…spin me a yarn…
When you grow up as a long-term-local in your folks home town, extended family events are as regular an event on the calendar as Brownies and netball and library. As a child, we would pile into the car with mum and nan and head out to one of the outlying villages where my mum grew up. These days it’s maybe a 20 minute drive. In those days, if you’d asked my small self, in the way of bored children sweltering in a non-air-conditioned car, I would have said the trip was closer to an hour. On the way out, or the way back, we would stop in at my great-aunt’s property. A coffee break half way probably didn’t help with my perception of the time the trip took.
This great aunt was the craftiest of a crafty family. She was a regular at our local markets. She sewed my outfit for my first communion. I was lucky enough, last year, to be gifted a whole stack of her stash as she downsized from acreage to a smaller cottage in town. Fun stuff, like bags of floss and crochet cotton and a teddy bear making kit. I’d missed the first round of downsizing though, when they moved from farm to acreage, and with it the chance to buy the object of my childhood fascination.
A spinning wheel, standing sentry in the corner, capturing my attention. While the grown ups drank coffee and chatted and caught up on the most recent happenings, I stared at this contraption, trying to work out exactly how it worked. The general gist of it, I understood. Fleece goes in one end, feet push a peddle, big wheel goes whoosh, and like magic, yarn comes out. I just couldn’t wrap my little mind around the actual physics of the process. Yarn was smooth and neat and skinny. I’d spent enough hours roustabouting in nan & pop’s shearing shed to know fleece very much wasn’t smooth and neat and skinny. For an inquistive little girl, a spinning wheel that could take the mop of fibres I saw go into the press, and turn it into the pretty wound balls I saw being turned into blankets and jumpers by the women around me, it seemed the height of crafty magic.
I’ve toyed with the idea, on and off, of getting a wheel of my own. The idea always got shelved in favour of other fun gadgets that would get more use. A spinning wheel was consigned to the list of things to get and try down the track, when I didn’t have children underfoot, and have the time and space to get stuck into it. Then, a milestone birthday started looming on the calendar. Despite my attempts to ignore it, everyone around me seemed to think it was A Big Deal, asking me for months what I wanted to do and what I would like as my gift. I deflected but not a single person was interested in allowing me to have my mid-life crisis in peace.
A month or so ago, though, the answer hit me. Something big, that I would never buy myself, but would absolutely love to own, that would be a keepsake of this birthday I wasn’t allowed to ignore. “If anyone asks,” I told Mr Barefoot, “get them to go in with you on a spinning wheel”.
And so off he took himself, poking around online shops of the kind he would avoid like the plague. Normally, if I want something craftish for a gift, I order it myself and ship it to his office. This time, though, he did all the leg work, and the only time I knew anything about anything was when he confirmed with me if I wanted a table top one or a traditional upright style. Aside from that, the only thing I had to do was take myself off to Etsy and order some fibres ready for unboxing day.
With the alarming regularity of days and weeks and hours dictated by the calendar and not by a middle aged mama in denial, the day rolled around, and under piles of books and lollies and puzzles and beautiful handmade cards from my babies, was a box with some heft to it. In quite possibly the funnest unboxing of my life, I pulled out an Ashford eSpinner3. He did well – it is quite possibly the most perfect wheel for me.
Being electric, it’s small. Instead of needing a corner to call home, I can pop it up on the table to work, and then pack it up into the carry bag that came with it, designed to hold both the wheel and the lazy Kate. I’m already planning on taking it on our next holidays. Aside from the portability though, it also means I have a safe and tidy way to pack everything up when I need to. We are still living the tiny house dream for another six months, and a full sized traditional wheel taking up precious, limited floor space, would lose it’s novelty very quickly. Once we have the house, I only have a nook, not a whole room, so it’s small size and easy storage will be ideal for when I get bored of spinning and return to quilting, or journaling, or whatever the next spin through my creative hobby catalogue throws up as the obsession of the moment.
I had two braids of fibre waiting, in that pile of awkwardly wrapped gifts, weighed down with more sticky tape than was strictly necessary, but that gave the nine year old a sense of security that it wouldn’t pop open and spoil mummy’s surprise. One I hope to turn into socks, the other I had no real plans for, and could see it would work as a varied-width art yarn, so I set it aside as my first spin. Before I touched it, though, there were two little samples of fibre included with my wheel. One was white, one so pink it could only be described as Really Something, not a combo I would choose for myself. For a test, and to get the hang of drafting the fibres, though, they were perfect.
It was lumpy and lairy and the littlest skein ever, but it was YARN. Yarn that I had made myself, from a lump of fibre resembling nothing so much as fairy floss, and turned it into something vaguely knittable-with.
My tiny self was right. It’s magic.
I mean, now I’m bigger and have tried it myself, I understand the physics of it. I’ve seen loose fibres go in, and yarn come out. But a bit like knitting is using two sticks and magic to turn string into something wearable, so too is spinning using fluff and magic to create yarn. YARN THAT I MADE.
Yeah, I’m still not over it.
Day two, and after consulting blogs and YouTube, I revisited the remainder of the fairy floss fibres. This next attempt was much better – a more consistent size, and I felt like I was getting the hang of a smooth draft. I pushed the pink aside, unbraided the first of my fancy fibres, and got to work.
It was definitely another learning curve! I found the braid harder to draft from, and ended up stripping it into sections that were closer to the weight I was aiming for. Funnily enough it was actually the second run that gave me the most trouble, trying to get the fibres to catch when adding a new length after a break seemed trickier. In the end, though, I managed to get the length spun up. From there, it was just a matter of loading up the lazy Kate, flicking a switch, and letting the two bobbins ply together, to make a very cute yarn that I can absolutely see myself using.
Isn’t it pretty? It’s still a long way to get to sock yarn, but I am thrilled to have made actual yarn. It might work as a chunky cowl? I still have quite a bit of this fibre left – I used maybe one quarter of it to create this mini skein. Despite my big plans to spend my weekend spinning up the remaining fibre, it was not to be. We had the next section of the driveway to clear out. Miss12’s BFF came for a sleepover. Our local council put on a concert and fireworks in the park on Saturday night, so we loaded up the car with chairs and blankets and baskets and headed to town for that. “Have you packed your knitting or something?” asked the mister as we headed out the door. With almost two decades of living with my restless crafty self, he knows me well (I didn’t take anything – it was going to be dark and outdoors, and all my current projects require sight and counting). Sunday afternoon I was finally free to craft, but my table had been taken over – Boy2 was in the depths of dismembering the contents of our recycling bin, and with the aid of a roll of duct tape, creating a superhero costume. There was not a single corner for me and my spinning wheel, no matter how small a space it requires.
Instead, I settled in with my knitting. I’m down to the last section, and I also managed to finish my audiobook that was part of the knitalong, as well as a second audiobook started and finished once the first was done. I’ve done some unstitching at the school table today, and it’s been a mixed up day so we are only finishing now come mid-afternoon. No spinning time, it seems. Tomorrow, maybe? I wonder if I could justify it as school. Physics maybe? Maths, converting weight of fibre to length spun? Art, watching the colours blend? Hopefully not too much French involved… yeah, better wait until after school! I might even try and get it out tonight and test the noise levels. If it’s not too bad I might be able to sneak my spinning time into my evening routine.
In the meantime, I’m watching and reading and learning. If you know a good spinning vlogger to follow on YouTube, or a book or blog I should look at, I would love to know! Drop a link in the comments so I can check them out. And if you’re a more experienced spinner, have you got any tips for me?