t matter. Both systems work well, both are implemented in a variety of different ways, and there are good ones and bad ones of either variety. If you happen to know (say, from having used a treadle sewing machine) that you really like, or really hate, one kind of treadle mechanism or another, you can take that into consideration — but barring a known physical problem that pushes you to one side or another of the debate, the bottom line is, this is a question of personal preference. Don’t rule out a wheel because it’s one or the other, unless you’ve tried it or you have firm and absolute reason that you must have one or the other (like you only have one leg you can use to treadle, or you have knee problems that rule out getting one leg very tired). As it happens, I have the latter issue, so most of my wheels are double treadle — but I do have at least one single treadle wheel which causes me no trouble at all because I can switch legs easily, so long as I remember to do so. I also have multiple double treadle wheels which can be operated with only one foot.
You can spend a lot of time thinking about whether you want single or double treadle, and the truth of the matter is, it’s not worth worrying about extensively in most cases, not for a first wheel. Let your gut decide.
SCOTCH TENSION, DOUBLE DRIVE, WHAT?
The short answer here, too, is that it sort of doesn’t matter, because as a new wheel spinner you don’t have preferences yet, and whatever you learn with is going to be part of what shapes those preferences, at least for a while.
The longer answer is that there are basically two kinds of systems for driving spinning wheels, and these are single drive and double drive. In single drive, the drive wheel is connected via a drive band to only one thing, a whorl connected to either the bobbin or the flyer. In double drive, your drive wheel (the big wheel) is connected via a drive band to both of those things. A single drive wheel has a drive band that is one single loop, and only drives one thing; a double drive wheel has a longer drive band that is in two loops and it drives two things — the bobbin and the flyer.
In order for a bobbin and flyer mechanism to allow yarn to wind on to the bobbin, both things need to be able to turn together at the same speed, and turn at different rates; when they’re turning in unison yarn isn’t winding on, and when they’re turning at different rates, yarn will wind on to the bobbin. Depending on the setup, and how you have things configured, the amount of pull you’ll feel on the yarn as you’re spinning is going to vary. So, all types of flyer wheels do offer some mechanism by which you can adjust this. On a double drive wheel, it’s generally adjusted by managing how tight the drive band is, which can be done in various ways. Examples of double drive spinning wheels include the Schacht Matchless, most antique Saxony-style wheels, and double drive Ashfords and Kromskis. Most modern double drive wheels can also be easily rigged as single drive wheels, operating in either Irish tension or Scotch tension mode (see below).
With single drive, braking action is applied to whatever item is not being driven by the drive band. If your drive band goes around a whorl attached to the bobbin, the bobbin is the thing that will start moving first, and this is called a bobbin lead system. In this case, braking action will be applied to the flyer, often with a leather strap that goes across the front of the flyer near the orifice. How tight this strap is controls how hard the pull is on your yarn as you are spinning. Single drive and bobbin lead with a flyer brake is sometimes called Irish tension. Examples of Irish tension wheels are most Babes, most older Louet wheels, and the Roberta electric spinner.
Single Drive (in this case, flyer lead or Scotch tension)
If, on the other hand, your drive band goes around a whorl connected to the flyer, then the flyer will move first, and the bobbin will follow after, and braking action must be applied to the bobbin in order to allow for wind-on to happen. This type of setup is commonly called Scotch tension. You can identify a scotch tension wheel by the presence of a separate brake band that goes around only the bobbin, often with one or more springs attached to it, and a knob to turn that tightens that brake band. Examples of Scotch tension wheels are the Lendrum upright, Majacraft wheels, the Louet Victoria and Julia.
There are good, and bad, implementations of all of these systems. For the purpose of talking about a first spinning wheel, though, I’m going to generalize a bit about wheels in more entry-level price ranges (which means these generalizations may not apply to someone’s $2500+ custom wheel). Double drive wheels have the most consistent pull-in, but are the finickiest to adjust. Bobbin lead single drive wheels have the easiest treadling action, but the strongest pull-in and it’s hard to get the takeup really really light. Flyer lead single drive wheels using scotch tension offer the easiest-to-change takeup settings that span the widest range, but can be fiddly and require a lot of minute adjustments as you go, particularly in low-cost implementations.
So what does this mean? In my opinion, if you know you want to spin a lot of fine yarn, go with double drive or scotch tension. If you want to spin more bulky yarn than anything else, go with bobbin lead single drive (irish tension) or flyer lead single drive (scotch tension). Yes, you can spin anything with anything if you’re a good spinner, but that doesn’t mean you have to, or that it must be your first choice. Spinning a thick, low-twist yarn on double drive can be frustrating and require more fiddling, and the same thing is true of spinning extremely fine with bobbin lead single drive wheels.
Just as an added consideration, any double drive wheel could, with relative ease, also be manufactured to include a scotch tension setup option, and there are a number of wheels on the market today which offer exactly that combination. These are extremely versatile wheels that offer a lot of room to grow.
WHAT ABOUT DRIVE RATIOS?
Drive ratios, too, affect the type of yarn you can easily and comfortably spin on a given wheel. For a lot more detail on this subject, take a look at my recent articles about drive wheel size and drive ratios, here. The short version is that bigger numbers in the drive ratios mean the twist gets in your yarn faster, which is great for fine yarns; smaller numbers mean the twist goes in slower, which is great for fat yarns. I generally recommend that new wheel spinners look for a wheel which can use a fairly wide range of ratios, as this is a key element in versatility, and one of the things about spinning with a wheel that really uses mechanical advantage in ways that broadens a spinner’s capabilities. Drive ratios are like gears on a bicycle or in a car; you want several, for different purposes, in order to get the most out of your equipment.
WHAT ABOUT BOBBINS AND ACCESSORIES?
Ah yes, bobbins and accessories! If you expect to spin a lot of 2-ply yarn, odds are you’ll want a minimum of 3 bobbins. If you are looking to spin 3-ply yarn, go with 4. When you’re looking at wheel prices, also look at what they come with in terms of bobbins, flyers, and any accessories — and price those out individually. You may very well find that some new wheel packages are significantly better buys than they appear simply by looking at the numbers on the total packages — they’re not all the same.
If you’re looking for a setup you won’t outgrow quickly, and that won’t send you back shopping for a few more things in very short order, I recommend either choosing a new wheel package that comes with 4 bobbins and a lazy kate that can hold 3 bobbins, or else buying an additional bobbin and a 3-bobbin lazy kate. Another accessory you’ll likely find very useful is a skeiner or a niddy-noddy, for making skeins from your yarn, which you’ll want to do in order to wash it and finish it and so forth.
Many (probably most) antique wheels will feature only one bobbin. This was common in the era where interchangeable parts were not necessarily easy to manufacture, and where each flyer and bobbin array is a meticulously crafted and matched set that should never be broken up. If you fall in love with a one-bobbin wheel, that doesn’t mean it’s a deal breaker; it just means you may want to invest in something additional, like a bobbin winder and some storage bobbins, in order to get the spinning setup you’re after, because you’ll have to wind off your spun yarn and empty your bobbin any time you fill it up.
By the way: Because there are such things as bobbin winders and cheap bobbins you can usually feel confident that you don’t have to have more than 4 bobbins. So this means you don’t necessarily need to worry if the wheel you love uses expensive bobbins.
WHAT ABOUT ELECTRIC SPINNERS?
