Sunday, June 29, 2008

First Hand Spindling Efforts

Yesterday was an exciting day - this tells you how slow my life is, but taking my first drop spindle class was a BIG EVENT for me. I went to this lovely old historic house, The John Wornall House, one of the oldest and grandest houses in our city, to take my first class from the lovely Adrienne, a history major, and a BIG fiber fan. She's been spinning for a year herself, and has become quite accomplished at the craft in that year.

Before I even went, my friend and blog reader, Elysbeth gave me some excellent advice and encouragement. I'm posting it here for anyone else who might be drawn into the art of drop spindling: "Have fun today! Remember, it's like knitting - you can do it, just not the first time. It's several actions concurrently, simply focus on one action at a time. I find spinning to be more relaxing than knitting, even when it's going Very Badly I don't get upset, I guess because I haven't been spinning with intent yet, just spinning to spin.

If you decide to take the plunge, buy some fiber that is recommended by the instructor (a mid staple wool) and commit to spinning the full 4 ozs before passing any judgements on yourself. It always helps if you aren't grading yourself."

So taking Elysbeth's advice to heart, I was really determined not to give up, and not to degrade even my worst spinning efforts. I was there to have fun, nothing else.

Six spinning students and 1 spinning teacher sat out on the lovely veranda of this fine home on a warm summer day and began our first drop spindling efforts. Let me say that it's a good thing I wasn't judging myself, because unlike knitting, spinning did NOT come naturally to me.

We were using a low whorl spindle without a hook, so that seemed harder to me. I dropped the danged drop spindle so many times that it the whorl eventually fell apart too. At any rate, the other women in the group really did seem to pick it up much faster than me. I swear, mine was so danged thick that it look like I'd just wadded up some swatches of roving and wound it around in a ball. While their yarn was thick and thin in spots, mine was just a mess and I spent most of the time chasing my drop spindle around the porch.

Even though Adrienne kept helping me, I just wasn't a natural and I didn't even end up with enough "yarn" to wind into a nice neat yarn cake. We spun for 1 hour, and during that time, most of the participants had two little balls that we later then learned how to "ply" together. I helped another spinner do hers, because I only had 1 very unsatisfactory little puff of yarn (pictured here). I was okay with that. I sat back and started watching the others, trying to figure out what they were doing differently that actually seemed to be working. Each had their own methods, but they were all having a great time.

For me, it was a great learning experience, but I felt frustrated. The most frustrating thing for me about it was that my roving kept breaking and thus all the dropping that was going on. I ended up with a bunch of fragmented, too fluffy and too thin pieces that wouldn't stay together as yarn enough to even wind into a ball.

So after we left, I hopped back to our Sip and Knit group across town and went in with my drop spindle and roving. I was determined to try it one more time over there, because I was secretly afraid I'd never pick it up again if I didn't try again. (I tend to me a slow, but determined learner).

My friend Carol, who is one of the most patient folks I know, took my hand, and my drop spindle and just sort of guided me through the feel of both predrafting, drafting and spinning. She's really good at it! She taught me how to thin out the thicker pieces and how to fix the breaks, when they occur. Then she let me keep going, and I was able to produce this second effort, which is a bit better than the first. I felt so much better after trying it again.

I also bought a really helpful little book called, "Spinning in the Old Way" by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. This book focuses totally on the drop spindle as the author's best (for her) and most portable method of spinning. Though it has drawings rather than photographs, it's really written in a readable, likeable style. One of the most helpful parts is where she talks about the kind of drop spindle you should select - definitely a top sworl rather than the type of I have.

Anyway, my opinion of drop spindling at this point is mixed. On the plus side, it became rather fun on the second try and my single-ply yarn became a bit more yarn-like. Also, drop spindling is portable and inexpensive.

On the downside, it seems like a LOT of work - there are multi steps to producing real knitable yarn, even if I buy the roving all clean and carded, I still need to spin single strands, ply them together, then finish them by plunging them in warm water to hold the twist? Not sure about all that yet. The biggest downside is, I don't want to reduce what little knitting time I currently have in order to pursue a whole NEW hobby. And the biggest downside is that if I really grow to love it as so many others do, I'll be soon wanting to buy a spinning wheel - and eee gads, that is really expensive.

Right now, I'm just going to have fun with it and keep practicing. Hopefully I'll get better. Today I will make a trip over to Yarn Barn in Lawrence and select a different drop spindle and buy some more roving to keep practicing on.

By the way, a big shout out to the mysterious Kristie. You won the top prize of the cottom Berroco Twist, but I need to hear from you very soon (at least by Tuesday at midnight) or I'll have to select someone else. Please contact me.


Tracy said...

I hear you! I've tried a drop spindle a few times...I'm getting there. But what I think is hilarious is that I'm reading your post as I take a break from spinning on my wheel. LOL I bought my wheel what, 5 (??) years ago played with it for three days and got it out for the first time since then today. I really shouldn't be doing this I don't need yet another hobby but....:o)

Elysbeth said...

The Yarn Barn! Ohhh. Envy.

You really can crank out yarn on a drop spindle after a while, but it does come down to time and how you want to spend it.

JessaLu said...

Congratulations on becoming a spinner! ;o)

ColorJoy LynnH said...

I got a wheel from a friend before I took a class. It was hard to figure out alone. When I finally "got" drafting for drop spinning, then I was able to do the wheel consistently. I don't spindle much except to teach a bit, but it was a great lesson.

My first handspun was fiber I dyed with Kool Aid and food dyes, for a feltmaking project. It was really lumpy-bumpy because on top of my inexperience, the wheel was missing a spring.

Yet a friend told me to save my first and treat it respectfully, to knit it up. So I knit it into a stole. Here's what the yarn looked like:

and here is how the stole turned out:

Don't lose faith too soon, Chelle.