Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spinning Yarns

No, not story telling but actual yarn! When I was a teenager I spent thousands of hours volunteering at a living history museum and then thousands more working there. Among the many skills I learned was "spinning". I'm not sure if the adults kept us spinning yarn to avoid idle hands but it made for great demonstrations for visitors and provided the resident knitters with skeins of "homespun" or "handspun" as it's sometimes called.

There were spinning wheels on site but I preffered to use something called a "drop spindle". It's basically just a stick or shaft and a whorl and may or may not have a hook on one end. The whorl is usually a round disc made of wood that serves as a weight to help spin the shaft. Think of it like a long skinny top. Some styles lack the whorl and are just a tapered shaft that is heavier on one end. It is possible to spin on just a plain stick, a pencil or even a ball point pen. You just need a rod of some kind to "spin" so you can put "twist" into the yarn. I'd bet you could even spin using just a whorl if you wanted to. There is a lot of room for improvization.

After a very long break I realized that I kind of miss spinning. I have yet to learn to knit or crochet but homespun is often attractive enough to knitters that you can trade a skein of yarn for having them knit something. I really like the idea of having a hat and scarf knit from yarn spun by my own hand. It's also something that is highly portable. You can drop a spindle and some fiber in your bag and never feel like time waiting in line or sitting in waiting rooms is wasted.

Another interesting thing for me is the thought of spinning unusual fibers into yarn. Using wool as a carrier you can spin almost any fiber from animal hair to cotton and other plant fibers or synthetics like polyester. I don't know enough about knitting to know how you might use it but I have even seen paper spun into yarn. That's of course ignoring uses beyond knitting.

While spindles of many kinds are commercially available I decided to just make one. There are lots of ways to do this including stabbing a chopstick through a potato. For this one I am using a large bamboo chopstick but rather than a potato, formed a whorl from polymer clay. It's set up so that a rubber band looped a few times around the shaft above and below the whorl hold it in place. This is so that it can be easily removed and used as either a top or bottom whorl spindle. Either way works well, I just like having the option. (When assembled, the whorl was a snug slip fit and doesn't currently need the rubber bands.)

As far as something to spin goes, I have a family member who raises goats and it's possible to find wool on eBay for as little as 99 cents an ounce. An ounce of wool is actually a fair amount and there are tables available online to calculate how many ounces of wool/yarn it takes to make a piece of knitwork. So, I'll start with that and see where it goes! (Processing wool for spinning is a whole other game. Maybe another post...)

If anyone in the bay area wants help shearing sheep let me know. I'd be inclined to come help in exchange for some wool!

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