In the past five years or so, there has been a surge in the popularity of electric, or motorized, spinning equipment. These consist of a flyer and bobbin array driven by a motor. Because there is no need for a large drive wheel or treadles, they can be made very small, and some can be driven by portable batteries in addition to being plugged into the wall.
Let’s address two common myths: first, that e-spinners are “cheating.” Seriously? Not any more than spindles are cheating because, unlike just using your hands, they give you a place to store yarn you’re making, and they let you set it in motion quickly to generate twist rapidly. An e-spinner won’t actually make it easier to make yarn; you still have to learn all the hand stuff. And that brings me to the next myth: that an e-spinner will make you faster. This is most likely not the case. Most e-spinners function in the same general range of possible twists generated per minute as most wheels do, and most contemporary spinners — certainly new ones — don’t spin that fast anyway.
One possible down side is that a lot of instructional content focuses on procedures like counting treadles, or adjusting ratios. Those aren’t relevant to spinning with an e-spinner, so you’ll have to find other sources of information or your own ways to deal with those questions. I don’t think this is a big deal; you also can’t count treadles with a spindle, but you can make a lot of yarn with one. A more likely down side is that most spinners subconsciously adjust a lot of things to sync their treadling speed with their hands, speeding up and slowing down without realizing it. E-spinners don’t have that capability unless equipped with a rheostat foot pedal, which still feels different, and so one of the things that can feel strange is the relentless, ceaseless steadiness with which they deliver twist. Some people simply do not like that feeling.
The really big down side to a lot of e-spinners? They’re not very quiet. This is a hard thing to work through, because in a lot of the settings where you might go try out an e-spinner, it’s going to be noisy and you’ll have a hard time telling if the machine is noisy enough to bother you or people sitting with you while you spin. One of the things that makes the pricier e-spinners pricier is that they are quieter; the top-of-the-line ones are very quiet indeed.
All of those things being said, e-spinners are the penultimate (which is to say, just shy of being the ultimate — What’s the ultimate in portability? A spindle, of course!) in portable spinning solutions, with many being the size of a shoebox, and that small size is enough to make them appealing to a lot of people. What’s more, because you don’t have to treadle to power the device, if you’re someone who has foot, ankle, or knee issues, an e-spinner can make it possible for you to enjoy spinning with a flyer setup. If you can’t sit and treadle for a long time, an e-spinner might be the answer you’re after.
This is a lot of information. Just tell me what I want.
Okay, okay. For a “you can’t go wrong” versatile, general-purpose first spinning wheel, I think you want one that offers the following:
a good range of ratios, or add-on kits that can extend the ratios you spin at
a scotch tension wheel, or double drive wheel that can be rigged for scotch tension
a wheel that either comes with multiple flyers and different sizes of bobbins, or for which that’s available
a modern spinning wheel, not an antique
at least 4 bobbins total, and a lazy kate or similar device to hold 3 of them
a wheel that you can try out in person and make sure you actually like how it feels!
So how much can you expect to pay for all these things? Used, it very much depends; $150-500 for a lot of entry-priced, very solid wheels with all accessories, in good working order, though there are custom and high-end wheels on the used market as well, which can be priced much higher.
WHERE SHOULD I SHOP?
Please note that the following prices on new wheels factor in costs such as tax and shipping; and on sale, it may be possible to find them a little cheaper. When shopping for a new wheel, I definitely recommend a new spinner try to purchase one from a full-service spin shop, ideally one close enough to go visit for service and support if necessary. Obviously, not everyone will have a local (or even local-ish) fiber shop, so if you don’t, I’d recommend mail-ordering from a great and reputable dealer who’s been in the business for a while and carries a wide range of products for spinning. Your dealer is your first line of support, and can make a huge difference for you. Even though I am a very experienced spinner and am regularly in direct contact with wheel builders, I still usually get my wheels, parts and service through a handful of dealers I’ve known for a long time. Those dealers with whom I have longstanding relationships know me, know what’s coming out on the market, and can always give me the fastest service and support that’s most tailored to my needs. What’s more, they’re available on a retail schedule, which wheel builders may not be.
WHAT CAN I GET FOR MY BUDGET?
Following are my picks for strong multi-tasking wheels in each price range.
New, for around $300, you can get something from Babe’s Fiber Garden. These are consistent and reliable performers made from PVC, you can get similar accessories and in some cases make your own, and they’re all but indestructible. They’re a great value, and Nels Wiberg, their maker, is a great guy who stands by his products. There is a strong and vibrant community of Babe aficionados who can provide you with a lot of advice about these wheels. Babe’s is transitioning to its new owners as of the start of 2014, and extending its lineup as well.
For around $400, you can get a Fricke S-160. These are durable, rugged, very versatile, quiet, and low maintenance. By default, they come with a delta orifice, but a standard tube orifice is also available. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry — you probably don’t care yet, and won’t until after you have some spinning miles on your odometer.
For around $500, you can choose from offerings from Ashford (the Honda Civic of the textile world — everyone has one, or has had one, so everyone knows how they work, you can always find a used one and you know you can sell yours used too), and Kromski. In addition to its line of traditionally-styled wheels, Kromski offers the Sonata ($600-700), a folding wheel with sealed bearings for lower maintenance (priced higher, see below) and Fantasia (in the $500 range, less unfinished), a very competitive entry-priced wheel with sealed bearings and a modern sliding hook flyer, allowing you to fine tune how you fill your bobbins. Similar flyers are available now for Ashford and Fricke, most Louet wheels, and have been standard on Majacraft and Lendrum for decades.
The Kromski wheels are the most affordable “traditional-looking” and decorative wheels around, so if a historical look is important to you, these are in my opinion your best options. In this same price range, if super-mega-extreme fine yarn (and I mean as in the kind of laceweight yarn you use for a wedding ring shawl) is not an immediate interest for you, consider bobbin lead offerings from Louet, which are modern in design, durable, and much loved by their owners for their extremely strong performance and ease of maintenance. These wheels, such as the S17, S10, and S75 are icons of the spinning world — especially the S10, which is quite possibly the most indestructible wheel ever built, even without factoring in Louet’s superb lifetime warranty.
Perhaps the strongest offering to come on the scene in this price range in the past decade is the Majacraft Pioneer — fully compatible with all Majacraft accessories except the accelerator head, the Pioneer is an exceptional value in a wheel you won’t outgrow soon. I’d rate this wheel as the most versatile all-around option around $600, although it faces very stiff competition from Schacht’s Ladybug wheel — in fact, the only thing that makes me pick the Pioneer over the Ladybug is that Majacraft has a more varied line of accessories. However, Schacht’s accessories are incredibly well-designed and tested by a wide range of spinners, and they work beautifully for an extremely broad range of wants.
For around $700, an extremely popular choice is the Lendrum folding wheel, or a Fricke that’s been equipped with level-wind flyer and bobbins. New in the past couple of years from Schacht, the Ladybug is a terrific lower-priced sibling to Schacht’s venerable flagship wheel, the Matchless. Capable of double drive and scotch tension, and with all bobbins, flyers, and accessories entirely compatible with the Matchless, the Ladybug is a winner for any spinner at any level. Also in this price range you can get Louet’s Julia, a wheel with all the benefits of Louet’s experience and warranty and everything, in scotch tension.
