A few weeks ago, I decided I really wanted to learn how to spin, just small bits, but enough to use as a tassel or fringe on a felted piece. I bought a simple drop spindle and packed it with some roving when I left for Madrona. On Friday night, after everyone else went to bed, I pulled out my spindle and looked around the lobby for an unsuspecting spinner to get me started.
Once I got started, I literally couldn’t put the spindle down. The first night I spun a very smooth 4 oz of merino into a chunky, slubby single ply. Saturday afternoon, I walked into the marketplace looking for some help plying my yarn. Ruth of the Dizzy Ewe was already giving Marisa some spinning and plying advice, so I listened in and then stepped forward with my spindle.
Later that night, after enjoying dinner with fiber friends, we retreated to the lobby again. I spent an hour fiddling with my yarn, trying to even out the thick and thin bits before plying.
One of the coolest things about the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat is the bevy of experts sitting around, cheerfully offering (sometimes unsolicited) advice. There was a trio of women sitting in the same part of the lobby as our group. I’m not sure who was louder, but we were all clearly having a great time. After watching me wrestle with my yarn for an hour, Trish of Tanglewood Fiber Creations, stood up and said something to the effect of ‘you are doing this all wrong and it is killing me to watch you’. She took the spindle out of my hand and immediately started to correct my technique. Before long, she and her cohort (Sarah from Great Balls of Fiber and Bonnie from Tea Time Garden) had set me straight; they gave me some great tips and plied two lovely hanks of yarn (that was my goal all along).
When I returned home, my spinning obsession continued. I spun all week, and then took spinning with me to Wintergrass, the bluegrass festival held at the same hotel the weekend after Madrona. By the end of that weekend, I had six bundles waiting to be plied, washed and wound. Lance built me a spiffy niddy noddy for winding the yarn into hanks after it was plied. Pardon the colors on these six pictures; I was using an old digital camera that has great depth of field but lousy color values. Each yarn is brighter than it looks, though I wasn’t able to color correct accurately. Counterclockwise from the top left:
- the original bulky merino that I started at Madrona which is actually candy pink, royal blue and grass green;
- a fuzzy wool blend sent by one of my roving sources as a freebie – it didn’t speak to me when I was felting, but I loved spinning it as the colors suddenly made sense – blue and yellow, orange and purple.
- a short bit of handpainted merino roving with patches of very soft grey-ish blue, my spinning became a lot more even by the time I made it to this bit of roving
- another short bit of handpainted merino roving with patches of light red and the same grey-blue; I love the barbershop striping of this yarn
- a combination of Sophie-spun and mama-spun handpainted aquamarine roving
- the same roving spun entirely by me
You can imagine that when I came home from Madrona raving about the cool things I learned, Sophie started to hop up and down, wanting to get her hands on the spindle. She spun several ounces of thick, slubby single ply, which I finished off with a more uniform batch; when I plied it, the result was an interesting mix that looked a lot like my first batch. Now that I’ve spun with four very different rovings, I’m amazed at how easy the handpainted merino is compared to the solid carded merino I tried for my first spinning.
This is the same roving I used for the last two hanks in the mosaic above, but photographed with my normal camera. ahh. I love those colors. I bought 8 oz of this color from Dancing Leaf Farm. It makes such lovely yarn, I plan to spin it all.
One of the women watching me struggle to fit my super-bulky yarn onto my small top-whorl spindle suggested I should buy a Turkish spindle with a bottom-whorl. Besides being able to hold more yarn than a top-whorl, the pieces of the spindle can be pulled apart, leaving you with a center pull ball, ready for plying. After cruising around the marketplace with my guide, Francine, I fell in love with an Australian myrtle spindle from Crown Mountain Farms.
Now that I can spin a more even yarn, and I’m at home with easy access to my ball winder, I’ve found it is easier to use the top whorl spindle because of the little hook. I can get greater spin on it using the thigh spin (copying Sarah’s technique), and it is easier to wind on the bits I’ve spun without undoing the half-hitch each time. There is no denying that this bottom whorl is prettier than my first spindle, so I would like to learn to use it better. I guess it is time to start frequenting the spinner’s group at the Fiber Gallery too.