People Say the Strangest Things to Handspinners

In much of the world (especially the parts of the world reached by Spin Off magazine), spinning your own yarn hasn’t been an everyday sight for centuries. Handspinners get used to very odd questions and comments, but some still make us scratch our heads. Here are the 3 most common types of odd questions or comments you may hear when spinning:

What I DO

What I DO

1. Wrong kind of spinning!

In the past 20 years or so, anyone who mentions spinning (especially in a class) is expected to be headed to the gym. Heck, I’ve made this mistake myself. But stationary bicycles aren’t the only opportunity for misunderstanding. Fire spinning, dervishes, tops . . . even cricket, in which a leg spinner can “bowl deliveries that behave unexpectedly, including the googly.” Even specifying “handspinner” doesn’t always clear things up. The present obsession with fidget spinners invites even more confusion and absolutely trashes our search results. (Let’s just give everyone spindles—all the movement and focus, plus you get yarn!)

2. “Can’t you buy that at . . . ?”

The bane of every crafter, this question goes double for handspinners. Yes, you can buy yarn, or a sweater, or a pair of socks, or fabric. You can also buy Thanksgiving dinner and birthday cake, but you cannot buy pride in craftsmanship or peace of mind or community, and most of us would pay money for the health and wellness benefits that come from crafting.

3. Weird questions specific to handspinning.

Some comments just come out of left field.


Is it really too much to ask for the spindle to stay still for a second? Well, yes, actually. Photo by Ann Sabin Swanson from Respect the Spindle

“Can’t you just make the spindle hang there still?”
I’m embarrassed to say that this was me. While we were photographing Abby Franquemont’s book Respect the Spindle, I was frustrated by the difficulty of making a spindle appear to obey gravity for the fraction of a second it takes to snap just one picture. Abby looked at me, unsure whether she needed to explain how the spindle would reverse direction (and keep moving) if she stopped it. I figured it out.

“How do you get it to go around the wheel?”
Especially when the drive band and fiber are the same color, some people think that the yarn goes into the orifice and somehow around the drive wheel. Terri Drouin-Guerette, a Revolutionary War reenactor, switched to spinning colored fiber just to make it clear that the two yarns are not connected.

“What direction is that going?”
Ayse Sercan came across a man who got the wrong end of the stick—er, spindle. “He thought I was taking yarn and making roving,” she explains. This one is surprisingly common; one spinner was stumped by a man watching her who insisted that he understood what was happening, so she invited him to sit at her wheel and demonstrate. He started treadling and pulled her singles back off the bobbin.

“What is that thing?”
Terri sometimes hears parents saying to their children, “Look, she’s looming!” Terry Mattison recalls, “While spindle spinning in the Columbus, Ohio airport during a business trip, I had a gentleman watching me spin for several minutes. Then he came over and asked to take a closer look at my funny-looking yo-yo.”

Maggie Casey recalls another odd airport encounter with another handspinner: “She was carrying her Sidekick [spinning wheel from Schacht], and someone asked her if it was a Pilates machine.”

“The people who know more about spinning than you.”
The guy who just walked up to you spinning in public might understand fiber, wheel or spindle mechanics, and drafting. Hasn’t happened to me yet, though. Deb Menz says, “After watching me spin for a while, a man said to me, ‘I understand it all, but I want to know where the sweater comes out.’ Yes, he said it in complete seriousness.”

“But I don’t want to hurt the sheep.”

No matter how funny or even maddening you find these well-meaning comments, they present the chance to teach someone about handspinning and yarn and the way fiber works. If you can, respond enthusiastically, resist the urge to call them “muggles,” and remember the best ones to share with handspinners who understand.

What are the oddest things people have said to you about handspinning?

—Anne Merrow

Featured Image: Courtesy of Getty Images

Handspinners get it!



  1. Susan B at 6:05 am April 18, 2018

    How about “Where is it plugged in?” I was spinning in the middle of a field at the time,

    • Anonymous at 2:51 pm August 29, 2018

      I get, “is that real wool?” I always want to reply ‘no, its stunt wool, the real stuff is back on the sheep.’ The other one is, “what happens if you break it?’
      I made a sign for my treadle foot “my foot is powering the wheel”.
      I ended up at shows doing hourly explanations of the mechanics of spinning. Each show runs for 15 minutes and incorporates thigh, spindle and wheel. Mostly these are very well attended with 20-50 people per session.
      Little kids try to poke their fingers in the spokes.

  2. Meg C at 6:11 am April 18, 2018

    Good morning, Anne,

    Spinners who are asked “But won’t it hurt the sheep?” or “Won’t the sheep be cold?” at a shearing should remember that this is a chance to educated the public about BOTH spinning and animal welfare. When I work at a shepherd friend’s Shearing Open House every March we’re always asked about why we let the sheep get cold. The answers I give are (a) “We don’t. The sheep are fed, jacketed, and tucked into deep straw in the barn to keep them warm”, and (b) “It’s really important that the adult sheep can feel the weather the same way their lambs will when they’re born in another week or two. A sheep with full fleece won’t feel the cold March and April rain and wind, and she’ll stand out there with her newborn lamb shivering by her side. If we shear them first, they feel the weather just like the lamb does and they get safely and warmly into the barn.” People need to hear that their shepherds are just as interested in the animals’ well-being as the audience is.

