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Do You Spin Less Traditional Yarns?

Someone asked me the other day whether or not I ever spin non-traditional yarns.

Why yes, in fact, I do. But the thing is, I don’t use a lot of novelty yarn; it just doesn’t serve any real purpose for me. For the most part, I spin to produce yarn that I want to use. Sometimes I spin in order to master a technique or a new kind of fiber or something like that, but then I’m invariably left with yarn for which I have no use.

Usefulness is a key part of my aesthetic. I know — this gets into that tired old “art vs. craft” debate, a lot of which I tend to just find arbitrary and pointless. I admire both form and function, but most of all I love a marriage of the two. Achieving a successful blend of both is truly a masterful accomplishment; it is that which speaks to me, personally, more than either of the two separately. I don’t find myself drawn to most things which are created solely for form, nor most things created solely for function. I think if I did, then fiber arts wouldn’t be my passion, because a huge part of what makes fiber arts so scintillating is the unparalleled opportunity to blend form and function.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate things that push the boundaries or take risks. This isn’t to say I don’t do those things myself, or try to challenge my own thinking. I don’t mean I never do things, or like things, just because, or for reasons I can’t entirely put my finger on.

So, without further ado, a few random pictures of some yarns I’ve spun over the years that aren’t what I usually spin:

Mohair and Soy Silk thick-thin single

Adult Camel and Tussah Silk 2-ply

Merino, silk noil and nylon spiral yarn

Mohair/Silk Boucle

Suffolk/Mohair Snarl Yarn

Slubbed misc wools/silk noil single

Assorted thick-thin space-dyed singles for knit, crochet, felting

Angora/silk space-dyed mild spiral

Tussah/Merino/Yak variegated 2-ply

But now we come to the moment of truth about my personal feelings about yarn — the statement that’ll doubtless draw all sorts of ire from folks who feel otherwise. But I’ve been asked, lately, why don’t I spin art yarn, or the new novelties, since I can? And here’s the answer.

Even when it comes to the “stuff I don’t usually spin,” though, it tends to be stuff that COULD be used in something that I might use or wear. I’ve no personal use for accent yarns, yarns that are tied together, yarns that have inclusions that can’t be knit, crocheted, or woven, and lacking a use for such yarns, I find them unsatisfying and boring to produce. They’d be destined for a life of nothingness; they would never become a Something. Yarn that can’t become a Something is, to me, a premature death, and choosing to do it intentionally feels to me like if I killed my kitten and had her stuffed so she would stay cute and small forever, instead of maturing into an older, larger, less playful cat, and eventually a grand old lady who must be cared for carefully like the aged queen she is, her prime only memories of running and jumping and hunting that linger sweetly while we feed her soft food because most of her teeth are gone. I wouldn’t rob my beloved pet of a life, even knowing it means time will pass and everything will fade; I can’t rob my yarn of that either.

Creating yarn that is intended to stop at a point of having become yarn feels to me like stopping short of having the nerve it takes to create things that will be used, flying audaciously in the face of the passage of time and the wear and tear all things must endure until they can take no more. It’s a stuffed animal, a posed photo of a make-believe family at a theme park — it’s not a living, breathing pet, or a memory of a real trip to Disneyland. It falls short for me, lacks depth and impact. It may be pretty, it may be cool, it may be interesting, but to me it isn’t yarn, because to be yarn is to be potential which you act on. You have to be able to act on it, or it isn’t yarn. That doesn’t mean it isn’t cool — just that it isn’t yarn to me, and it doesn’t sit right with me at a core level for me to produce that.

16 thoughts on “Do You Spin Less Traditional Yarns?

  1. Abby,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about spinning useful yarn. After a class on novelty spinning I keep thinking WHY?

    Stick to your YARN.


  2. Some of my thoughts about handspinning echo yours so closely, it’s almost creepy. 🙂

  3. i’m with you, as well. if i can’t find a use for it, WHY? granted, i’m thinking aobut selling my handspun, but still. i do like those yarns that you don’t typically spin though. i could find uses for them (i had a yarn that came out really crappy, and still used it to make a hat for dulaan)

  4. I think I have a similar take on just about everything I create; or at least, I feel/think things should be efficient in their use of realityspace … and yarn is one of those things that, in any quantity greater than one decorative skein, should probably be used in something else rather than being an end of itself. Meaning, unless one actually does decorate with a lot of yarn, most of one’s yarn should be capable of being used for something other than decoration. 😉 Not that I dislike the idea of decorating with yarn, really; it’s not any weirder than having other forms of sculpture on display … but do people actually do that with art yarn?

    Anyway, veering off, I love that tussah/camel … How the heck did you do that? Is it like, “Spin a length of tussah, then attach camel and spin a length of camel; continue switching off, and then ply with itself”?

  5. Crystal asks:

    Anyway, veering off, I love that tussah/camel … How the heck did you do that? Is it like, “Spin a length of tussah, then attach camel and spin a length of camel; continue switching off, and then ply with itself”?

    Yep, that’s exactly right! Hang on and I’ll see if I can find a photo of the swatch.

  6. You know, I hadn’t really thought of it that way… in part because I still consider myself a pretty novice spinner. But, thinking about it, I come down pretty much on the same side of the spinning equation. What makes me so happy about spinning is knowing that the spinning process is creating something beautiful that will live on in a garment or home item.