So what’s my number one recommendation, supposing you just have to order something right this minute, and you can’t go try anything out, and you want to get the best bang for the buck? Well, it still depends somewhat on you. All around, The Fricke S-160, which of all the teaching wheels and student wheels I’ve owned over the years, is the only one I’ve kept, and the one I find most of my students get the most mileage out of the fastest, and keep the longest. The number 2 spot goes to the Lendrum, followed closely by a tie between the Majacraft Pioneer or the Schacht Ladybug, with Louet’s Julia rounding out the top 5.
Supposing the same thing, but adding in a desire for historical appearance combined with modern conveniences like interchangeable bobbins and add-on flyers, I recommend the Kromski Minstrel or one of their larger Saxony-style wheels.
Supposing you’ve no idea if you’ll like having a wheel and you don’t know how long you’ll keep it and you want to be sure you can destash it quickly, get the ubiquitous Ashford Kiwi, Traveller, or Joy, or look for one of these used. For my money, Ashford’s best value is in its workhorse Traditional wheel — many spinners have had a Traddy and nothing else for decades and they’re easy to keep running and get fixed.
WHO MAKES SPINNING WHEELS?
Almost nobody, in real life. Seriously — I’d be willing to bet there are more people who have recorded albums of classical music played on the kazoo than there are people who make spinning wheels in the 21st century. Even the largest makers of spinning wheels have fewer employees than a typical small town fast food franchise, and mostly, they’re family operations. In other words, there really is a Barry Schacht, a Richard Ashford, a Jan Louet, a Gord Lendrum, and so forth. So no matter what brand you buy, you can feel confident that you’re buying from a small, independent business. It just might be one that has been small and independent for 40+ years. But even the “big names” are mom and pop operations.
Longer-standing spinning wheel makers will have dealer networks who can supply you with service and support, and generally produce in sufficient quantity to meet ongoing demand meaning there will be wheels in stock at those dealers. Since they’re production items, that also means buying things like more bobbins, add-ons, or replacement parts will tend to be easier. What’s more, since there will tend to be large numbers of wheels out there from longer-standing makers, you’re more likely to be able to find support online from the extended community of spinners who will know how your equipment is supposed to work just from you saying “It’s an Ashford Kiwi” or what have you. They’ll also have had the opportunity to work out the kinks in their designs, which can be a really big deal for a new spinner who doesn’t know yet if problems are encountered with the wheel, the fiber, or the technique.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a chance on a new maker if the deal is right (or right in front of you). It just means that, if you’re hoping to buy a wheel and ask the internet how it should work, you might be happiest being able to say “I can’t figure out why my Schacht Ladybug feels stiff to treadle,” and hearing immediately from a bunch of people who also have Ladybugs in front of them.
WHY AREN’T SPINNING WHEELS CHEAPER?
There’s a lot of stuff on a spinning wheel that takes attention to detail in order to make it work well. Yes, these are very simple machines, but they’re machines that have to work seamlessly in concert with a human being, and that’s not easy. There are many moving parts and wheels need to be quiet enough that you can stand to sit at them, or that other people don’t hate sitting in the same room as you. These moving parts also need to handle wear and tear and sometimes be replaceable or interchangeable with others. At first blush, many people think “How on earth can these things start at $400 new?” and I really get that it’s a lot of money to put out for a new hobby, which is the big reason why it’s common for people to suggest learning to spin with a spindle first — they’ll almost always be cheaper than wheels. It’s also why I recommend looking for spinners near you as a first move.
WHAT ABOUT BUILDING MY OWN WHEEL?
Spinners on a budget often ask if I’d recommend building a spinning wheel, potentially using some of the low-cost plans out there, as a way to save money getting a working wheel. My answer is always no — not if your goal is to save money. There are lots of other great reasons to build a spinning wheel, which could be a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding project. However, it’s a tricky one to tackle without some knowledge of spinning, wheel types and wheel mechanics, and some mechanical aptitude as well as general building / carpentry / woodworking skill. Even master woodworkers and mechanics have made spinning wheels that don’t perform well. A lot goes into building a good wheel. So, I wouldn’t generally recommend building a wheel from scratch in order to learn to spin, any more than I would recommend building a bicycle from scratch to learn to ride a bicycle. It’s just very hard to know if you’re on the mark, and once learning, hard to know if a problem you’re having is you or the equipment. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great project to do — just that it may not be the ideal way to get your first spinning wheel, and most likely won’t save you anything in the way of money if you’re looking at a flyer wheel.
What if the wheel plan you’re looking at is for a driven spindle? In that case, you may be able to do it very cheaply indeed — but you’re also going to get something entirely different from a flyer wheel. That’s not bad, but what draws a lot of new spinners to look for their first flyer wheels is the search for a shallower learning curve to achieve productivity than the handspindle typically offers. I love spindle wheels, and would never say one doesn’t make a good first wheel (actually, my first wheel was an antique great wheel) — but you should know it’s a different experience than you may be thinking of when you’re a new spinner considering a first spinning wheel.
A FINAL NOTE
The specific wheels I’ve discussed are all generalist wheels, multi-taskers, and I’ve left out serious travel wheels, specialty wheels, driven spindles, and wheels priced over about $1000. Price ranges given figure for paying tax or shipping and possibly an extra bobbin or something of that nature. I’ll cover wheels upwards of $1000 at another time, but generally set that as a likely ceiling for a first wheel purchase. Links provided are to wheel manufacturers or reviewers, and not to vendors; I strongly recommend finding a local fiber shop if at all possible, and giving them your support as well as making use of them as a resource.
If you have questions or comments about any of these wheels, I’d love to hear them — please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and share your experiences, or ask about wheels not mentioned here.
The short answer is this: you take a not-very-long length of spinnable fiber, and instead of presenting it end-first to be spun, fold it over. Instead of drawing fiber off the end of your supply, it now comes from the folded part in the middle.
Linda Diak from Grafton Fibers did a photo tutorial showing one take on this, and countless spinners have learned this concept thanks to her tutorial! Thank you, Linda!
You can see another approach at The Joy of Handspinning, down towards the bottom of the page in that link. This one features a short video.
If you’ve looked at both of these now, you will probably have noticed a major difference: Linda’s method drafts from the side of the fiber that has been folded over, while the one at Joy of Handspinning drafts from the middle of it. Linda is using wool top, and the Joy of Handspinning spinner is using silk sliver.
I sometimes like to use yet a third method. In both of the methods seen so far, a finger is kept inside the folded-over fiber. I often don’t bother with that.
Clicking on the image will take you to the Flickr! page where that tutorial starts (about spinning from a batt).
What all of these methods have in common is that the fibers we’re working with are presented to the twist sideways; when they’re spun up, they will basically be folded in half.
2. Why would you spin from the fold? What conditions (fiber, spinning style, time of day…) cause you to want to spin from the fold? How often do you use this technique, and why?
The list of reasons is quite long! The first set deal with the mechanics of spinning: many people find certain fibers easier to control with these techniques or variations on them. Slippery, long-stapled fibers may be easier to keep a handle on; short fibers may be easier to keep together and drafting smoothly. If you’re having trouble controlling a fiber when spinning it from the end, try it from the fold and see what you think.
Related to that, spinning from the fold may make some drafting techniques possible for a preparation of fiber that isn’t ideally (or theoretically) suited for spinning with those techniques. For example, spinning commercial top from the fold allows long draw techniques which are generally not as feasible when spinning commercial top from the end.
