Friday, January 4, 2013

Intro to Spinning: The First Twists on the Wheel

I've been spinning for about 3 years now. I remember when I first started, I felt like I was all over the place. Your feet are pumping, your hands are pulling and pinching and everything is moving at once. It wasn't until I relaxed and broke down the actual motion, that I found spinning to be less intimidating. The first mistake I made when spinning is trying to master everything at once. I wanted to sit down at the wheel and make yarn...immediately!

The second mistake I made was that I couldn't get it through my head that the goal is not to "feed" the wheel. I felt that I needed to push the fiber through the wheel, and that's not necessarily correct. All the work on the spinner's part, happens outside the wheel. Once I got this, spinning clicked for me. I try to think of the wheel simply as a holding device that draws the finished yarn in.

My advice to beginners is to start by simply sitting in front of the wheel and pump the treadle. Pump and pump and......

...oh look it's my helper! ...He's very helpful!

Oh! ...And here he is being helpful again!

(In learning to spin, the Golden Retriever is desired, but not required.)


Get a sense of what your wheel feels like. The motion, the downward thrust. After a while the treadle will seem like second nature and you'll forget your feet are moving. It will be like driving a car. You don't have to "tell" yourself to push the gas or the brake. You just do it.

Braking is also important. Periodically stop your wheel using only your feet.

Learn how to stop and start your wheel with your feet so you have both hands free to handle the yarn and fiber.

Once you have your feet under control, it's time for your hands. I'm working with our own Mohair Roving from our Angora Goats. The fibers are all aligned and ready to be spun. (To view Iron Oak Farm's collection of natural and hand dyed fiber click here, IOF Mohair Roving)

To begin, you will need to set up the bobbin, and thread the wheel. (See my post Threading the Wheel for more on this)

Your starter yarn will be coming out the hole. Get the wheel spinning in a clockwise direction. I spin clockwise, and ply counter clockwise (we can talk more about this later) It's a good idea to practice with this starter yarn. Let it spin in your hands, get a good sense of this sensation. The yarn will sometimes over spin and coil up on itself. This is fine. Just stop the wheel, untwist the yarn and start again. The tension should be adjusted so that the yarn will twist and draw into the wheel, but not so tight that you can't pull the spun yarn back out without too much effort. The correct tension is really a "feel" that you'll get used to as you go.

Once this feels comfortable take a bit of the roving and stretch or draft out about 3 to 4 inches. Get the wheel spinning and as the lead yarn starts twisting, touch the drafted roving to the yarn. The fibers will grab each other and the lead yard will start twisting the roving as well. You can now start spinning!

I spin left handed so if you are right handed, you will probably feel more comfortable switching the following directions. When I spin I use my right hand as the brake hand, and my left hand as the stretching hand.

The spinning motion happens between the wheel and my right hand. This is called the draw.

My right hand pinches the fiber to stop any further spinning from happening behind it. My left hand holds the fiber and works on stretching the fiber into a useable amount.

This is called drafting the fiber. This is where the real skill comes in spinning. Judging the amount of fiber to be stretched until you have control and the yarn is consistently twisted. Not too thin, and not too thick. (Sometimes the goal is not necessarily even, consistent yarn. Like in many art yarns where the yarn changes from thick to thin for a certain effect. When learning, your goal is to find what you need to do to control how the yarn looks. It doesn't all have to be even, but know what you did to make it uneven.) 

Once I'm pleased with the amount of roving that is drafted, I slide my right hand down the "Y" and allow this fiber to be twisted. (Spinning from the "Y" can also mean something else in fiber, I can talk about that in the future.)

Then I repeat, the left hand drafts the fiber, then the right hand lets it twist. When you have a good amount drawn, you can feed the fiber into the wheel to be coiled onto the bobbin. And the process repeats. The motion in spinning is really feeding the fiber from the back hand to the front hand. The skill is determining how much fiber should be passed between the two. Often, after I get started, I start to rely mostly on my right hand. I work it back and forth pinching a workable amount of fiber, and then letting it spin. 


Gina Andaas said...

Can you spin dog fur effectively. I have a Siberian husky which equates to tons of fur.

Gina Andaas said...

How much does a spinning setup typically run?

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