Self Taught Spinners and Trends

Before I get started, do let me indulge in one more spring picture. If you know what this flower is, please tell me. I do not have a clue!


So the discussion on silk hankies the other day triggered a blog post. I’ve been thinking a ton about what we learn, how we learn it, and what we then believe is correct or incorrect. Now, for the record, I am a self taught spinner. I bought a wheel in 2007. Knowing few spinners and being an introvert and enjoying the process of hands on learning combined with research, I absorbed as much knowledge as I could and applied it. While there were a few other spinners in my area, many of them were at my level of knowledge or were out there giving incorrect information. I remember asking someone who had been a spinner for years about my spinning. I asked something about tension and she said “Tension doesn’t matter.” This I knew to be incorrect, and it really turned me off when it came to learning from other local spinners.

When I started spinning there was a trend going around that basically said that you had to wash and finish your yarn, and then hang a weight on it to get it to hang balanced. Using a bit of logic, this didn’t make sense to me. If my yarn is balanced, shouldn’t it hang straight without a weight? Why was a weight important. And indeed, having done a bit more research on the subject I realized that while some people do weight their yarn while it is drying it is not necessary, and also doesn’t give you a good idea of how the yarn will perform in reality. It also can mask problems, making a yarn that is quite unbalanced look to be balanced. And yet, for awhile, that trend persisted and most of the blogs on spinning would have some mention at some point about weighted yarn. In fact, there’s a possibility you’d find references to weighted yarn in my blog too, as I know I did it once or twice before concluding it wasn’t necessary.

At that time, silk hankies were kind of a thing. A thing new spinners did. In fact, there was a article about it. Even just reading the opening paragraphs it shows how it was the norm to think beginner spindle spinning was associate with silk hankies. Of course, now that I look at it, that article was written in 2005. And in internet fad terms, that was a very very long time ago.

How odd to be spinning long enough to see trends come and go. Makes me feel old. Not experienced mind you, but old. šŸ™‚

Now the trend is thwacking yarns. It is all over the place. Do you thwack? Why aren’t you thwacking? You aren’t finished unless you’ve washed and thwacked! I say it often too, in the sense that a new spinner sometimes pulls plied yarn off the wheel and calls it done. But the amount a yarn will change after a wash, even without a good thwack, is considerable. The amount of twist you’ve got in your yarn changes, settles, relaxes, and becomes balanced. Or, sometimes it becomes underspun. So, as a more experienced spinner, it is easier to tell someone “What you want to do next is abuse the yarn a bit, wash it, then thwack it, then hang it to dry.” Because that? That is easier, far easier, than trying to get into the nuances of when it is good to thwack a yarn, when it is better to just do some wrist snapping, and when you might want to be super gentle with your resulting yarn.

I do not consider myself an expert spinner. I’ve only got 5 or so years under my belt. Some of that has been intensive and I do think I’ve been eager to learn and do as much research as possible. But, as a self taught spinner, I am positive I’ve picked up some bad habits along the way as well. I try to be mindful of this. I am mindful that I’ve never taken a spinning lesson from a professional. I try to be careful who I pull my knowledge from. I try to avoid the self avowed “spinning experts” and stick to the ones who have years of experience, books, classes, and are actively being asked to provide workshops all over the US. I follow what they say and teach and avoid blindly believing the latest trend.

We live in a very interesting age. An age where you can learn just about anything on the internet. You want to learn to put a bike together? Hop on youtube and see what you can find. You want to learn to spin? There are so many videos for that. The trouble is, what you are watching may be someone with little experience telling you what they’ve learned, which isn’t even a tiny fraction of the whole. And they may present it as fact, or the only way. Just speaking in anĀ authoritativeĀ tone doesn’t make one an expert. This is dangerous, and I believe that these are what cause trends. Self taught spinners saying “I learned to do it this way.” The new spinner they’ve taught then tells the next person “This is how you do it.” That person goes on to teach the next person and says “This is the only way to do this.” and a glorified game of “telephone” has taken place. The internet is also a funny thing, as it is polite to only “be nice.” And criticism or correction isn’t seen as “nice.” So that person on youtube who speaks in anĀ authoritativeĀ tone about something she’s learned 2 weeks ago deletes “not nice” comments correcting misinformation and then a new spinner never even gets the chance to realize the information is patently incorrect.

Podcasts, specifically video ones, have become the big thing in the past few years. It is one more way for fiber lovers to connect, to learn new things, and a great way to see into someone’s life. It is all very exciting. However, the same trend one sees on youtube or online in various forms happens there too. Someone says one thing and pretty soon it is THE thing and it is the only thing and the only way. Then suddenly you’ve got a host of people saying “I heard that spinning silk is hard and you should save it. I am not even going to attempt these silk hankies.” When really they are one of the easiest and most addictive spinning fibers out there. (If you can get past the whole cling to your hands thing!). And this is one example. Drafting, predrafting, I’ve seen so much questionable info out there that doesn’t have the statement “There are many ways to do this, but this is how I get my best results.” Or “Hey, if you are one of those people who has trouble with this, try that, it might help.”

Here is the point where I have to acknowledge my own preferences. Can you spin the trends and be happy? Of course you can. Can you spin yarn and not worry much about the why and wherefore? Sure! So really, if that is what you are looking for in your spinning, ignore this post. I am ok with that. However, if you are a self taught spinner like I am, and so many others out there, just be cognizant of this. When you want to learn more, do more, or you have a yarn result you’ve tried to change but cannot, it may be time to walk away from the latest trend and immerse ourselves in the experts, be it book form, video form, or in a professional class. And be careful of the authoritative statements, or the statements that only allow for one version of the many ways to do things. This, being as much a reminder to myself as anyone else!

What spinning myths have you encountered or fallen victim to?