    Sometimes, when I look back on yarn that I created after I first got my wheel that I have no use for (wrong color, wrong fiber, wrong texture) I feel bad that that yarn will probably be a permanent stash resident.

    Well said.

  7. Yup, another person who agrees with you. I’m just very practical with stuff like that. A good part of me just aspires to be like the women of the past, who spun good, useful yarns to keep themselves and their families warm and clothed.

  8. Hmmmm. I guess I’ll be the dissenter here. One woman’s yarn is another woman’s donation ;-)). While I’m also a knitter and hate it when there’s even one knot in my perfectly uniform skein, The soul of my work is in my freeform. And that’s where novelty yarns not only live, but live and flourish. Many freeform artists eschew the novelties, prefering to make worsted do all sorts of stitch tricks. But to my thinking – that’s sort of like painting with only black and white paint. Nice (think Ansel Adams) – but then there’s color… I couldn’t freeform without the ability to use whatever sparkly, lumpy, tied, embellished, fuzzy bits of beautiful art or novelty yarn pass through my hands. I want the work to shock, and make you think and draw you in. I want depth and dimension and texture. I want work that’s alive! You can see some of it on my blog, http://www.healmyhands.typepad.comas well as the work of other freeformers through the links on my lefthand sidebar. Life it too short to knit without sequins :-))

  9. re the camel/silk random technique – I spun cotton using the same technique except using 2 different colors of the same fiber. I used 2 plies to knit a pair of socks and part of the design that showed up looks like free-form-fair-isle

  10. I agree. When I wanted to try a new fiber I used to get a couple of ounces, and then I had a 2 oz skein that wasn’t enough to do anything with. Now I get 4-6 oz and weave a scarf out of it. I can always give those away to charity. I think you have to spin for a few years before you figure out how to spin for a purpose, how to make your yarn the size you want.

  11. I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m loving it! When I see novelty yarns, I find them interesting but the one question I see posted over and over is, “what does it look like knitted up?” I just can’t see myself knitting with scraps of ribbon and feathers poking out everywhere, but to each his own, I suppose. While I appreciate the uniqueness and artistic expression involved, I’m more of a classic spinner and knitter (even though I’ve had all of two months with my wheel). I think my artistic expression will come when I start blending colors or experimenting with new stitch patterns.

  12. YES. I’m with you. The thing is, that a painting (for example) has never been meant to “do” anything except look pretty (or ugly, or compelling, or familiar–but it’s all just looks). There’s no inherent purpose to a painting beyond that. A painting is end-stage.
    Yarn has had a purpose for thousands of years. It hasn’t been an end-stage product until very, very recently.
    If it isn’t suitable for being made into something, to my mind it isn’t yarn. It may be a sculpture in which the medium is fiber, OK; not my taste but then neither is pointillism.
    I think the real problem is that the same end-stage mentality that says “maybe I want to just bedone with it NOW–and, oh yes, perhaps sell it for a dollar or so a yard” also seems to say “maybe I want to be done learning about spinning NOW.” There are exceptions, but so many art-yarn types seem to be spinning ONLY the kinds of under-and-over-spun bulky singles yarns that most other spinners hide away in the backs of closets as failed attempts and learning experiences. Do I love my first yarn, which fits that description to a tee? Absolutely. Do I think it would be worth $50 if I called it “Snow Melt” and described how the undyed Corriedale made me feel? Good heavens no.
    If you don’t USE your handspun, you can’t improve its usefulness, and this is the curse of art yarn: in very few cases does it seem to progress to the level of craft, much less art.

  13. Abby – I’m a student spinner who has been following your posts on SpinList — I think these yarns are beautiful.

  14. hi, i’m a new reader of your blog (which i enjoyed, btw); discovered you via the lime and violed message boards.

    i’d like to weigh in on this long-standing question. i agree with you in that i prefer spinning ‘functional’ yarns that i would enjoy knitting and, more recently, crocheting with. BUT (you knew there would be a but, didn’t you?).

    but, *i* enjoy knitting with funky, bumpy, odd, kitchen-sink-y yarns! i tend to eschew the fine, consistent, ‘traditional’ yarns when knitting (although i have great respect for those that have the patience to work with them, both spinners and knitters). in my fiber art as in life, for me, the weirder the better. bring on those feathers! bead: you betcha! and i’m with claudia: my best work is my freeform, and for that, a good ‘novelty’ yarn or handspun artyarn can make a piece.

    thanks for letting me put my 2cents in. there’s beauty everywhere, and it’s nice to converse (convivially, gently) about the differences in our preferences. thank you!

  15. This totally resonates with me – I feel the same way about taking my time to make something trendy to wear. If I’m going to put my time (let alone my heart and soul) into something, then I want it to be classic and beautiful or at least extremely functional.

  16. I like to make yarn to knit and unusual yarn to weave. If I spin I must have an article to knit, large or small. Right now I am wearing a scarf of soft mottled blue/white wool with a shiney, sparkle added from a a bit of vicks bottie blue added in. The shiney thread gives an elegant touch while the base yarn is warm. Good use of fibre………. Enjoyed all the comments, Joan

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