Friday, 8 March 2013

Learn to Handspin Wool - A Cure for SAD

April may be the cruellest month, but I find January is a miserable git.  Last year, I survived by rereading all the Patrick O'Brian novels about Aubrey and Maturin on the high seas.  After working Christmas and New Year, I had a week off this January and resolved not to mope about, but to teach myself to hand spin wool.

The helpful lady at the library found me three books and googling hand spinning, I came across Shiela Dixon's site which gathers together great articles, links to tutorials online, courses to go on and she has a shop.  Inspired and excited, I bought a drop spindle and some wool roving from her and had a go.

As you see, roving is cleaned fibres of wool all aligned, it comes in a long strip called a batt or sliver and is as light as a puff of air.  Worsted spinning is when you pull aligned fibres from one end to create a smooth yarn.  Drafting is the process of drawing a few fibres which pull after them more fibres - lots of people have explained it better than me, on the youtube videos you can see ladies chatting away as they effortlessly draft and spin.  There are lots of different techniques for every bit of the process, the trouble is, you have to learn to do them all simultaneously without letting the spindle start going into reverse so the yarn untwists and breaks or dropping the whole lot on the floor to collect extra contrasting dog hair.  One tip I can pass on, don't bother dividing up the roving into eight strips and drafting it in advance, as is shown on one video.  It looks easier, it is easier, but although it is great to have a length of wool spun after much frustrating failure, this is a dead end, you have to persevere and learn to draft and spin as you go if you want to progress further.

Woolen spinning produces a fluffier 'lofted' yarn.  I found the roving much easier to work with once I learned to pull off a short length, tease it out and lightly fold the ends over to make a rolag about the right size to hold in one hand.  Pull out a few fibres from the roll and fold them over the hook on the drop spindle, give it a twist and off you go.

Some drop spindles have a notch to hold the yarn from slipping round the whorl, mine didn't, so I customised it with a kitchen knife and this helped a lot too.  Once you have a spindle full, the yarn is called a single, as soon as you unroll it, the twist you put in kinks the whole thing up and then it unravels.  

To make wool that you can work with, you have to ply two singles by attaching two ends to the spindle and spinning the opposite way to wrap them around each other.  For me, this meant yet more drama and doghair contamination.

These are my self taught early products.  While practice did improve them, I was really rather fed up when I showed a friend how to do it and she was as good as me within half an hour.  Same went for my sister and my niece.  Either I am even more awkward than I thought, or this is one of those skills that comes much easier with direct tuition.

At the end of my week off, my friend Cath and I drove to Exeter for a whole day's tuition on raw fleece and spinning on a wheel with Claire Boley, who has a website
Highly recommended, we had an utterly absorbing day and made great progress under her kind and patient supervision.  This is what I brought home at the end of the day.

OK, it is wildly uneven in thickness and twist, but after that day, I knew my true ambition was achievable.   Of which, more later.

Two conclusions, firstly, you can save yourself heaps of time and effort by learning from an expert. Secondly, the grubby, sweat soaked small balls of wool I managed alone did keep me absorbed, mostly cheerfully.  Unlike old paperbacks, spinning uses both hands and thus reduces chocolate consumption 100%. A doctor who uses acupuncture, even on patients he likes, told me that the meridians all converge on the fingertips, so the many tiny pressures of spinning, knitting and weaving would be expected to improve wellbeing under the Chinese concept of healthcare.  For whatever reason, I have gone on spinning madly and here comes spring, finding me in much better shape than yesteryear. 


  1. Well done Fran, you've made good progress and will get even better with perseverance.

    Good to see a recommendation for Claire Boley's course, and thank you for the mention x

    I'll follow your blog with interest!

  2. Thanks Shiela, you are my first ever follower, it is lovely to know someone is reading.

  3. Hello Fran, I'm also a Fran. I live in France but I'm British. I also started spinning a few months ago and have found a source of Texel X fleeces. They are kept and sheared by another English woman here and they are gorgeous to work with. Look forward to seeing more blogs from you.

    Fran Osborne

  4. Hello Fran!
    I'm yet another Fran, and another British girl living in France!!
    I'm also very new to spinning and have been enjoying looking through your blog. I'll look forward to reading more!

    1. Coincidence? Who knows, maybe I too may get to live abroad, at least in winter. It is a long held dream. Very glad you like the blog - enjoy the spinning!