There are so many different thicknesses of yarn from worsted and bulky weight all the way down to lace and fingering it can be challenging to figure out where to start. I recommend trying to spin worsted or bulky in a single ply for your first yarn. Please note my preface: this is my way of spinning, what has worked for me and how I learned and like to spin.
The most important thing is that you set some time aside and have set aside a quiet hour or two to invest in getting started. Make sure your wheel is setup correctly and refer to your manual or instruction provided with your wheel to make sure everything is working smoothly. Wheel maintenance can be involved especially in older classic designs; we will have more tips on tuning up wheels and maintenance which is too deep to cover here. You can always give us a call if you need some help setting up your wheel, that’s part of why folks shop with us. If you’re using a drop spindle you’re all set as they really don’t require any setup just make sure you have a medium weight around 1oz-2oz.
I can’t stress enough you will want to quarantine yourself from the rest of the world in general when you are spinning. If possible, put yapping dogs out in the yard, send the kids out to play, put some calming sounds on your I-pod and prepare for a little serenity, this is your time.
Tying on your leader…
I typically use a very long leader with a wheel or a drop spindle of about 6 feet for beginners. What is a leader? This is your starter piece of yarn that you will tie to your bobbin and will essentially jump start your spinning. What should I use for leader? I use some plain old worsted weight wool yarn or whatever I have around; as long as it’s wool you are good to go. The reason you need wool and not cotton is that the little hooks in the wool will bond together nicely; cotton or acrylic fibers don’t have hooks and won’t work. Some folks will manually twist some roving to make a leader in a variety of ways including rolling it on your knee, try it if you like just make sure you twist is enough that it is hard to pull apart other wise it will just rip and you may throw something at your husband for seemingly no reason. I have been victim to this very scenario so be warned…
When you tie on your leader I typically double up about 6 ft of wool yarn into a 3ft piece and tie a slip knot around the bobbin. Repeat and tie 3 or 4 more slip knots and cinch them down tight. Many bobbins will have lacquer finishes on them and the yarn will tend to slip, this can be disastrous for a new spinner so make sure it is tight on the bobbin and will not slip.
Bonding your fiber to your leader…
Now that our leader is attached we need to thread it with your orifice hook, or threading hook through the sliding hook or around one of the screw hooks and through the main orifice. Each wheel is different so take a minute if you are unsure of your threading path and consult your instruction that came with your wheel.
Now that your leader is threaded you can hold the leader and gently treadle clockwise, (yes, the large drive wheel must go clockwise) and adjust your scotch tension or slip if you are using double drive. The yarn should be gently pulling from your hand and want to go onto the bobbin when you have it setup correctly. If it has taken you some time to adjust your tension and your leader is all twisted up make sure to untwist it back to a more normal state.
What fiber should I use? I recommend some Carded Corriedale Wool Roving. Carded Corriedale is fairly coarse and is processed minimally and has more little hooks in the wool. Any carded wool is not as highly processed and will leave more variation in the staple length, this ends up being much more forgiving for beginner spinners and your yarn can get very thin without slipping or breaking. Yes I know you want to spin some soft delicious Merino Top or BFL for your first yarn and you can if you like, it’s just easier to learn with coarser wool like Carded Corriedale.
Pull apart a 2 foot piece of carded Corriedale wool, then tear a 1 inch strip of fiber for your first attempt and put the rest on your shoulder for later. Stretch out your strip quite a lot and make it thinner, it should end up being at least 50% longer overall after you are done stretching. This is called pre-drafting and is super helpful when you are getting started spinning.
Now we need to attach our strip of spinning fiber to our leader directly. Frizz out the end of your leader; really break the end apart so fibers are going all directions for the first inch or so. Start treadling slowly as you press and muddle the end of your yarn with the start of your spinning fiber strip. You’ll feel the fibers start to grab each other and feel a gentle pull of your wheel trying to take the fiber from you. After you feel the fibers bond gently let the wheel take the fiber from you for 20 or 30 seconds and allow it to feed into the orifice and stop. Yes stop, this is where everyone crashes and burns. Instead, let us take a minute to gather ourselves take a drink of water (or wine but not tequila) and regain composure and form.
Sit up with your back straight on a spinning stool or spinning chair if possible. Soft recliners or lazy boy chairs are a no go, don’t do it. Position your front hand just in front of the twist where the fibers are still straight and have no twist yet. Place your rear hand about 6 inches behind that hand just barely holding the fiber. You must keep about 4-6 inches of distance between your hands or you will not be able to thin the fiber strip or draft it before it reaches your front hand. Shorter length staple (fibers) will allow you to spin with your hands closer together but typically you’ll have 3-4 inch staple (hair) with most wool we have at our shop. Test this and try putting a piece of roving in your hands and try pulling it apart with your hands super close together…you can’t. Remember this when you are spinning and you get stuck and are yanking like crazy again throwing things at your husband (or wife, or partner or…whoever is standing within striking distance)…just spread your hands apart and as long as the fibers remain straight between your front pinched fingers and rear guide hand you’ll be able to gently thin them or draft them apart before feeding into the orifice.
Here is an extra tip from “Dad”. It’s simple but it’s great for first time spinners, “fast hands slow feet”. It sounds very “Mr. Miagi” or “Yoda” but it is really helpful. You’ll find if you’re getting overt wist (and you probably will at first) you need to spread the fibers (thin or draft) faster and feed the fiber through to the bobbin fast, almost pushing it. You’ll find your happy medium somewhere in the middle with some experimentation.
Ok, it’s time to make some yarn… Your first yarn is going to be… rustic, thick and thin whether you like it or now…the important thing to remember is to stay relaxed. Go ahead and start treadling slowly clockwise and spread the fibers quickly with your hands and feed them toward the orifice, let the wheel take the fibers up on the bobbin, pushing the fibers toward the bobbin as it twists.
Your wheel should be gently pulling the fibers from your hand, you are not trying to pull a fish into the boat, make sure to let the wheel take the fibers. Also, make sure your front fingers are not allowing the twist to pass beyond your front fingers. Pretend your front hand is the gatekeeper; do not allow the twisted fibers past your front. If you see the twist creeping toward you and has passed your front gatekeeper hand heading toward your rear hand that is closest to you, just jump your front hand back quickly to some roving that is still untwisted. Once the roving has been twisted even just a little bit, you will find it is hard or impossible to draft.
One of my first experiences with spinning was at an Alpaca show in Post Falls with Yoseph Sleighman who teaches locally in our area. He observed my crude spinning in my booth and told me to; spin from the cloud. This was some of the best advice ever for new spinners, if you find the fiber getting tight and you are fighting the fiber just slow down, regroup and get to some fiber that is untwisted. Untwisted fiber will always pull gently and you will be spinning from the “cloud” in no time.
Travis Romine owns Paradise Fibers with his tolerant wife Sara and quirky inventor father Bill Romine. Paradise Fibers offers equipment and supplies for Spinning, Weaving, Knitting and more. Paradise Fibers is a brick and mortar retail and mail order shop located in a rustic 26,000 square foot restored 1909 bakery downtown Spokane, WA stop in for a visit you will be glad you did.
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