Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Spinning By Hand.

Posted on | December 20, 2015 | 3 Comments

One of the reason I sold my dairy goats was to spend more time with my sheep.  Specifically with all their wool that is piling up in the craft closet.  Last winter I felted 2 entire fleeces into balls in the washing machine because I needed to make room in that closet for more wool.  Last spring’s fleece is still in the barn waiting to be washed and carded and this spring’s wool is only a few months away.  The pressure is on but the problem is not with the will to spin but with the way to spin.  Because I sat through a couple classes on spinning.  And I watched some youtube videos.  And I borrowed some books from the library.  And I was still completely mystified when I sat at the spinning wheel or held a spindle.

Part of the problem is being left-handed.  Right handed people are never sure whether they should try to teach me how to do it the right-handed way or whether they should try to teach me upside down and backwards, which is the way us lefties are used to living.   Also, there’s a bit of room for personal preference—-ask 3 different spinners and you might be shown 3 methods that are just the teeniest bit different.  And that teeny bit is very confusing.  Throw in the terminology (draft, ply, slub, whorl, Z or S twist) that is thrown around during teaching and it’s all very baffling.  Besides, I have found that my hands are better learners than my brain.  Which results in even more problems.

For example, when I learned to card wool I had the same difficulties.  This part was not hard.

But as soon as I left the lesson or turned off youtube I forgot how to get the wool off one carder and onto the other.  I just stared at it while my brain tried to remember what came next.  And then switching the carders from hand to hand just resulted in dropping them in my lap and wondering how the hell I was holding them (palm up?  palm down?  thumbs where?) to start with.  Eventually I learned to look away, keeping the carders in the edge of my peripheral vision, and letting my hands switch the wool and change hands on their own.  Because they remembered what to do, if my brain would just get out of the way.

Basically, I card by muscle memory rather than thought.  If I think too hard about what I’m doing, it just doesn’t make sense.  The less I pay attention to what my hands are doing, the better I card and the faster my wool turns into a bag full of rolags.  I think this says something odd and terrible about the connections in my brain, but I can’t say I’m surprised.  I’ve always had my doubts about what’s going up there.  And it made learning to spin seem impossible.

Until I sold the last of my dairy goats to a spinner with her own fiber flock.  She told me that she had trouble learning how to spin so she knew how to teach people that were struggling.  Sure, I thought.  But then she sat down in my kitchen and showed me how to spin on a spindle.  In about 5 minutes, using the “park and pull” method.  And it made sense.  She waited until my hands knew what they were doing and then left me to work on it on my own.  For the next month or so I picked up the spindle and spun the wool for a few minutes at a time so my hands wouldn’t forget the feel of it or the proper direction to spin the spindle.  I did as she suggested and ignored the imperfections and just got accustomed to the feel of the process.  I was getting a little bit done but I was balanced right on the edge between thinking and spinning.

Then basketball season began.

My younger boys had been playing soccer so I spent a lot of time at the soccer complex.  There was a lovely walking track around the practice fields so I used the time to get some exercise and fresh air.  But basketball occurs indoors in a small gym with no track at all.  And I can drop off the boys and go somewhere else but I can’t get a whole lot done at home or in town during that hour of practice, especially considering driving time.  But I can sit there on the bleachers and spin with my drop spindle.  Meaning there are 2 hours each week where I just sit and spin and don’t do anything else.  Of course, time is all it takes.

After the first practice I was spinning away, flying through bags of rolags.  Oh, it isn’t pretty.  I try to get this:

Because it actually looks a bit like real yarn.  Which is the goal.  But I have a hard time joining new rolags without creating slubs.

When joining a new piece of fleece, you’re supposed to draw out the fibers and lay them alongside the piece that you are already spinning.  As the twist rises up the wool it will suck in the new fibers on its own.  But I tend to end up with a big clump where the the new pieces comes in.  I’m not sure why because if I’m not paying attention the end of the rolag will join quite neatly with the rest of the yarn without leaving any bumps at all.  Just another example of how much more skilled I am when I am not paying attention to what I am doing.  Is that a superpower?

Regardless, my will and my way are finally coming together.  And spinning is so much fun and so quick that I often don’t realize how much I’ve spun until I can’t reach any higher and am forced to stop and wind they yarn on the spindle and start at the bottom again.  By next week’s basketball practices I might even be ready to drop my spindle instead of parking it.

And my yarn is simultaneously the ugliest and the most beautiful yarn I’ve ever seen.

Isabella would be impressed with what I’ve done with her fleece.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh.

The only problem I foresee is when the spindle is full.  Because I have no idea how the get the yarn off the spindle.  And once I get it off there’s another problem.  I no longer remember how she started attaching the fleece to the spindle to start the spinning process.  Something about leaders and whorls and shafts…..ugh.  Talk to the hands, spindle, talk to the hands.


3 Responses to “Spinning By Hand.”

  1. peggy ruske
    December 21st, 2015 @ 4:31 am

    Funny, I never did manage a drop spindle! Just wait tip you get to the spinning wheel – that is really fast and fun.

  2. Shannon
    December 21st, 2015 @ 6:50 am

    I am also a lefty and I have also experienced the difficulty in being taught by righties. Thankfully, spinning isn’t really a handed technique. Theres a front hand and a back hand and it doesn’t really matter which hand is which, you just have to do what is comfortable for you. Dont let the terminology bother you all it does it make you think, which really does get in the way of spinning.I am also a lefty and I have also experienced the difficulty in being taught by righties. Thankfully, spinning isn’t really a handed technique. Theres a front hand and a back hand and it doesn’t really matter which hand is which. Anybody who says it does matter, is misled. I took Maggie Casey’s class in Boulder and something she had people do was to try and use both hands in the front to find which way was more natural to them. I use my left hand in the front to control twist and smooth and my right hand in the back to control the fiber (draft). Other people are reversed. Our class was split almost in half and I was the only lefty.
    My favorite part of spinning is just letting the muscle memory take over and getting into it. It’s so relaxing and it let’s my brain unwind.

  3. Avillionshepherd
    December 23rd, 2015 @ 4:55 pm

    It looks wonderful to me. Shannon is correct – handedness does not matter too much. I shift back and forth between left and right as drafting hand quite a bit.

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