11 More Handspinning Tips from 40 Years of Spin Off

In 1977, who knew that we’d have 40 years’ worth of things to say about handspinning? Well, we’re not done yet! Paging through previous issues brought back many fond memories and a few exclamations of, “Wow, I don’t remember that!” So we just had to share some of the coolest handspinning tips. What’s a favorite topic of our contributors? Yarn structure.

Yarn Structure

“There is also a minimum ‘magic number’ of fibers in the cross-section of any strong yarn. Less than this will produce weak spots. This number is 30 fibers, regardless of the diameter of each fiber . . . This fact naturally means that the spinner must pick a fine fleece in order to spin a fine yarn.”
—Brucie Adams, “Physical Characteristics of Wool Of Importance to Handspinners.” 1977

“If you want a thick, structurally sound yarn from a short-staple fiber, you must first spin fine yarn, and then ply to achieve the desired thickness.”
—Cecilia Quinn, “Elements of Yarn Structure.” 1982

“Time to mothball the bulk spinners, at least for the duration of a durability project. The individual fibers comprising a bulky yarn are not well secured in twist, thus increasing the yarn’s susceptibility to abrasion and pilling.”
—Donna Reynolds, “Handspun Knitwear That Lasts.” Summer 1983

“A good plying will keep most silk from pilling. I often re-spin commercial yarn that looks like it will pill. Check the yarn by rubbing your thumb and index finger back and forth against it.”
—Jill O’Brien, “Tips & Techniques: Snarl-Free Silk.” Spring 1988

handspinning tips

Singles spun Z-twist. The twist angle of this yarn is 68 degrees, indicating that this yarn is slightly underplied. Photo by Joe Coca.

“Many spinners fear low-twist yarns because of concerns about pilling and poor durability, but I say twist is only one factor in determining yarn behavior. By doing careful fiber preparation, being compulsive about controlling the fibers as I drafted and spun, and knitting on relatively small needles, I compensated for the low twist.”
—Rita Buchanan, “One Fleece, Three Ways.” Spring 1999

“If you find that the spun singles gets thinner and thinner until it breaks, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either you have such a tight grip on the fiber in your hand that it can’t be drawn into the drafting zone, or you haven’t let in enough twist. Remember, twist is like glue, it holds the fibers together.”
—Judith MacKenzie McCuin, “Fiber Basics: Bison.” Fall 2005

“Block yarns only if you must. Blocking can cause damage to protein fibers, particularly wool. A wool cell is very fragile when it’s wet, rather like a balloon full of water. Putting weight on it can cause it to rupture and damage the wool.”
—Judith MacKenzie McCuin, “Wet Finishes for Yarn.” Summer 2007

handspinning tips

Two-ply skeins of Rambouillet and kid mohair. The one in the rear is fulled, and the front one is not. Photo by Joe Coca.

“When I’m asked to give one piece of advice about plying, it’s this: use more twist than you think you need. Why? First, because when all is said and done and your yarn is washed and finished, you’ll generally find that you have less twist than you thought you were putting in during the plying process . . . Second, firmer plying twist tends to go a long way to minimize or even hide unevenness in the singles, whereas lower plying twist will tend to make the variation show up more in the finished yarn.”
—Abby Franquemont, “Spinning Basics: The Effects of Twist in Plying.” Spring 2008

“If you have been spinning for a while and have worked hard at perfecting a balanced plied yarn, it will take a bit of attention to get the right amount of twist that you need to make a yarn cable properly. I found that plying my singles once for a balanced ply and then ‘re-plying’ gave me the perfect amount of twist to consistently create an unbalanced yarn.”
—Judith MacKenzie McCuin, “Cables: Demystifying the Mysterious Yarn.” Spring 2008

“The thickness of the singles you spin is dependent on only one thing: the amount of fiber you draft. Your hands are in direct control of the thickness of the singles you spin . . . Regardless of the drafting technique you use, to increase the thickness of your yarn, allow more fiber in the drafting triangle.”
—Amy Tyler, “Ask a Spinning Teacher: Improving Consistency.” Fall 2015

“Remember that a perfectly balanced yarn isn’t always necessary . . . In the end, creating a balanced yarn—or not—is about combining the physical realities of the fiber and the world with your intuition and your instincts about what feels right, which, really, is what finding balance should be about.”
—Jennifer Shafer, “Spinning Basics: Finding Balance.” Spring 2009

Do you agree with these handspinners, or disagree? What’s your favorite tip about yarn structure? Share it with us in the comments below. The best thing about handspinning remains the sheer variety of methods, tools, and fiber that produce yarn. Did you miss the our best tips on equipment and handspun fabric or fiber and fiber preparation? You won’t want to miss them!

Featured Image: Photo by George Boe.


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