A Plea For Common Sense

Liz Gipson is the former managing editor of Spin-Off. She now offers her yarny knowlege as a freelance marketing consultant (www.lizgipson.com) and publishes rigid heddle weaving patterns (www.yarnworker.com).

A Plea For Common Sense


In Taking the Measure of Handspun Yarn, Rita shows how different types of scales are more or less accurate for measuring yarn..

Spinning is a craft that often sounds WAY more complicated than it is.  Rita Buchanan cuts through all of the overwhelming terminology and states simply what making yarn is all about.  Since Rita has been actively off the teaching circuit for nearly a decade, there is a new generation of spinners that have not been properly introduced to her.  Luckily for them, a some of her words of wisdom have been preserved.

Are you befuddled by all the information about measuring yarn? Rita breaks it down for you in Taking the Measure of Handspun Yarn, a collection of her articles on the subject from past issues of Spin-Off.  You will wonder why it all seemed so complicated before! She tackles all the pertinent questions of weighing, measuring, and evaluating your yarn, including the much-asked, "How much yarn is enough?"

Throughout these articles, and all her writing and teaching, she argues that for yarn there is such a thing as being so precise that the answer is meaningless. Yarn-making techniques and the measurements they yield are meant to be talked about in generalities.  When we try to get too granular, we often don't see the forest for the trees. What is most important to her is that we learn evaluate yarn in terms of its end use. Rita allows you to breathe a big sigh of relief, as so much of what we fret about just doesn't matter all that much.

For instance, the gram scale is her scale of choice for measuring yarn. Although an electronic scale might give you more precise information at the moment that the yarn is weighed, it doesn't give you a better answer in general.  Yarn is a living breathing thing, and its mass changes as often as the weather.  Rita encourages the spinner to think in terms of "about" when measuring yarn—you simply do not need the level of detail that an electronic scale offers. 

And Rita is just a good read. Her advice is so practical that some of her tips verge on the comical. In the article "Length, Weight, and Grist" she states, "I've also heard you can get great deals at police auctions on used balances confiscated in drug raids."

Spinner's Questions with Rita Buchanan features fascinating Q&A from Rita's long running column in Spin-Off; in its pages you can learn everything from how to blend fiber to avoid color blocks in a finished project to whether you should spin in double drive or scotch tension to ordering a hand-built wheel.


In Spinner's Questions, Rita answers if 2-ply yarn is "rounder" than 3-ply yarn. Here you see, from left to right, a singles, two-ply, three-ply, and four-ply yarn. Which do you think is roundest?

An equally enlightening collection of articles is available titled A Closer Look, where she asks us not not evaluate a swatch with a measuring tape, but with our hands; guides us on the ins and outs of the center-pull ball; and has the audacity to argue that the terms worsted and woolen are practically meaningless. That's just how Rita rolls. —Liz Gipson

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