Third, the yarn you get spinning from the fold is often different from what you can get if you spin the same prep from the end. Why? Instead of being laid out straight and parallel, your fibers are folded over. All your fiber ends will be facing one direction in the yarn, instead of both directions — so you’ll get a yarn that’s a bit rough or hairy one way, and very smooth the other. You can get heightened halo and fuzz in your yarn, while it’s still smooth to work with. Also think about it this way: take a piece of hair, and fold it in half. It wants to straighten back out. Even if you’ve twisted it, it still has that tendency. So it is with the individual fibers in yarn spun from the fold; they want to straighten back out. This means you can maximize the extent to which your yarn will puff up after spinning, and get some loft in fibers that otherwise don’t have much, or get lots of loft in fibers which do tend that way.
Fourth, you get different colour effects spinning from the fold than spinning from the end. In a handpainted top with clear delineations between colour, where you actually have fibers that are half one colour and half another, having the fibers end up folded over in the yarn can make these distinctions less glaring, giving your yarn an effect of concrete colour changes that still have shading between colours, rather than a marled or barberpole look. Or if you have a fiber which has multiple colours running the long way, spinning from the fold can let you control the sequence of those, and keep discrete colour changes so you don’t end up with muddied colours.
Fifth, in blends where you have really different fibers, or widely divergent staple lengths, you may find it easier to make sure you are keeping the blend blended as you spin. Take, for example, a cashmere/silk top: if you spin from the end, you may find you’ve pulled out all the silk and spun it, while leaving the short-stapled cashmere piling up in your fiber supply hand. If you habitually hold your fiber supply rather tight, this is more of a risk than if you’re loose with it. Spinning from the fold, you’ll have things draft more evenly blended.
So, putting all these things together, there are several kinds of yarns I might spin this way. First, let’s say we’ve got some alpaca locks,
and I want to have them turn into a yarn with halo, spinning them right from the lock.
I flick the locks open,
fold them over,
and spin away,
using a short forward draw.
I smooth the spun yarn down as I go.
I spin two bobbins or spindles, and then rewind them, and then ply them, again smoothing the yarn down as I go. I now have a yarn with latent halo; it will come out while working with the yarn, but mostly after it’s in the finished object. The yarn is easier to knit with, possible to rip back with, but it’s going to halo like crazy when we’re done.
Or, maybe I have commercial 50/50 merino/silk top that I’d like to turn into a bouncy, springy, elastic yarn with a strong tendency to poof out and be full in the stitch. I spin this from the fold too, but using a long draw method, not squishing the air out of the spun yarn as it forms. I spin three bobbins or spindles full, then do a 3-ply yarn with lots of twist in the ply. I wash the yarn aggressively, fulling it with a hot-cold routine including agitation, and then let it dry unweighted. The result is yarn that is almost shockingly springy, even though silk has no memory. We’ve maximized the springiness the merino brings to the blend.
3. What types of fiber can be spun this way? What prep is best? Do locks work?
Anything that you can get into a chunk of fiber that you can fold over! You will get the most folded effect in the yarn, though, from locks or a combed preparation. A carded roving preparation has fibers going in many directions, and though you may get the benefits of greater control from using these methods, your yarn won’t seem as dramatically different.
You couldn’t use these techniques with loose fluff, punis, firm rolags, cotton from the seed, or line flax (unless you cut it). Anything else is fair game. Locks of long-stapled fiber are a pure delight to spin this way.
Really thin, really loose preps can be harder to spin this way, because there may not be enough fiber there to really get going. Pencil roving, or commercial tops that have been stripped a lot, are much harder to do this with.
Here’s a batt I’m going to spin from the fold soon:
4. Can you do it with a spindle??
Of course you can! In fact, I usually spin from the fold when spindle spinning, because I’m often on the go and just having a chunk of fiber is easier to deal with sometimes than having a long roving. Linda Diak’s example in the link at the top is using a spindle, as are the photos with the alpaca lock.
5. do you spin with it over your finger? or do you fold it and then just keep it in your hand like normal fiber?
It depends! If it’s a very very slippery fiber I might keep it over my finger (and might use the index finger or the middle finger). If it’s less slippery, I may just fold it and go. For some fibers, I almost just spin from the side, without even bothering to really fold.
6. how do you prevent the little loops at the top of the fold from popping out at times while you’re spinning?
Practice! 😉 From time to time, you may want to stop and rearrange your fiber to make sure it’s still smooth and cohesive. Sometimes the loops pop out anyway, and you just draft them out when they do.
7. do you need to loosen up the fiber a LOT when you spin from the fold? or is the normal roving split a couple times enough?
It depends on the spinner. Generally speaking, if we’re talking about commercial top, I absolutely do not split the top, and I definitely do not do any predrafting beyond giving the fiber a bit of a shake. Your fiber does need to move freely, but you don’t want it too loose and open, or you’re at risk of losing the flow. I just tear off chunks of the top at the width it already is, and go.
For some spinners, the fiber that really works best for this is a commercial top that is somewhat compacted. When I teach long draw, I often teach it spinning from the fold with commercial top. For a long time, I took only fairly loose and open commercial top; but then in a recent class, I also used some fairly compacted stuff, and to my surprise, the folks who had been having a tougher time getting a feel for the long draw with the more open prep just took off running and were brilliant with the more compacted fiber. So now I always take both.
I do this with fine fiber batts, like Pistachio here, which is 40% Merino / 40% Tussah Silk / 20% Baby Camel.
8. how do you spin super thin when you spin from the fold? (i’m having issues getting it thin enough with it being doubled over itself)
Once again, most of the answer here is practice. Try the variations: from the side of the fold, from the back of the fold, from the side without the fiber explicitly folded, holding it over a finger, not using a finger to keep it in place… you’ll probably find that different specific batches of fiber react differently to each of the variations, and that you find different things comfortable depending on the equipment you’re using and your preferred style of spinning as well.
In general, try loosening your grip on the fiber supply, and moving your hands a little further apart while drafting. This will probably allow you to draft the fiber out thinner.
9. what is spinning from the side of the fold? vs spinning from the fold itself?
Linda Diak’s example is from the side of the fold; from the back of the fold is more what you see in the Joy of Handspinning video. For most fibers, most spinners find it easier to do this from the side of the fold, but it really does vary depending on fiber, prep, and spinning technique.
10. What is your experience with spinning from the fold and how it affects the colors in a painted roving?
In a painted top where the separations are distinct, you can get much finer control of how the colours shade than you can when spinning from the end. In a striped one, you can choose to have a more heathered look, or a stripier look.
11. Whenever I try to do it, I spin from the fold for a short time, then it ends up going back to my regular spinning. Am I taking on too much fiber at once?
Most likely you just have well-developed habits and things that have become instinctive for you. You’ll have to catch yourself, and stop and rearrange your fiber again, to shift your habits a bit. It takes more time to develop the ability to switch techniques at will than it takes to develop habits in the first place. Give yourself time and be patient.
12. What does this do to the finished yarn? Worsted, woolen…something in between?
Where it falls on the spectrum depends somewhat on the preparation. If you have a combed prep or flicked locks to start with, you’re starting with a worsted preparation, and you’ll be spinning your parallel fibers so they’re just folded over. I (and a few other people, such as Judith MacKenzie McCuin) tend to refer to such yarns as being semi-worsted when they’re spun with a short draw and you smooth the air out. It gets more vague if you use a woolen-style drafting method like the long draw, though! Then you’re in a gray area where in my opinion the smart thing to do is describe the prep and the spinning technique and not try to give it a simple label. In those cases, I say things like “Commercial top spun from the fold using supported long draw.”
