I am teaching myself to spin on a wheel, not because I’m too good to need help (SO NOT too good), but because I live 2.5 hours from the nearest spinning supplies store and the local spinning guild spans 200 square miles of very rural territory and meets Tuesday afternoons, when I’m working.
I am making slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
I thought I’d post a few tips for others stepping unaided into the world of spinning, and I hope those others will share their tips in comments. I claim no special wisdom in these tips, simply that they are working for me.
1. Start with inexpensive, even ugly fiber. Save the good stuff for later.
You probably want to buy something that’s billed as “easy to spin,” and then spin the hell out of it. I was terrified to mess up on the little bit of fab fiber I’d bought prior to getting a wheel, but now that I have some rough, not terribly pretty romney, I’m going to town. I experiment, I unwind half-full bobbins and throw the yarn away, I try different chairs and poses and drafting techniques. Half a bobbin might be worsted and the other half woolen. Part of a bobbin is made with one spinning maven’s advice, the other half with my own instinct. I am learning a lot and no one has to see the dirty work I’m doing. There is no law that you have to knit up or weave your first skeins of yarn (though if you do, passersby are probably NOT going to point and exclaim, “hey, that scarf is half woolen and half worsted and half-assed!” Most people think you’re nuts for knitting a scarf when you can buy one. They can’t even deal with the idea of making the yarn itself.
2. Stop fighting the fiber.
I got better results almost instantly when I read in a book to “hold the fiber as if it’s a little baby bird.” I got even better when I started holding the fiber as if it were a little baby bird with multiple wing fractures and tuberculosis. If the tension on the wheel is right and your speed of drafting is appropriate, I don’t think there’s any such thing as too gentle.
I had another exponential success when I switched from top to batt. The batt is loosely prepared and doesn’t need much drafting. When I switched back to top after a few sessions, what had seemed dense and unwieldy was suddenly easy to spin.
3. Spinning is meant to be relaxing. If you’re not relaxed or becoming relaxed, stop the spinning session.
Unrelaxed hands crush little baby fiber birds (and they’ve already got broken bones and tuberculosis – how can you be so cruel?), and unrelaxed feet treadle too fast. Take a deep breath and exhale, thinking relax.
I’ve been taking horseback riding lessons for a few years and I learned early on that unrelaxed riders create nervy or stubborn horses. The rider might even fall off or get thrown (as I know from personal experience). Same with spinning – you’ll know you’re not relaxed enough if your wheel suddenly seems to take on a contrary life of its own. It probably won’t throw you, but you could wear a riding helmet just in case. Better yet, take a break and spin later or tomorrow.
4) Find a good-for-you spinning chair.
I don’t mean a real spinning chair, such as Ashford sells, although you could do that if you like (though how much luscious fiber and yarn could you buy with that money?). I mean a chair that fits you at your wheel and allows you to move your arms and shoulders as you learn how to do this craft (and to relax). That probably means armless, with a low back or very narrow back (ala a “real” spinning chair). I went to a local vintage/antique store and sat in all the low, wide-seated chairs with low backs they had, staring ahead and moving my feet as if I were treadling (folks in this town are not surprised by anything I do anymore). I settled on a ‘50s vanity chair in buttercream vinyl with silver studs and a huge buttercream button in the center of the back and a well-padded, broad seat (much like my butt). It’s perfect for me and for spinning, and cost $58 vs. the $250 and up prices for wooden spinning chairs. The chair I had been using is comfortable, but this one is way better for spinning and has contributed to my learning.
That’s all I have for now. If you have tips for the new-to-spinning wheel crowd, especially those trying to figure this out on their own, please share in the comments.