One of the questions
that I get asked a lot is, "Why should I spin my own wool, and knit a
sweater, when I can buy one for $20 at the store?" That’s a fair
question, but it demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the benefits of
wool, and why people are taking time to spin and knit their own clothing.
Wool is a natural and
renewable fiber—that makes it good for the environment. Wool is also
extremely warm and durable to wear—that makes it good for you! Cotton
is also a natural renewable fiber, but lacks the warmth qualities of
wool. High quality, 100% wool products are difficult to find, and often
So, why not buy that
sweater off the rack at the local clothing store? A wool garment from the
store generally comes from the worst grades of wool. Usually it is
scratchy, and often people think that they must be allergic to wool
because of this reaction. The wool in these garments usually comes off
the belly or haunches of the sheep, and is of the poorest quality. These
low priced garments may also be made from the wool of rougher coated sheep
breeds from farms that raise market lambs.
Another factor in the
softness of wool is the method used to process it. Commercial wool is
processed in an acid bath. This eats all of the vegetable matter, manure
and other debris out of the fibers. It is a very efficient process and
the wool that is treated this way is very clean, however the process also
roughens the wool somewhat.
The wool you get off
your own sheep is much softer and nicer to wear, handle, and use over all—so a sweater that has been grown, processed and spun naturally, then
knit by hand into a sweater is not at all on the same level as the sweater
you might see in the store. These garments are more comparable to couture
clothing, and a sweater of this kind would cost several hundred dollars to
Lastly, spinning and
knitting provide very valuable entertainment. If you enjoy using your
hands, and don't like sitting still, then a spinning and knitting hobby
will forever change long car drives and waiting in line. Part of the
enjoyment of this hobby is the process of creating the end product. So
not only do you clothe your family in high quality warm garments, but you
also provide yourself with lots of entertainment.
For those of you who
would like to try spinning, you might wonder how to get started. When
someone says "spinner", your first thought may be of an older lady,
sitting sedately in front of a beautiful Saxon style spinning wheel. She
has a cup of tea nearby on a table with some lovely cookies and baked
goods. That’s a nice image, but is not the reality of modern spinners.
Today’s spinners are very young as often as not (and I’ve known more than
one with pink hair and tattoos). Spinners today, are men, women, children
and people of all ages and walks of life, and you can easily find a
spinner that has interests similar to you own.
If you want to try
spinning, then your best bet is to go to a local spinning supply store,
and take private or group classes. There is nothing that can replace good
quality instruction from a knowledgeable spinner. For some however, there
is no such place within hours and hours, so you may have to muddle through
on your own. If you think you would like to learn to spin, and don’t have
easy access to a local instructor, then I would suggest that you make or
buy a small hand-spindle to learn with.
The spinning wheel was
first invented around the year 500 A.D. in the region of modern India.
Before that, the humble spindle is how all of the thread and yarns were
spun. Just because it's humble doesn’t mean it’s not versatile. With a
spindle, you can spin super fine yarns, threads, heavy yarn, or any other
type of yarn you can imagine. If you don't have a wheel then this is the
ideal place to start, because you can make one for practically nothing, or
buy one for very little. The only disadvantage to the spindle is that
they do not spin the yarn as fast as a wheel, but for a beginner this is a
The best beginner
spindle I have used is made with two CDs and a dowel. It spins for a very
long time, doesn't spin as fast as some of the lighter spindles that are
available, and is easy and inexpensive to make. To make your own, you
will need the following things:
1. A dowel: size is not
super important but I recommend a 3/8" diameter dowel. It should be
cut to about one foot in length.
2. A cup hook or wire
that can be bent into a hook, if you wish to use one. You can also make a
notch in the shaft and use a half hitch knot if you don't have a hook on
3. Two CDs: although
many free CDs come in the mail, I prefer to use good heavy ones. I use
those that I buy in bulk for personal computer use. You can recycle these
and use the old ones.
