6 Tips for Spinning Hemp Yarn from Stephenie Gaustad

Cotton, flax, hemp—yes, please! Has your love affair with spinning included plant fibers? In this excerpt from The Practical Spinner’s Guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp, Stephenie Gaustad shares six of her best tips for spinning hemp yarn. Spinning hemp employs techniques from both flax and cotton. Read on to find out more about this often misunderstood fiber.

Discussions of hemp, especially of Cannabis sativa, are often clouded with confusion and controversy. This is a pity. It’s both a beautiful and useful fiber with long and illustrious history.

spinning hemp

A handheld distaff works well for tow hemp.

Well before the written word, hemp was used for nets, shelter, and clothing. Early Asian writings indicate that its stalk yielded fiber for yarns and that its seeds yielded oil. During the time of sailing ships and European exploration, hemp was crowned “King of Plant Fibers.” The very word for sailcloth, “canvas,” is derived from Cannabis. Hemp has been spun into a wide range of yarns, from rough, sturdy stuffs for canvas, cordage, and ropes to fine, lustrous yarns for sheer, transparent cloths.

Tips for Spinning Hemp

1. Spin a fine yarn (think “thread” more than “yarn”). Hemp is very strong, and it makes a strong, fine yarn. Like flax, when spun coarsely, it will quickly resemble twisted paper, rope, or burlap.

2. Hemp is stronger when wet, but because it has no pectin, it won’t spin smooth with moisture. Still, you may find that wetting it helps when you’re spinning a fine yarn.

3. To spin a fine yarn, the drafting zone should be sheer enough to see through. Therefore, you’ll generally want to draft back or pull out faster than you normally would for robust yarns.

4. Change hooks on the flyer frequently to prevent great “mountains” from forming on the bobbin. The wiry hemp yarn will slide down the mountains to disastrous result. The care you take when you wind onto the bobbin will pay off when you unwind it.

5. Don’t try to break the yarn between your hands. Use scissors.

6. Spin a consistent-sized yarn, spreading the twist evenly along it. As you spin hemp (or flax), if your yarn breaks, leaving a blunt end that looks scissorcut, it means that so much twist accumulated in a fine section of yarn it actually ruptured the yarn.

—Stephenie Gaustad

Featured Image: Hemp is absorbent and cool to the touch, perfect for summer.

Learn more about spinning plant fibers with Spin Off!


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