A Spinner’s Challenge: Unusual Fibers

Depending on where you live or the culture of your spinning community, some fibers will be considered more common than others. The usual suspect for many spinners around the world is wool, but it might be alpaca, mohair, or cotton where you live. Exploring new fibers, be it long or short, plant or animal, is a great way to build spinning skills and have a lot of fun. What fibers have taken you out of your spinning comfort zone?

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Have you tried spinning bison or mink? Photo: Linda Frank.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Valley Handspinners Guild asked members to bring examples of their adventures in unusual fibers for show and tell. President Linda Frank says, “Some of the fibers included mink, beaver, bison, yak, qiviut, cotton, alpaca, and dog. Many of our members are very experienced spinners and can spin just about anything! Our guild also made a wall hanging (some years ago) of non-wool animal fibers made up of squares submitted by guild members. This was on display at the meeting.” Linda also mentioned that she loves trying unusual fibers. It’s become a tradition for her husband to surprise her with fibers she has not yet encountered.

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A non-wool wall hanging created by members of the Tennessee Valley Handspinners Guild. The blocks incorporate a wide variety of handspun yarns using different fibers. Photo: Linda Frank.

The Tennessee Valley Handspinners Guild was established in the 1970s and had its early roots in the cultural crafts community at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “According to our charter member Dale Liles, the inspiration for a regional revival of handspinning came from a teacher at Arrowmont, Persis Grayson. Persis taught her students how to spin, but she also taught much more: the history of fiber tools, the qualities of different fibers, the possibilities for fiber beyond spinning yarn—such as felting and dyeing. Some of her students raised silkworms and built wheels; many were weavers. Faculty and students from the University of Tennessee became involved, and students came from as far as New Zealand. They learned from each other as well as from Persis in a non-competitive and enjoyable atmosphere. The beginning class became an intermediate class, then an advanced one.” Read more about the guild’s history online.

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The Tennessee Valley Handspinners Guild was established in the 1970s and is still going strong! Photo: R. Mark Shedden.

Today the guild is a thriving group that is actively sharing skills and connecting with spinning traditions new and old. Learn more on Facebook.

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