In fact, I usually tend to do that! The thing is, in my opinion, unless you’re getting really traditional and spinning handcombed longwools with a short forward draw (true traditional worsted), or spinning rolags one-handed on a spindle wheel (true traditional woolen), you’re somewhere in between. I like to use the terms mostly to describe the ends of a spectrum, and I view them as historical and theoretical for the most part — ways to talk about and classify various preparations and drafting methods. They’re important methods to understand, but the vast majority of all spinning falls somewhere between those two end points.
13. How do you add new bits of fiber when you’re spinning from the fold?
Whenever I do a join, I keep the twist moving, and introduce the new fiber to the twist such that the twist grabs it and puts it into the yarn, and away we go. That’s true for any join! Joining with moving twist is what makes for good, strong, invisible joins.
I don’t even stop spinning. Really! With a wheel, shortly before my first tuft runs out, I grab hold of the next one to go, and holding the yarn coming out of the orifice with one hand, still treadling, use the other hand to fold the next tuft and get it onto or into my supply hand. It’s like refilling the fiber supply, rather than doing a join.
Now, if the yarn breaks, or I’m using a spindle, then I get the fiber ready to go, and pick up the yarn where it’s stable and strong. I pinch off the twist and park and draft to build up some twist in the yarn; I like to think of this as a twist battery. Then I introduce the fold of the fiber to the yarn and let that stored twist leap across and make the join.
14. How tightly do you grip the fiber when spinning from the fold?
As tight as I need to in order to keep it from all being drafted at once, and no tighter than that. I keep my hands relaxed and fairly open. This is important to pretty much all drafting methods! Exactly how tight that is will depend. Most spinners, for the first several years, will often need to actively focus on grasping loosely and gently, especially when working with new fibers or new techniques.
If your grip is loose but fiber isn’t moving, try moving back a little bit with your supply hand.
15. I started spinning some Alpaca from the fold however it’s still extremely slippery and I’ve found much more difficult (for me) to control the width of the single. Any secret tips?
Allright, my deep dark secret here? Go faster. Speed up the wheel a bit! It’s like riding a bike: it’s harder to do slow than fast, for some of these techniques.
Some other things to try are either loosening your prep up a bit more before you start, or — believe it or not — tightening it up. Roll your fiber gently between your hands the long way, compressing it down more. Your prep is probably the main reason you’re having trouble with diameter control here.
16. So, first question is, just how on earth do you get started, once you have the fiber over your finger? With ordinary spinning, I have a looped yarn that I place the fiber on and give it a few twirls for strenth. But starting with the fiber over your finger just utterly buffaloes me.
The Joy of Handspinning video shows one way, but I don’t do that. I don’t use looped leaders in general. I either use a leader in which I build up a good head of twist and expect the twist to temporarily glue the new yarn to the leader as it starts, or use a doubled leader with an open end that can be opened up (almost like unplying) so I can put a smidgen of fiber inside the opened-up bits when it’s time to start spinning.
I get started, in general, the exact same way I do a join. No tricks, nothing fancy — just twist, and believing in it. It really works.
17. I have my first fleece, an Icelandic, and I was planning on spinning at least part of it from the lock. I’m a beginning spinner. Would spinning from the fold be the technique for this?
There’s no reason not to, really. Icelandic fleece is interesting, because it’s double-coated. When you spin it from the lock, you can keep both coats in the yarn and get a wonderfully lofty, long-wearing low-twist yarn. You can also manually separate the two coats with your hands much faster than you can using tools… but alas, I don’t have any Icelandic locks right now, so I can’t show you this wonderful trick I learned from Judith MacKenzie McCuin last year at SOAR.
I’d try several of these variations with a few of your locks, just flicked open, and see how you like it. I think it could make a wonderful thicker singles yarn done this way.
18. Often when I spin from the fold I find that I end up lopsided – that is, spinning from the end instead all of a sudden. Any way to address this?
Just stop, and rearrange. When this happens to me — and it does — I pull the part that’s starting to go lopsided off as soon as I realize that’s happening, and finish up spinning it. Then I rearrange the rest of what I had in my fiber supply, and do a join.
19. I spin from the fold when I spin silk on a spindle. I see some people use it all the time, with all sorts of fibres. I thought it was mainly for long fibres – why would one want to do it on medium sized wool for example?
It could be that they’re interested in one of the specific effects we’ve discused, or…
20. Ok, I have a poser – why, when I have been using the spinning from a fold technique, do I then want to spin everything from the fold? Ok, silk for me is a no-brainer. But then my fingers fall into this control rut and soon superwash merino, long alpaca and even very short baby cormo are folded over my finger. It is ridiculous, but true. I am mezmerized by the fine little spiral that comes off the finger tip. I wonder if it is a slippery fiber control thing? Any thoughts?
The same thing happens to me. Spinning from the fold was the magic that broke me out of my lifelong all-worsted-style, all-the-time mindset. I think this is inevitable, that sometimes the sheer hypnotic nature of the thing grabs you and you have to binge on something. I tell myself spinning from the fold is a cheaper and healthier binge than many other possible binges, so it’s all good.
I spent a while pondering what to do with the yarn, which I liked quite a bit, and ultimately decided to do a triangular shawl of some sort. I’ve done tons and tons of triangles where I start at the bottom point and go up (well, I’ve done a few). This time I thought I’d see about a top-down one. Since I planned to improvise, I decided to go top-down, center-out, as well, essentially creating a mitered corner at the centerline of the triangle, improvising pattern sections as I went. Here’s the in-progress shot…
…showing my big dilemma: I realized I would run short of the yarn I’d spun before bringing one section of pattern to a visual conclusion. I looked around for anything I had on hand in the same fiber that would be similar in colour, and that wool looked like it would do it… but spun up, it just plain didn’t work:
So, I decided that I’d just dye some of the same fiber yellow and go with “punch up the contrast and make it looke like it was intentional.”
Now, if you look in that in progress photo, you probably can’t see the problem, so let me try to explain. I structured the shawl top-down and center-out, so the stripes of colour from the long colour repeats would be downward-pointing chevrons going around that mitered corner. But from a structural standpoint the colour didn’t matter to the knitting, and the lace pattern sections were also structured as chevrons which, as I was knitting, would come together in a point.
Except that the final one wasn’t going to come together in a point before I ran out of yarn. Vis this photo from the blocking process:
See the yellow-tipped triangle? That’s the pattern element which had to complete or I was going to hate this shawl.
Now, while I was working this shawl — since I completely lack any semblance of project monogamy — I decided to start Foggy, Foggy Dew, and incorporate some of my thoughts from Pagoda into it. So Pagoda also became a prototype for how I wanted to do some things in FFD.
One such thing is beads, which are regrettably very hard to see in any of these pictures, and arguably too small relative to the yarn in the shawl, and thus too subtle to photograph. Not bad in person though.
So right now you’re probably thinking — and rightfully — “Geeze, Abby, please take some less awful pictures and show the whole thing and don’t just give us the heinous blocking-on-a-giant-blue-towel shots!” And I hear you. I really do. But first…
This is a huge blue towel, probably 6 feet long. Were I a functioning domestic type I’d remember if it was a “bath blanket” or “bath sheet” or what. Huge! Anytime I’m blocking something like this, I crave some sort of 3-meter-square gridded thing I cant stick pins into, like one of those self-healing mats for rotary cutters but big enough to block on. And it would really need to be like 3 meters square. But since I don’t have one… well. I half-ass the blocking. I pinned out the top edge straight, the centerline straight at various points on the way, and then just eyeballed and roughed in the points.
