Being a knitter who knew very little about spinning, I have always turned to pre-made, readily available yarn. Whether at your LYS or at one of the numerous shops online, there is a ton of it out there and seemingly something for every rhyme or reason...
Many years ago, more out of curiosity than anything else, I bought a "Learn to Spin" kit. It came with a top-whorl drop spindle, some wool and a sheet of instructions. Though I gave it a few tries, I just wasn't getting it and after practicing for some time and producing nothing vaguely yarn-like, I put it away. A couple years later I pulled the kit back out for another try. Again I ended up with nothing I could call yarn and set everything aside, frustrated. But I kept seeing the kit from time to time and knew that the I'd try again...someday.
So recently, I purchased and read the incredibly inspiring "Respect The Spindle" by Abby Franquemont, She has been spinning since she was five years old when she lived in the Andes. She has written an incredible book which is both in-depth and broad in scope. Armed with the knowledge and confidence that Abby bestows on her readers, I decided to give it another try.
Instead of using the old kit I had lying around, I decided to start fresh. I started off by making my own spindle as she demonstrated in the book. It was made using a dowel, a wooden toy wheel and a small cup hook. It cost me under three dollars to make. I also stopped at my local yarn shop (Halcyon Yarn in Bath, ME...highly recommended if you're ever up this way) where I was given some advice on what would be good wool for a beginner to learn with. I ended up buying three different kinds for a few dollars and went home to give spinning another try.
For the first week I practiced using the "park and draft" technique. This means that you practice pulling the fibers apart and allowing twist into them while the spindle is stationary. Doing so allows time to learn how to draft the fiber without having to worry about what the spindle is doing. This gives you a chance to build up some muscle memory. It's one of those things where no matter how much you read ahead of time and think you are prepared and know about the process, you learn that only practice, practice and more practice is going to get you there.
So after practicing for about half an hour a day for a week I was feeling pretty good about the results I was getting and decided to try making a small skein of yarn. Here are some pics of how it went!
I didn't think to start taking pictures any earlier in the process, but here is the spindle with the completed "single" spun on to it. I wasn't trying for any particular gauge of yarn, just trying to get the thickness to be even.
Once that was spun, I wound the single off of the spindle and onto a nostepinne, specifically making it into two small "cakes" of yarn. These I then wound together into one double-stranded ball of yarn.
This next pictures shows the lone double-stranded ball on the left with both strands being plied together. This is done by spinning them in the opposite direction of how they were spun and winding them back onto the spindle for storage.
Here is all the newly plied yarn on the spindle. From here I wound the yarn around a book (I didn't have a niddy noddy and this was mentioned as an alternative...), tied it to keep it from tangling, gave it a hot water soak followed by a cool water rinse and then hung it up to dry.
And last but not least, here is the finished mini-skein of yarn. I was quite pleased with the fact that the yarn didn't end up with crazy thick and thin areas. A pretty decent first attempt.
While I never really thought I would get too excited about spinning, now I can see why people do. It's a connection to the past, a learned skill that is thousands of years old. Plus if you are a knitter AND a spinner, these things obviously go hand in hand. I can't wait to make a project with some yarn that I've spun myself! And, can I mention Etsy? Have you seen some of the gorgeous fiber you can buy on there? And the beautiful spindles?
Speaking of spindles, since my first attempts at spinning, I have modified my spindle a little. What I found was that due to the small wheel/whorl, most of the weight was close to the shaft. This meant it spun fast, but not long, and I wanted to have more time to draft between spins. So I found a spindle I liked online (a Trindle to be exact) which is meant to spin a long time due to the extra external weight. I was going to buy one but decided that I would make something similar with a few beads and some nails. I don't know if this will hold that well in the long run, but at least I know that with this modification, my spindle spins much better now! Plus the skull beads give it a little something extra, eh?!
Well, thanks for letting me share my excitement with you on something related, but a bit off-topic from knitting itself. I hope this has at least been interesting and who knows, it may encourage someone to try spinning, whether on a drop spindle or on a wheel. Take care, guys!