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. 🙂

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 an authoritative 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 an authoritative 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?



13 thoughts on “Self Taught Spinners and Trends

  1. I’ve often been confused about the pre-drafting or not pre-drafting thing. I hear over and over that good fiber prep is important in order to get good results in your spinning, But then I’ll hear that predrafting is something only a beginner would need to do. I agree that it is easier to manage predrafted fiber as a beginner since there’s less risk of letting the twist get into a large portion of the fiber supply. But I also think it should be seen as an option for anyone who prefers it at any level. Commercial fiber gets so compacted that it really helps to loosen it up a bit first, and I don’t think that’s a step that would necessarily benefit only a beginner.

    • I am one of those people who found spinning a lot easier after I quit predrafting, so I don’t really do it. However, I think once again, predrafting (or even fluffing a fiber so it isn’t compacted) is often a necessary step to spinning, and entirely depends on what you are trying to spin. But I’ve also seen people spend more time predrafting their fiber than they even spend spinning it, and I often think this is the type of behavior that more advanced spinners dub “beginner” behavior.

      As with knitting, I am a big fan of doing what works for you. However, what works is often a number of different things, and often dependent on that particular project. I think trying a number of different things before deciding what works for you in particular is the most important part of that.

    • I was told to predraft as well, but what I’ve found is that it is sometimes useful and sometimes not, depending on the fibre. I predraft if I’m working with short fibres like merino, simply because I find it easier to produce a thinner, more consistent yarn, and because it breaks less often. I don’t if I’m working with silk or a silk blend, though, because I don’t need to.

      I think it’s a combination of what advice you receive vs what works for you.

    • I have to say as a beginner (only been wheel spinning since November) that I like predrafting. Part of the enjoyment of spinning for me is touching the fiber itself. Pulling it apart, fluffing it, smooshing it against my face, etc. I find that I do spin more consistent if I predraft stuff right now. Who know if that will be the case years from now, but for now that is what I do. I find I got very frustrated the few times I didn’t predraft.

  2. I find it hard to say one way or the other whether it’s a good or bad thing to learn from newbies. For one, I agree that you can learn a lot of misinformation from newbies, but on the other hand…

    Someone who will never take spinning further than as a gentle, casual hobby will probably never stretch themselves to the point that misinformation will be actively harmful (for example, I learned to weight my yarn, but to date I’ve not spun a single skein that has suffered from it).

    Someone who is going to take spinning more seriously in the future will at some point pick up a book, or a DVD, or take a class, and will have the chance to learn more that way. I do intend to take classes or join the local spinners, dyers and weavers guild when I have the opportunity, and I fully expect to find that I’ve been doing things “wrong” at that point. For now though, the “wrong” things at least allow me to produce something I can be proud of.

    But then there’s the other extreme. I was showing off some of my spinning online the other day, and someone commented that they wished they could spin, but it was too late for them to learn. It turns out that about 15 years ago, when they were in their twenties, they expressed a desire to learn spinning to a professional, properly-trained spinner they knew and were told, flat out, that they were too old to learn. That you had to start learning when you were a teenager or a child, and that it would be impossible for them to get the hang of it. You can imagine how angry that person was when I told them I’m 29 and first picked up a spindle 2 years ago! Professionals can misinform as well, and when they do their words can feel Final.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful reply. I think your story about someone being told they couldn’t learn to spin is the Saddest Thing Ever. I hope she was given the inspiration to try again through you.

  3. I have to say the most annoying thing as a new spinner is to hear folks talk about “beginner fiber”. Things I’ve been told have included: don’t spin silk yet (I think this was meant as silk fiber not hankies, but I didn’t know there was a difference), stay away from short staple fibers like merino and only spin longer ones like shetland or corriedale, you have to draft and hold your fiber “just like this” or else it won’t work.

    I’m learning that there are definitely more ways to create a finished yarn that you love. Part of the enjoyment for me right now is the experimenting.

    Also I’m really loving these discussions.

    • As your local self taught spinning “expert” who just wrote a post saying you should ignore everything I say….I say you should throw all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” out the window. It is all bogus, take a fiber and try to spin it. You’ll quickly learn what YOU find easiest and what you like to spin. And then? Expect what you like to spin to change over the years. I just think that a wide variety is interesting, inspiring, and goes a long way toward learning quickly. Don’t you let anyone “should” on you!

  4. Pingback: Hand Spun Yarn: Most of the Time, I Slap It | All She Wants To Do Is Knit

  5. “You need a high ratio to spin laceweight.”

    Turns out, for me on my wheel? I do just fine at the lowest ratio. I take all the tension off and control take up with my forward hand.

    “Right handed people must hold the fiber in their left hands.”

    I will grant that certain techniques are very difficult for me because I’m using my right to hold the fiber, but for whatever reason, I just can’t make it work the other way around. I went to Stitches West a few years ago thinking I’d purchase a nicer, more balanced spindle because at the time I didn’t have money or space for a wheel, and I literally had one seller snatch the spindle away from me and refuse to give it back unless I switched hands. I couldn’t spin at all the way she was insisting I do it! I was so mortified that I didn’t buy any spindle at all—certainly not from her. Then, later, I realized that I’d been spinning perfectly serviceable, even, evenly-spun yarn my way, and got angry. I’m still angry!

    I think she interpreted me fumbling a bit as being new to the whole thing, but in fact I have a disability that makes me clumsy sometimes. If she was worried about her spindle, she could have offered to attach a leader or something, rather than totally mortifying me in front of everyone in her booth. I just wanted to test the balance and spin rate before I bought! I’d have been perfectly happy to spin it on a length of string or something if she was so worried!

    • I, too, hold my fiber in my right hand. And I am right handed. However, that was what felt natural to me and it works just fine for me. I’d say it actually also helps my dexterity in my left hand.

      Until I started spinning on a spindle. When I spindle spin, I hold my fiber in my left hand. But, when I spindle spin, I never use a worsted or inchworm technique, I can’t manage that at all with my right hand.

      Your booth experience scares me. I am clumsy when I feel like I am being put on the spot, the same thing would have happened to me.

      I am such a proponent of “do what works for you” in spinning. If it doesn’t work, THEN review it and see if something else would be better.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Q – Geeze, that woman who snatched the spindle away, reminds me of how lefties were treated in “the olden days”. The torture they went through to be forced to write with the right hand. Ignorant people still abound. I’m in a spinning class and believe me, we all spin in a method we’re comfortable with.

  6. Excellent post, Shells, and the comments are very thoughtful, as well.

    The telephone game is rampant in handworking. There are too many shoulds/can’ts/won’ts/don’ts. Bah! That’s not the way to teach. On the other hand, new learners sometimes want to hear absolutes where none where implied. I know that in dyeing “you should use separate pans for dyeing” easily turns in to “yarn dyeing is toxic” when that’s not what was said.

    I’d like to thwack whoever started that thwacking thing. Also, whoever said that a yarn MUST hank perfectly straight right off the bobbin in order to be considered balanced. Um, no.

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