I’d done a very loose crochet cast off, placing beads at what would become the blocked points on the edges. This made certain aspects of blocking very simple, and it was an absolute requirement that I do this and get it blocked before completing the FFD shawl, so I can have my final beaded cast-off decisions made in time (which is to say, by about tomorrow night).
Okay, okay, so the better photos! Once it was dry — and I had to work to keep the cats away, because Kaylee kept trying to take pins out with her teeth and Paimei wanted to roll up in the towel — I took it out to the deck where I wish it were nice and green and pretty like it would be if not for drought.
My better half was there watching as I spread it out and got set up. “You should move the dead flower,” he said. “I might,” I told him.
“I definitely would,” he said.
Yes, that dead flower.
It’s not dead. It’s just resting.
But seriously folks, that’s a geranium. Now, I’ve seen geraniums thrive in the dry season in the Andes. I’ve seen them thrive in California summer. Even I, black thumb though I have always possessed (to the chagrin of my plant-growing parents and sibling and grandparents and cousins and everyone), usually can’t kill a geranium. And okay, I guess this one isn’t quite dead, but all the same, I think it shows just how bad our weather has been.
That was July.
But anyway, even though I decided to leave the dead flower in at least one photo, specifically so I could blog about the weather thus, I did take a few other Pagoda shawl pics.
Now, one interesting thing to note about this — and it’ll be true for FFD also — is that while it seems, patternwise, as if it’s a pair of right triangles, with two 90-degree angles at the top center, it’s really not. This is because of a certain fudge factor with increases at the edges. The angles are slightly obtuse as a result. However, I wanted it to still look like the center was in square, and the chevrons were in square at a 45-degree angle to those, so… blocking! And the fudge factor in blocking came into play at the pointy edges, which aren’t exactly evenly spaced.
I tried to make it look as right as possible right by the point, though.
If I had it to do over again, I think I’d use larger beads. At least at the edges, if nothing else.
I do like how it came out…
and I wish I had a big enough window to take a backlit picture and show the stitch pattern more clearly.
I’m disappointed in the candlelight pattern section, which is the chevron I was trying to bring to a close. I love the pattern, but it doesn’t really work right in this context, I feel.
The catspaws and smiling diamonds came out great, though, and all in all, I really like the yellow border with beads only there.
But yeah… next time, larger beads with this size yarn.
I’ll be taking it to SOAR to put in the gallery, so maybe I can nab a few photos there.
Well, I’m making progress on the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl, though it’s reached the point where things seem to move at less than a snail’s pace. It’s about 15 minutes per plain purl row, 20ish for a pattern row. So this seems to translate to about a repeat per day.
I weighed things yesterday afternoon, before finishing the latest repeat. There were 74 grams remaining in the ball… and the work in progress, including the 60″ Addi Turbos and the beads, weighed 55 grams. Oy. I’d say that there’s about 40 grams of yarn worked up so far… or… roughly 35% of the total yarn.
That would make me about a third done. I can’t stretch the piece out to show it in a triangle at this point; the legs of the triangle would be more than the 60″ needle long, meaning (oh I’m so good at math!) over 5 feet.
The base of the triangle — the top, that’ll be at the neck and shoulders — is about 41 inches across. Not blocked, remember, but still, stretched out to make things sort of visible and roughly ballpark how big this thing is getting.
As I’m working on it, I keep thinking about Sara Lamb’s Anatomy of a Project post from January of this year. She said:
Most times, after the first blush of excitement, there is just the daily effort. Just More. More stitches, more shots, more miles. The real work. The work without surprises, without wonder, where the planning shows in the ease, or lack thereof, of the doing. Sometimes it comes at the body, sometimes it’s the sleeves, the hours of throwing the shuttle, the hemming, the pressing, the blocking, sometimes it’s the endless miles of edging.
Yeah. So I have been pondering what keeps me going through that part. It’s the part that’s work, not play. I think it’s different in every case, with every project, but this time, the truth is, it’s because I want to see the finished object, and look at it, and know how it came out. And then I want to start the next thing with a clear conscience.
I want to see it. And if I want to see it, I have to do it.
This is my first beaded knitting project. I think maybe on the next one I’ll know what the heck I’m doing. While I’m doing this one, I keep thinking about the others. And in fact, with that in mind, I stashed up for some.
Yeah, I’m a stasher. Was there any doubt? But I swear I’ve been stashing the beads with an eye towards specific projects. Look:
Garnets are my birthstone!
So I got some nicer ones, and some irregular ones. I’m looking forward to putting them on this merino/silk yarn.
And these coppery beads are slated for this merino/silk.
With a little luck, these rhodium-plated beads will fit on this merino/tencel.
I’m looking for red and orange beads for the Hot Lava Optim. I haven’t found quite the right thing yet. And I got some little cultured seed pearls, drilled, to put on a cashmere/tussah yarn… but I think they’re too big. I have to let that idea gel.
Having concluded that the soonest I can possibly be done with the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl is realistically mid-August, I felt gloomy. Odds are I won’t be done with it that quickly; there’s too much else I have to do. That called for some consolation.
“Lovely day for a Genius!” Edward always says. Hah! That isn’t, of course, a Guinness; it’s a Boddington’s. Settling, getting ready for me to drink it. Mmmmm.
Oh, I’ve started actually looking at the heap of WordPress upgrading and tinkering that I need to do. I’ve at least reached the point where I have a shell open on that box and I’m jabbing things in the appropriate directories with the needle-like acuity of my relinquished geekdom. I think it’s reasonably safe to say that this former sysadmin has, in fact, recovered. I wonder if I should stop by the old haunt and let whoever’s left there know. Assuming anybody’s left there.
Anyway, that does mean that coming up in the next… whenever I get to it, there could be all sorts of peculiar blog experiences for my loyal readers, in the event that I decide to eschew any semblance of past professionalism and just make all sorts of changes to live systems and upgrade things in a thoroughly unprincipled manner. You’ve been warned! Any weirdnesses, though, will be short-lived. I promise.
I spent rainy yesterday tidying a bit. It was a day of impressive thunderstorms. Storm the third for the day was reported on the evening news as having dumped 1.65 inches of rain on this town specifically, in about 90 minutes. Not a good week to want to dry things outside, I suppose.
So, I picked up some trash.
Just random bits of drum carder offal, and an ounce or so of merino.
It’s mostly sort of lavender with flashes of colour.
See? I spin not thread sometimes. This’ll be for a felted project — the Trash Bag. Coming soon.
That only took about 90 minutes all told though, for blending and spinning. And it got Cardzilla clean! And I finally did hit that bead shop in town. This, in turn, meant I could work on that shawl — which after everyone’s help and suggestions and everything, I’m calling the Foggy Foggy Dew. Naming things after songs amuses me, but perhaps all the more when they’re arguably a little obscure or even ambiguous. Depending on how you define obscure, I suppose; within its familiar genres, the song’s not at all obscure, but they’re perhaps niche genres. In any case, I love ballads — any ballad — and old ones with histories and apocrypha, all the more.
I did end up staying up past my bedtime to reach a stopping point I liked, and take some pictures. Oops. It wasn’t an evening without incident, despite the manchild’s assistance in luring cats away from bead-sorting efforts; at one point, my mother called (it’s all her fault of course) and I left the project sitting on my chair while I walked off talking with her and my niece. When I returned, I had to kick Kaylee off it. And I found…
Oh, that is going to be annoying as that ball gets more used up.