4. You can purchase
rubber grommets at farm stores and auto parts stores. You need to choose
one that matches the size of your dowel, so the inside hole (bore
diameter) should be 3/8", the panel hole should be 5/8" to match the hole
in the CDs, and finally the outside diameter about 7/8 ". Look for one
that will fit the CD hole, and comes close to the dowel size.
5. Electrical tape: if
you couldn't find the exact grommet you needed you can add some tape to
your dowel to enlarge it a bit.
6. A serrated knife, or
small saw and scissors.
Cut your dowel to be
about 12 inches long, and use a push pin to make a pilot hole as close to
the center of one end as possible. Now screw the cup hook into this hole
You will notice that the
grommet has a groove around its middle. This is what holds the CDs
Stack the CDs, one on
top of the other, then take the grommet and start pushing the grommet into
the holes of the CDs. This is not an easy process since the grommet
should fit very tightly.
Just keep trying to get
the CD holes wedged into the slot in the sides of the grommet. Once it is
started then you can pry the edges of the grommet up and push it into the
holes as you go around.
Once you have manhandled
and forced the grommet into the center of the CDs, slide your dowel
inside. If you were lucky enough to get a grommet that was just the right
size you're done!
If not take your electrical tape and start wrapping
it around the dowel, about two or three inches below the cup hook
carefully (lining up the edges) until it looks big enough, cut it off and
try sliding the CDs on. You want a nice snug fit so keep adding layers of
tape until it doesn't slip.
You’re almost ready to
spin with your new CD spindle, but first you will need some fiber, and you
will also need to properly prepare it. We are going to begin with
commercially prepared fibers, and there is a list of places to purchase
them at the end of the article.
We will start spinning
using roving. Roving is a continuous rope of carded fibers that are ready
to spin, you may want to break off pieces about 12 inches long.
The roving is often too
large to work with for a beginner, so take your roving and carefully split
it down the middle to form two strips instead of one. You can do this
again with each half to make four pieces or more.
Try for a size that is
somewhere around the size of your little finger. This is called
pre-drafting, and it will let you concentrate on getting a good twist in
your yarn without worrying about the thickness of the yarn. Once you
become accustomed to spinning, you will learn to regulate the thickness of
the yarn while you spin—this is called drafting.
This is a great time to
talk about what types of wool to begin with. Most people have heard of
Merino wool. Spinners LOVE Merino, and it is wonderful wool, but it is
not the easiest to spin for beginners. I always recommend good quality
Shetland roving, but Blue Faced Leicester, Border Leicester, Rambouillet,
Romney, or any of the medium length wool breeds are also good. My
favorites are Shetland, Cotswold, Wensleydale, and Blue Faced Leicester.
You can purchase these in many places, and a small amount to get started
with is not that expensive. Look at the breed registries and check the
members list for local suppliers, also contact a local spinning guild, or
yarn shop. You can spin, wools, mohair, synthetics, metallic, silk, soy
silk, bamboo, alpaca, llama, angora and even yak fiber... The list goes on
and on. You can shop online and get some really wonderful products
delivered to your door.
The first thing you will
need to master is twist. Twist refers to how many times the spindle
turned in a given distance on the yarn, usually one inch. So if you spin
the spindle 6 times for each inch of yarn, you get a tpi (twists per inch)
of 6. Twist can be very challenging to control for a beginner. You want
to aim for yarn that doesn't easily pull apart, but isn't so twisted that
it wants to knot up and look like a big mess.
This is hard at first,
because the thin areas will absorb more twist than the thicker places. As
long as your thicker areas are not coming apart you should have enough
twist, and needn't worry about the thin areas because they will have more
twist than the thicker places. In the beginning, you want to get control
of the twist rate, try not to worry about the yarn being big and thick in
places, and tiny and thin in others. Just try to keep the twist under
Above is an example of a
good twist on the yarn. Notice the thick and thin areas? They will knit
up and lend a beautiful texture to the finished product so don't worry
about that. This is what most beginners will make for the first few
hundred yards, it is very soft and lovely when worked up so enjoy spinning
and avoid frustration by accepting that your yarn will look like this for
a while and THAT IS OK!!!