Spinning into Crochet

It was in aught-four that I first learned to spin.

I was writing a newspaper series on the journey of wool from sheep to finished product. Along the way I learned to clean, dye, spin and weave wool, in addition to knitting and crocheting the yarn I made.

The spinning was nearly my undoing.

The spinning instructor described the process as a dance – a graceful pas de deux between hands and fiber, with the drop spindle doing the magic of turning a bunch of fluff into a sturdy string. (The drop spindle is at left there. You hold the fluff, twist the shaft and release it to gravity, then gently feed the fluff into the movement so that yarn forms in the space between your hands and the spindle. In theory.)

Dancing is not my forte. And neither was spinning.

I focused on drafting, or spreading out, the fluff, twirling the drop spindle, and releasing the fiber. It sounded like this: “Ffff, thunk, @$%^”
Spinners have this old joke about the drop spindle being so named because you drop it a lot. This is kind of funny, unless you drop it all the time.

I took my lessons home and practiced and practiced (* Ffff, thunk, @$%^, repeat from *) I got myself in such a twist that I couldn't spin at all.

Finally, finally, I got it, with help from an expert spinner who told me I needed to twist more. Maybe the instructor needed to focus on a Chubby “Let's do the twist” Checker kind of dance, instead of the whole ballet thing.

Once you get spinning, it sticks with you, like riding a bicycle. Your hands remember the movement, the twist, the weight of the spindle as it drops. And, like riding a bicycle, you can learn new tricks, new speeds. You find your cadence. And, really, it's very soothing.

About the time I was learning to spin, I bought my first issue of Spin-Off magazine. Filled with instructive articles and inspiring projects, it gave me the encouragement I needed to persist in spinning beyond the newspaper story. And, bonus! The magazine wasn't just about spinning, but also about things to do with the fiber you spin.

In my first issue (Summer 2004), I found a story on dyeing with food coloring, and instructions for crocheting a small amulet bag. I took small amounts of my fleece – both spun and unspun fiber — and dyed them according to the directions. Fun! I crocheted about half the bag, with fiber I spun on a drop spindle (we were friends again).

The turning point in my spinning was when I found a spinning wheel for a ridiculously low price. The wheel is a much happier match with me, and I can spend quite a bit of time turning fluff to yarn. And the most recent issue of Spin-Off can help me make more of this tool, with its story on seven drafting techniques. (Drafting is the method of preparing the fiber before spinning it. The way you draft will affect the kind of yarn you make.)

So what does a crocheter do with hand-spun yarn? That depends.

If you spin a lot of fiber, you can make whole garments out of your handspun yarn. If you spin just a little, you probably want to cherish it a bit. (It's OK to be vain about what you make – it's magic really, that you turned a pile of fluff into a spool of yarn. Embrace that.) Put it in a bowl and admire it. One day, you'll look at it and want to crochet it. In the Spring issue of Spin-Off (on newsstands in early April), you'll find a pattern for crocheted cuffs, perfect for a small amount of handspun yarn.

If you've never made your own yarn, give it a spin. It will enrich your crochet experience.


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