    • Shigella d at 7:51 am August 29, 2018

      When I shared similar thoughts with people, they sent me PETA videos in reply (standard stuff, full of blood).
      I know my friends are not keeping and shearing animals that way, but other people KNOW BETTER.

  3. Marisha K at 6:47 am April 18, 2018

    A Thai student thought that sheep were skinned each year to get their fleece off instead of realising they were shorn. Could understand the spinning wheel once explained but how the fleece was removed from the sheep was a different matter.

  4. Anita S at 8:06 am April 18, 2018

    A friend was having an event at her alpaca farm and asked if could demonstrate since she would be too busy. I brought some alpaca that had been dyed blue. Someone asked me if it came from a blue alpaca!

  5. Conjetta C at 10:35 am April 18, 2018

    I was talking the experience of learning to spin and being told to keep my first attempts because I would never be able to spin that “kind” of yarn again once I learned. The ladies listening to me thought I was talking about learning to ride a bike until I mentioned “yarn.” One said, “I thought you meant exercise. You are in a totally different world!” Now that I think on it, spinning could be exercise if I could learn to do it while walking.

  6. Kathy W at 10:57 am April 18, 2018

    I once had a woman at a fiber fest insist I wasn’t spinning yarn – she very indigently informed me she didn’t know what I was doing but it certainly wasn’t spinning! I was using a Louet S-10 castle style wheel, sigh

  7. Amy C at 11:56 am April 18, 2018

    I spin while my kids are playing sports using a drop spindle. I actually get a lot of kids that want to feel the fiber and try spinning. I’m happy to show them. The adults will ask me why I don’t just buy the yarn. I tell them the process of spinning is relaxing. I tell them its like eating sunflower seeds, you can buy the seeds without the shell but the repeated process of taking off the shell takes your mind off of things.

  8. Jennifer I at 4:47 pm April 18, 2018

    I was using a hand spindle in an airport. A very proper Englishman came up and started watching and asking me about what I was doing. Of course I got excited that someone was interested, and I blurted out, “Would you like to feel my Yak?” He blushed and said that he had never had a woman ask him to do that before!

  9. Carol S at 4:30 am April 19, 2018

    People ask what a moe is, as you are spinning mohair

  10. Nancy H at 1:22 pm April 19, 2018

    When my spinning buddies were demonstrating spinning in public one woman recognized the wheel for what it was, but couldn’t pull the word out of her brain. She pointed and said, “That’s Sleeping Beauty’s death machine”! I made the T-shirt.

  11. Deb P at 6:42 am August 8, 2018

    At a local town fair, I was demonstrating hand carding with some of my naturally dyed fibers and natural colors. Most were amazed to learn that onions, marigolds, and goldenrod gave such beautiful hues. One mom approached with her daughter and watched me card my bright yellow wool for a few minutes and then remarked, “I didn’t know that there are yellow sheep!”

    • Shigella d at 7:59 am August 29, 2018

      “At a local town fair, I was demonstrating hand carding with some of my naturally dyed fibers and natural colors”
      We have samples of fabric dyed with natural dyes (just like you). One of them was dyed with Sambucus nigra, which in Polish is often called dziki bez (wild lilac).
      Unfortunately, word “dziki” can mean also “boars” or “wild hogs”.
      Visitor wondered how we used wild boars to make a dye

  12. Anonymous at 9:16 pm August 8, 2018

    Over the years, I have done a lot of demonstrations on my Ashford Traditional wheel, often in some sort of costume, in public for schools, reneactment societies, and at faires. One time at a Rennaisance Faire, a patron stood back watching me spin for a while and then came up and told me, “You need to put a motor on that thing.”

  13. Anonymous at 10:06 am August 10, 2018

    Overheard my MIL (she is 80y.o. and was a business woman from Peru) tell my husband, that he needed to give me a larger allowance so that I could buy yarn instead of having to spin my own. “Her spinning in public will make people think you are poor.”
    I promptly lost my grip on my spindle and it dropped and I fell over on the couch killing myself laughing.

  14. Shigella d at 8:02 am August 29, 2018

    There is Polish song about spinners sitting at the distaff. I think we should charge visitors at fairs for singing it (20 times a day, usually out of tune). Also – teachers explain “ladies are making ropes and carpets”

  15. Anonymous at 8:51 am August 30, 2018

    I demonstrate drop spindle spinning at our local fair. An older woman stopped to watch for a few minutes then said, “They’re always coming up with something new, aren’t they?”

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