Discover The Secrets of Yarn: Learn to Spin!

I shall now say the Magic Word of Knitting. Ready? (Perhaps you want to be sitting down for this one…) OK, here we go: Yarn.

Everyone OK out there? Anyone swoon, or feel their heart beat a little faster? Palms get a bit sweaty for a moment? Not surprising, because if there's one thing all of us knitters have in common it's that we LOVE yarn. Yarn is our beloved constant companion in life, and when we are not knitting with it, we love touching it, playing with it, dreaming about it, and, of course, shopping for it!

All right, so we're all yarn lovers here… But let me ask you this: How much do you really know about this lovely addictive substance? Do you really understand all that worsted/woollen/2-ply/superwash/DK/mercerized mumbo-jumbo? When a yarn has been discontinued, do you know enough about yarn to substitute with confidence? Do you understand why one yarn is good for felting and another yarn isn't?

Uh-huh. That's what I thought. We play with it, we obsess over it, we come up with clever ways to hide store it so that no one will REALLY know how much of it we have, but there's a lot most of us don't really know about yarn.

One of the best ways to learn about something, I'm told, is to learn how to make it. All right then. I wanted to learn more about yarn, so I signed up for a spinning class at my local yarn shop this winter. Little did I know what I was REALLY signing up for: a journey into the heart of knitting, and a journey into my own heart as well.

Why spin? It just takes away from my precious knitting time…

That's one reason I resisted taking a spinning class for years. I mean, I only have so much free time, and I love knitting, and there are lots of lovely yarns out there that someone else has already made for me, so what's the point? I'll be honest with you. There were two main reasons I finally went off to Maggie Casey's Beginning Spinning class this past January. First, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to spin, that I would be bad at it—and yet here I was spouting the whole Fearless Knitter thing, so seemed like I should be setting a good example for y'all and face my own "I can't" fears. The second reason? I've been getting a ton of emails from you asking for help substituting yarns. I wanted to learn more about how to substitute successfully, so that I could help YOU learn how to do it successfully.

So I guess you might say that you folks gave me both the courage and a reason to do something I was afraid to do. (Thanks, guys.)

And Maggie? Well, Maggie gave me a bit of fluff from a sheep named Helen, lent me a spinning wheel, and told me that if the spinning wasn't going well, it was always the wheel's fault. (Thanks, Maggie. I've been repeating that phrase a lot lately!)

It's now almost April, and all the yarn you see in the photos on this page is MY yarn. I made it—with a lot of help from Maggie. In teaching me how to make yarn, Maggie also taught me how to LOOK at yarn, how to think about it logically, and how to evaluate the yarn in my hand in order to make decisions about what kind of yarn is best for which knitting project.

I kind of think spinning classes should be called Becoming a Better Knitter Through Learning About Yarn, because I think that that's one thing spinning has done for me, made me a better knitter.

Do I spin now that class is over? Heck yes. (It's relaxing, and fun!) Do I still buy yarns at the yarn shop? You betcha. The difference is that now I understand what I am buying, and can make my yarn pennies really count. (Plus, I can't spin fast enough to feed my knitting addiction.) Does the spinning cut into my knitting time? Um, weellll…it probably cuts into my housework time. (Sorry, Nicholas dear.)

OK, those are all the logical, grownup reasons why I recommend that knitters take at least one beginning spinning class. The real reason, the heart-of-the-matter reason? Because spinning is a joy, and the first time you knit with your own handspun yarn, well. That's like watching the first crocus of spring open up. It just leaves you speechless with happiness.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? What happened to the Gathered Pullover, you ask? I lost 28 pounds, that's what. Now I am contemplating ripping versus a loose-fitting sweater.

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