I did reach this point, however:
Then the help turned back up.
Then the more help.
Paimei was incredibly helpful. He bit the head off a pin so it was impossible to remove from the carpet without tools.
Still, my sense of the size of this project is aided by this. It is, after all, not even big enough to be a cat blanket right now. 34 inches across the top edge (not blocked, really, though).
I had to finish the last row I finished, or I was going to be at risk of starting, and not remembering what I was doing, even though I know exactly what I’m doing.
It’s in the leaves. This time through there are 2 5-diamond diamonds bounded by leaves.
I guess they’ll sort of look like squares when the thing is done, though, since it’s knit diagonally.
But it should look more diamondlike when it’s being worn.
Odds of finishing this project this week: zero.
Oh, and in other news, I’m sick of looking at the same inventory right now, so it’s all 10% off, here:
In-progress shots of lace are always so disappointing. But I’m sure enough of you are lace knitters to know that, and thus be able to do a little light imagining…
The Triangle (will somebody name this for me? I am no good at naming things, I fear) has grown to the point of being about 30 inches, unblocked, across the top.
I’m not sure if I have enough beads to complete this as I desire. I’ve also reached the conclusion that these beads are not of particularly high quality, and this means I’ve reached that point in a project where the first real pangs of remorse set in: this was a time-consuming yarn, it’s time-consuming knitting, and I’m putting $3 worth of cheap glass beads on it? What was I thinking? Could I not perhaps have shelled out, oh, $5? What if, when I get this sucker wet to block it, the beads turn into crap?
But I’m committed.
Oh, for a better view of the beads, look here for the mega-fullsize version, Flickr style.
Of course, that’s them in the full sun… and they’re sorta iridescent. So they almost look better here:
In other news, I’m less than 20% done, it would seem; the remaining ball of yarn weighs 3.25 ounces, and the skein weighed 4 ounces. But because of how it’s built up, I do not anticipate that this means the finished shawl will be 12 feet across. I’m guessing more like 6 feet.
This weighing, too, creates project angst and remorse. What was I thinking? If I work on this straight through in all my evening time till August, I’ll have… a massive thing. Maybe my original plan is flawed. Perhaps I should change it (No, Abby, continue with the plan, you know you always do this, continue with the plan!) Maybe I should put it aside for a while (You can’t do that, it’s on your 60″ 2.5mm circular needle and you are NOT to leave that stuck in a UFO!)
Nope. Nope, it’s time to summon up the project faith. It is a good plan, and a good project, and it will work out wonderfully. Keep going.
Friday morning, and Thursday did result in almost all the batt club boxes making it out the door. The remaining 4 go today, whew!
Yesterday also brought me this:
Thank you, Amy! As it happens, I was just thinking, “man, I need a little bag to put some of these things on my end table into, it’s a disaster area.” But more important…
…she nailed me with these batts. Again! These are BFL, mohair, silk, and alpaca, with the mohair and alpaca being from farms in Maine. I love love love this colour, too.
While I was snapping pictures, I threw this in the White Reflective Box Thingy With Lights Pointing At It (that’s the technical term).
That’s the plied, skeined Hummingbird yarn from a few posts back, when it was shown on the bobbin.
I had big plans of spinning those Spunky batts right up, but by the time I got downstairs to the slothing chamber and seated in my La-Z-Boy with a fresh bobbin on the Suzie Pro, I realized it was just too hot and muggy for me to feel like spinning anything. So instead, I gave in to startitis!
…what? Okay, it’s this:
which is that merino/tencel skein from yesterday, and some US 2 Bryspun bendy needles, and a bit of random started lace.
By the end of the evening it was this:
and soon, it’ll move to circulars.
Oh, why is this so early, you might ask? I was awakened.
Some of you may recall these 50/50 merino/tencel dye testers…
There were several, but these were the pair that I culled to spin for myself and test which of several methods of dyeing I planned to use with merino/tencel moving forward. The one at rear, with the greens, remains unspun as yet, but I did spin up the rainbow-coloured one in the front, finding the dye penetration in it to be disappointing as I had feared. Spun and chain plied, here’s how that one turned out:
It’s not that it’s bad exactly, it’s just that it wasn’t nearly as vibrant and garishly bright as what I’d been trying to achieve. Because the dye technique I used on that particular 2-ounce top didn’t penetrate the top fully in some places, there was too much undyed, white fiber, and that toned things down and made for it to be more pastel.
Now, to be honest, sometimes I manipulate things specifically to achieve that result for several reasons (usually as an intermediate stage in a multi-part dye process). This time though, what I really needed to do was get a feel for the rate at which dye moved through this fiber, how it acted, and so forth. And now I know, and future dye efforts on the merino/tencel top are going to be much more predictable.
But so there I was with, I think, 300-some-odd yards of this spun up for test purposes. What to do, what to do… hat? scarf? Something like that. I opted for “scarf,” despite an abject lack of need for anything scarfy. Here comes the whole story — but first, a pop quiz!
So, let’s just say you have something laid out carefully on the bed to take pictures, and it looks like this:
Now, leave the room and walk 12 steps down the hall to get your camera. Upon your return, your careful layout has become…
Hrmmmm. What, then, could have caused this?
Space monkeys. Surely it was space monkeys.
This was a big needle project (well, for me) — I knit it on a pair of US 6 / 4mm Bryspun flexible needles, and it was a schlep-around-in-the-car project last week, plus I worked on it a bit in the evenings.
The pattern is the Fern Leaf Lace in Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting. It is similar to, but slightly different from, the version of it on the Boston Museum sampler studied by Susanna Lewis in Knitting Lace.
After having worked it a few times in a few different ways, I think I’m finally close to settling on a way I like to do it, and the next thing I put this pattern into, I might be genuinely pleased with.
Because of the bias created by the side-leaning double decreases, this pattern does create a… puckered, ripply look in the fabric. That was a challenge I didn’t overcome to my satisfaction in this quickie freehand sweater a couple years back:
(That’s the Susanna Lewis variant from the Boston Museum sampler)
I think my next iteration will use 5 holes per fern instead of 4, knit 3 together at the right edge, knit 3 together through back loop at the left edge, and be bounded with either reverse stockinette or a very loose, stretchy, open lace. I might also change the spacing of the leaves, and see what I can come up with the overemphasize the column of stitches which becomes the stalk at center of each leaf.
Chinchero weaver that I am, I can’t help but classify this pattern as raki-raki, which is a fern when you’re talking about the plant, but part of what makes something raki-raki is how it’s broken up off-kilter from a centerline while still maintaining symmetry. Ferns exhibit raki-raki tendencies, and that’s why they’re called that.
Well, that’s that for a finished object update today. What am I on to for the rest of the day? Here’s the list:
Editing plying video — I haven’t forgotten! And while we’re still on plying, has everyone been to see what Amelia’s been saying on the subject? And as a heads up, the latest issue of Spin-Off features a terrific Judith McKenzie-McCuin article on wet finishing yarn, which is really extremely relevant to getting plied yarns to be as nice as they can be.
