Celebrate spinning during National Craft Month!

While most of us have fiber on the mind all year long, this month provides a special opportunity to honor spinning and other crafty endeavors because March is National Craft Month.

As a dabbler in many areas of the crafty world (in addition to spinning, I’ve also explored screenprinting, soapmaking, dyeing, quilting, weaving, sewing, candle making, and lots of other areas) I am a huge advocate of making as many things by hand as is humanly possible (at one point my goal was to have an entirely handmade wardrobe, but my sewing skills aren’t quite there yet). Crafting isn’t just fun, it’s good for your mind and your heart—and if you do it right, it can be good for the environment and good for your wallet, too!

Pursuing a crafting hobby has many benefits, both emotional and physical. Crafts are relaxing, they keep your mind sharp (I recently read about a study that found that knitting can help delay memory loss in old age!), and they provide a sense of accomplishment, among other things. Spinning is such a meditative craft, and I look forward to the quiet thinking time I get while working on a new yarn—the soft thrumming of the wheel and the gentle repetitive hand motions almost put me into a trance! And once that yarn is finished I feel a sense of pride at what I’ve created (my boyfriend has gotten very good at putting on an interested face while I try to explain how the balance in this skein is better than the balance in my last one or some other exciting development in my spinning skills).

My crafting endeavor this month has been exploring how to knit with my handspun. I know it’s not that groundbreaking of an adventure—just take some handspun and knit with it!—but for a long time I just kept my handspun in pretty balls around the house because I wasn’t sure how to use them. There’s a whole list of patterns I’d like to make with my handspun, but the intricacies of yarn substitution were scary to me, especially with things like hats or sweaters that need a precise fit. I’ve recently overcome some of this fear with a realization that if I knit flat, uncomplicated things like shawls, scarves, or blankets, I can just knit until the item is as big as I want and then stop, no yarn substitution worries required!

Knitting with my handspun has actually taught me a lot about spinning. One thing in particular I’ve noticed is the effect of twist as I make my knit stitches. I spun my yarn S/Z (the wheel spins counterclockwise for the singles, clockwise for plying), as opposed to the more traditional Z/S, and I’ve really noticed the difference when knitting—my stitches are coming unplied! I recently read Interweave’s incredibly informative new book The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin, and I flipped back to her section on twist to figure out what was going on. As it turns out, knitting is a “mono-element” construction (a single thread looping back on itself, unlike weaving, in which separate threads cross each other), so the motion of knitting changes the twist of the yarn. Because I knit English style (with the working yarn in my left hand), I’m relaxing some of the twist in my yarn as I knit, resulting in frequent knit stitches with two separate singles lying next to each other. This section of the book has me wondering all sorts of things about the ramifications of my untwisting yarn. Since plying is what counteracts twist, does the fact that my yarn is separating mean my final shawl will be a little skewed because the little singles loops have active twist? Since plying also changes stitch definition, how different will my project look than if it had stayed neatly plied, or had been a three ply, or cabled? So many new things to explore! Judith is probably the most educated person I’ve ever met when it comes to the world of fiber, and her book includes a ton of tidbits like these that will really get you thinking. (Did you know that spiders can produce five different kinds of silk, and that their silk is the finest and strongest natural fiber? I didn’t, but now I’m curious. Next thing you know I’m going to have a spider silk farm in my house—yikes!)

Connections like this are what I love about crafting—you’re never done learning! Knitting can inform your spinning, quilting can inspire your dyeing . . . anything is possible! So happy March—I hope your crafting is educational, relaxing, and fun!

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