Spinning a Yarn (Part 2)

by Jj Starwalker

This essay is part 2 of a series by Jj Starwalker. Click here to read part 1.

…[I]n my world, much of my spiritual work is done along side the physical work of preparing fiber and making yarn.

That may be neither here nor there in your world, but if you feel the call of the cozy fiber time coming, if you want try spinning, let me assure you that you can jump in with both feet and play without much expense.

Many, many years ago I learned about the Navajo way of spinning and weaving, built myself a Navajo style hand spindle and a very basic loom, and was off and running. I still have the spindle, but no longer use it, as it requires me to sit on the ground, and unlike the Navajo grandmothers, I have not spent a lifetime of doing so. Getting down is not so bad, but getting up again is something else as a 72 year old with two “bionic” knees. 

However, other hand spindles are available, often inexpensively (but not always) and there are very low cost options one can make easily at home, such as my favorite hand spindle which is made from a couple of old CDs, a dowel and some O-rings.

In a pinch, you can used bunched up rubber bands in place of the O-rings, and they might even work better. Just think of putting a rubber band on a little girl’s braids, and then roll it up to, and another down to the two CDs that you placed through the holes of the disks. Here is a link for the original version.

There are many online tutorials and books on spindle spinning, so feel free to browse your media of choice. My way of learning is more experimental, usually based on my understanding of the theory of a process. Mostly, I just thrashed around, knowing that turning bits of fluff into yarn involved pulling out some fibers and applying twist to them, that I could not allow to escape.

It really is all relative–how much fluff you work with and how much twist it needs relates back to that. You can actually spin bits of fiber into yarn simply by rolling it with your hand, along your thigh, just not allowing it to unwind before you make a tiny ball from that bit or wind in onto something before adding more fluff and rolling again.

Hand spinning is very a old craft, and in the beginning, the tools were all very basic. I have a perfectly functional spindle made from a random rock and stick that I picked up at an outdoor spinning event, and I love to use it to show how basic spinning actually is.

I did not start with sheep first, and you do not need to either. Almost anyone who spins will be willing to share a bit of fiber with you, for you to practice and learn on, or you can actually buy little bundles of prepared wool called batts or long “ropes” of similar fiber called “roving.”

One can spin any number of animal fibers. Wool only comes from sheep, but angora fibers come from bunnies and mohair comes from goats. You can even use hair from longer-haired dogs and cats–or plants. Hemp, flax, which makes linen, and cotton can easily be found online.

But I strongly recommend using actual wool and from a breed with longer fibers (called longer staple). Wool is the easiest to learn to spin, in my opinion, because the fibers want to catch and hold onto one another. If you are highly allergic to wool and still want to learn, I would suggest making friends with other spinners who can share bits of other fibers for you to play with until you find one that works for you.

Spinning with a hand spindle is a much slower operation than using a wheel, so please don’t get frustrated while you are learning. Remember, you can use that time to meditate and think, even while you are working through beginner’s frustrations. And if you are at all like me, you will want to find time and a place to practice where you are alone. It helps concentration and you won’t have to worry when some of *those words* escape your lips.

They probably will. Just cuss and keep working.

And if the time comes that you are ready to make the move to a spinning wheel, hopefully you will have had the chance to visit some other spinners (even these days, some of us meet outside, in small groups, distanced and masked as needed, to spin and visit) to see the wide variety of working spinning wheels, try some, and learn all of the essential parts.

As autumn turns officially to winter and many of our outside jobs are put aside for a while, follow those threads of inner prompting and pick up a fiber craft–be it spinning, knitting or crochet, sewing by machine or hand, or any one of a number of less well known arts.

Pull up a chair by the fire and work for a bit. Relax your mind and explore the warp and weft connecting your pass time to the ones to taught you along the way.

Imagine, if you do not know, how they who came before you learned, perhaps sitting by a similar fire or alongside Grandmother by a sunny window. And when the time comes, share your love of fiber with someone, regardless of how competent you feel.

And never hesitate, when we can be out and about more freely, to carry along a small project of some sort to ply while waiting. You meet the most interesting people that way.

Photo credit: Anastasia Zhenina, Unsplash