I've caught the spinning bug - what do I need to get started?
You need very little equipment to start spinning, in fact you can just use your hands to make yarn (although it is rather slow!) With just a Drop Spindle and 4oz of fiber you can easily produce a useable amount of handspun yarn. A good instruction book won't go astray as well.
Be sure and contact your local spinning guild, they can help you make informed purchases, and set you up with local fiber sources that are often much less costly. There are also many online sources of information, a quick search on the internet will uncover articles, tutorials and even videos on a multitude of topics.
Do I really have time to spin?
Spinning takes less time than you think. A spindle is obviously a bit slower, but on a wheel you can probably spin 2oz of yarn more quickly than you could knit the same 2oz. Unless you're a champion knitter!
You can accomplish a surprising amount by using what I call waste time for spinning and knitting. When most people are just sitting around talking, visiting with relatives or sitting in the dentist's office I am making progress on my spinning or knitting. A few minutes here and there while talking on the phone or watching TV and you'll have enough for a sweater before you kow it!
What do 'long draw', 'staple' and 'lazy kate' mean?
There are a lot of special terms associated with spinning. they might relate to the type of fiber, the method of spinning, or what you do with it afterwards. It may seem overwhelming at first, but terminology is an important aspect of learning any new thing. If you don't know the correct words, it is difficult to talk about what you are doing. When you come across a new word, look it up, and soon you will be familiar with most of the terms. Check out the Spinning Glossary for all the answers.
What is the difference between the different fibers? What's best for a beginner?
Spinning fibers come from a huge variety of sources. Wool, hair, silk, plant fibres and synthetic fibres can all be spun into yarn. Very long and very short fibers are harder to spin, as are slippery fibers like silk. Wool is best for a beginner but you will quickly progress from there and be spinning exotic yarns in no time.
I like to introduce people to spinning with Shetland or Cotswold. They draft very easily without being too "slidey". Any slidey fiber can be good for a beginner, but the cost is daunting when the yarn will likely turn out less than desirable on your first tries. Look for a staple length right around 4 inches, and avoid anything that seems difficult to draft apart. Ask around and be sure you are getting a quality fiber and not junk. Often the fiber that comes "free" with spindles and wheels is so horrible and hard to work with.
Why do I need to ply my hand-spun?
When you first spin your yarn you are adding twist to hold it together. You need a fair bit of twist for strong yarn and this makes the yarn kink up which makes it difficult to knit. Plying two spun yarns together releases this twist and the yarn can relax.
Actually, you don't have to ply your hand-spun, but it does add durablity which is desirable for knitting. Much weaving is done with singles instead of plied yarns, and knitting or any other yarn craft can be done with singles. To cure the kinking, you will need to set the twist in your yarn. To do this spin your yarn with less twist than you would a plied yarn, just so there is enough for it to hold together. After spinning, wind it into a skein with a niddy noddy and immerse the skein in very hot water. Let it soak, then drain the sink and press the excess water out. Hang to dry, and much of the twist will have relaxed, giving you a light fluffy yarn that is less durable, but delightful to work with
I've heard of 'hand-cards' - what are they?
Hand cards are one of many different tools that can be used to prepare fiber for easier spinning. They resemble giant dog brushes, and indeed you can card wool with dog brushes, and comb it with a wide tooth comb. It's slower but they're easy to find and cheap. Hand cards clean debris and align the fibers for easy spinning. Check out the tutorials section for more information on spinning tools and equipment.
Spindle? Or Wheel?
Many new spinners start with a spindle. It is cheap, versatile and portable and is a great way to figure out whether you like this new trick without spending lots of money. A wheel is more expensive, and takes up more room but will help you produce hand-spun yarn much more quickly than a spindle.
I always encourage people to begin on a spindle, because it is very difficult to keep up with the twist on a wheel. Once you have practiced drafting and handling the fiber, then the wheel will not be so challenging. A wheel can be a real frustration for a beginner, and spinning a few hundred yards on a spindle will make the first wheel experience much more pleasant. While an experienced spinner can spin more yarn faster on a wheel a beginner can be easily overwhelmed by trying to learn so many new things at once.
Should I be 'finishing' my yarn?
'Finishing' yarn is a bit like blocking knitting. It helps to even out the twist in the yarn and encourages fibers to relax and bloom. Like blocking knitting, it is not absolutely essential, but does give a nice touch to your finished product.
While blocked yarn does have a nicer finish, I usually do not block my handspun. Wool, like our hair, has curl or crimp, during processing these get pulled and stretched so that the fiber seems straight. Blocking hand-spun, which means rinsing the yarn and hanging with a weight attached, stretches the fibers in the same way. Once that fiber hits water again, the crimp returns, and can cause significant shrinkage. If this happens after you've knitted or woven your dream project, the effect can be disastrous!
I take my hand-spun, rinse in hot water, allowing it to soak a moment, then I press the excess water out, and hang to dry without any weights. This allows the fiber to return to its natural state, and will reduce later shrinkage significantly. Finishing means rinsing and drying the yarn, blocking means rinsing and drying the yarn with a weight attached. Blocking with a heavy weight can improve the felting abilities of a yarn, as shrinking is desirable.
Is it better to spin 'In the Grease'?
'In the Grease' refers to wool that has not been washed but still has the natural sheep's lanolin in it. Spinning in the grease avoids the job of washing raw fleece, which can be trickier than washing yarn, and it makes your hands lovely and soft! You will notice a definite sheepy smell hovering around though, and this is not to everyone's taste.
Spinning in the grease makes a durable, waterproof yarn. This is desirable for some garments, however the lanolin on the fleece will leave a sticky residue on your equipment, which is undesirable unless you have cards, wheels and spindles dedicated to spinning in the grease. If you want a water proof yarn, spin the yarn, then melt lanolin you can buy in the tube in very hot water, once it is liquified, submerge your yarn or garment and let it soak while the water cools. The lanolin will be distributed on the fiber, making it waterproof, and less smelly. As for your hands, you can use the stuff from the tube on them, or you can just go scratch a sheep if you know one.