Spinning up odds and ends, including a fat yarn on the bobbin right now
Trying to find the right thing to use for drop spindle plying video
Re-gluing the arm of my skeiner, which was broken in the moving van last year and just came unglued again
Inventory of miscellany to put on clearance sale Friday
Packing, shipping, and post office run on the way to pick the lad up from swim camp
Acquire new sandals for manchild, to replace the pair of which one half was lost yesterday, down a raccoon hole, at swim camp
Spin tussah silk khaitu style weaving yarn for upcoming project
Improvised top-town (instead of my perpetual bottom-up) triangle shawl from Pagoda Falkland, which reminds me, did y’all see Shannon’s Pagoda? Can there be any doubt that Pippi needs to do this again? Well, you won’t have any doubt once you see my triangle. Pippi must do this again.
Drinking more coffee. Always more coffee.
Looking back at this list, I see that shockingly, there is almost no production in it. Tomorrow will have to be a production day, dyeing tussah silk and maybe some wool.
Well, here it is, Wednesday morning, and I haven’t gotten that plying video done yet. It might happen today, but there’s also some production work that has to happen, it’s the boy’s last day of school tomorrow and he’s got a couple of days of early release, and lo and behold, it turns out we’ve driven right past a place on Main Street, time and again, called…
The Lebanon Electric Motor Service Company
…so at some point (since we’re still working on picking the right replacement motor or finding a gearbox), Cardzilla’s motor is going to get pulled and I’m going to just take it over there, smile winningly, and say “Hey, can I get a gearbox for this by any chance? It’s slipping under load going forward.”
Another example of my sheer brilliance manifested itself yesterday when, picking up the finished Elaborated Print o’ the Wave scarf to wash and block it, I thought to myself, “Hey, if I’m blocking stuff I might as well wash and block my winter wearables too, they need it! And I’ll just pin everything out on the deck, plenty of space…”
Right. Of course, I hate blocking; so making it “blocking outside in 92F weather” was an even better idea, right? As was attempting to shove quilting pins into a pressure-treated deck. I did get the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle (I name my stuff so winningly, don’t I?) reasonably well blocked, which is actually tricky because (ssssh, don’t tell) it’s got a bad skew problem at the top of the triangle. But I had forgotten that when you wear something all winter long, and it gets scrunched up and crammed in your coatsleeve and stuffed in a bag and heaven knows what all else, well, yeah, it benefits from a reblocking.
Now, of course, I am starting to think I ought to pick up a dress form one of these days, for the sake of taking pictures of a few things. Well, and for being a dress form. I’ve grown to loathe the finished-object photography issues. I want to take both technical photos and sexy photos, but there’s not many good ways to combine the two; and in some cases I want to be able to show the items “in action,” which could happen with me wearing them and someone else taking a picture, but I’m never satisfied with those. Nor am I satisfied with having pressed a large fan into service to hold this shawl:
It’s totally frustrating; this is an awesome shawl, I wear it all winter long, and so help me, I’ve never been able to get satisfactory photos of it. The whole pile of ’em is here in my old photo gallery area, including the yarn.
I’ve never been satisfied with the Creme de Menthe scarf photos either. So this time around, I’ve tried to get photos I like better. I’m still not really satisfied. Once the Creme de Menthe scarf is dry, I’ll try a few more ideas. For now, here is part of it pinned out on the closet floor (where the pins will actually stick, unlike in the pressure treated lumber).
It’s particularly hard with the Creme de Menthe one, because it’s a sampler with weird variations and whatnot.
Moving on, though, hey, look, it’s a finished object! FINALLY! Started last September as a travel project, I found myself perpetually losing focus on this after I memorized the pattern about 3 repeats in. The pattern is a really pretty one, and it bears some conceptual similarities to the Andean weaving pattern jakaku sisan and variants, which is one of my favourites… and perhaps where I lost focus and found myself getting a little bit bored; I wanted to start improvising or turning it into other things, and that was not the goal of the scarf.
However, odds are that I will apply some jakaku sisan variation principles to the Elaborated Print o’ the Wave pattern at some point, and do a doubled and reflected one which travels over a wider space, with background infill from related patterns as well. I’ve dug around a bit to find something that I have a photo of which has some of those conceptual elements in it. I’m not sure that they’re visually so closely related — to me the connection is obvious, but it is a thing based in Andean weaving that makes the connection, and I’m not sure it’s readily visible if you’re not, say, trying to describe the way you work the pattern in Quechua.
Anyway, jakaku sisan in its straight, basic form is the brown-black one at the sides here:
(the middle fella is Loraypu, which is too complicated to get into today)
A jakaku is a bird, sort of a hummingbird; a sisan is, among other things, part of a flower. This is the conceptual interpretation, not the literal, as represented in Quechua woven thought.
The key conceptual thing that jakaku sisan teaches is the hooked bits and the diagonals, and how to attach them, reflect them, rotate them, and move them around. This next example is several steps more complicated (at least) and uses some other conceptual elements as well:
See the lobed curling hook bits? Attaching to the diagonals on the diamond part? They’re the same lobed curling hook bits in jakaku sisan. Notice, though, how they go up, and down — going up the bottom of the diamond, they curl under, and along the top of the diamond they curl over (not factoring in or discussing the negative space ones right now either).
Anyway, Print o’ the Wave in its base form, here:
has lobed thingies that move inward towards a central line, from points at the bottom. It has no up-curling lobes. However, you have an flow to it where the subsequent lobe starts at a certain point in the completion of the prior one, and there’s a reflection point, that is conceptually very similar to where those lines of symmetry occur in the fundaments of jakaku sisan, which is sort of like… a 4th grade pattern.
Elaborated Print o’ the Wave, then, resembles the diamond pattern with the lobed curling hooks in black & white above — not visually, but conceptually in terms of how you do it. Look:
As your diagonal centerline that the lobes come into zig-zags its way along, you shift at critical points to make it turn one way or the other, and your lobes still are under the traveling centerline. With knitting, it’s not possible to simply reflect the pattern either — if I did lobes that came off the top of the centerline, structurally it wouldn’t be possible to make them exactly match the lobes that start with a single stitch above a yarn over. So what COULD you do to reflect it in the same piece while the centerline travels?
That question plagued me, nonstop, the entire time I worked this scarf. I wanted so badly to go haring off wildly thinking about that, but I also really, really wanted the scarf in straight, unadulterated (well, mostly) Elaborated Print o’ the Wave. For me, it is easier to think in the textile than it is in an on-paper representation, too, so… it wasn’t working if I tried to sketch it. And I knew if I started a tester to see what I could do, I’d never, ever finish this scarf.
So, the scarf went with me on trips out, to dentists’ waiting rooms, visits to the in-laws, drives of more than 20 minutes, to serve as a hand fidget until I finished it. I started it shortly after Labor Day, and finished it on Memorial Day: September 16, I think, to May 28. For a simple scarf from about 600 yards of yarn. Oh! The yarn was Belisa Cashmere, and I picked it up at Stitches West a couple years ago. Decent cashmere yarn. You know, for a millspun.
Let’s take a moment and laugh at the crabby chick (who needs to stop eating so much of her better half’s fabulous cooking) standing by the mirror, for… scale. Or something.
The truth is that I do really like this scarf, and look forward to putting into the rotation come fall, with Creme de Menthe and the purple triangle. I’m just crabby about photography today, and falling behind my self-imposed schedules for things again. Given that tomorrow is the lad’s last day of school and everything, I have no idea when I’m going to actually be able to pull off a dye day this week… but I’ll need to do something or I’m going to be really mad at myself for having no new inventory by the end of the week. I’ll have to pull something out of my hat one way or another.