Handspinning Yarn: The Process

kromski spinning wheel 

About a year ago I voiced my desire to learn to take fiber (such as wool) and spin it into my own yarns. The task seemed a little daunting, but the old school charm was overwhelming to me. I just couldn't wait to get my hands on some raw fiber some day. Without telling me Dusty researched, found, and bought me my very own spinning wheel along with various fibers. It was frustrating at first, but we were both patient and he helped when I asked. I am happy to say that through YouTube videos and Facebook discussion boards I have learned to spin! It is so relaxing: the soft rhythm of the wheel combined with the rhythm of my hands and feet makes it a great form of meditation. I've had so much fun feeling and experiencing how different fibers pull apart and behave when spinning them. For those who aren't familiar with spinning yarn I wanted to share a little bit about the basic process. Let's start with the raw fiber on the animal!

Raw Fiber:

raw wool fiber

Raw fiber is the wool that is clipped off the animal (there are other synthetic fibers too, but for now we'll just discuss animal fiber). Most animals require that their coats be sheared/clipped at least once per year, sometimes more frequently. The animals need their hair cut off periodically or else it just continues to grow and is ultimately bad for their health and wellbeing. Once the fiber has been clipped off the animal it must be processed (skirt, separate, wash, rinse, dry). When skirting a fleece, one tries to remove the dirtiest parts of the fleece. If sheared well the fleece should be one large sheet of wool. The edges are checked for very dirty areas and those are removed. Also any vegetable matter ("VM") such as hay, grass, etc. is removed from the fleece. The fleece is then flipped over and any short cuts of hair are removed. After the fleece has been skirted it needs to be washed. This step requires great caution so that you do not felt the wool (basically matte it together and make it useless for spinning). The sheet of fleece is separated into smaller pieces and then placed into mesh bags. The bags are placed into large tubs of hot, soapy water and left to soak in the tubs for 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes several washes are needed depending on the lanolin content (natural grease on several types of fiber) and how dirty it is. After it is washed a similar process is used to rinse the fleece, you just basically leave out the soap and make the water a little less hot and let it soak. After the fleece is rinsed it can be put in an old washer and placed on the "spin only" cycle or it can be placed out on towels to dry.

Further Processing:

roving fiber   spinning fiber roving

Once the fleece has been washed it is ready to be prepared further for easy spinning. Some of the most common bundles to spin from are: top, roving, rolags, batts, locks, and the cloud. "Top" is processed with wool combs (commercial top is the same thing but processed with a machine instead of by hand). The wool combs brush all the fibers in the same direction which helps to make a smooth yarn. Roving and rolags are made from a process called carding. Cards are also a type of brush that gets all the fibers going in the same direction, just somewhat differently and more imperfectly than when compared to the wool combs. Roving is carded by a machine and rolags are carded by hand. Batts are made by using a drum carder. It is a unique kind of carding machine that is used especially to blend different types of art fibers and/or multimedia (such as materials that sparkle). Locks are literally the locks of wool that come off the animal. They have been cleaned but not brushed in any way. Spinning from the cloud is basically grabbing a handful of washed fiber (a blob that looks like a cloud) and spinning from that. Sometimes the fleeces aren't processed at all and that is called "spinning in the grease" since so many animals produce lanolin, the fleece is greasy from those oils.


bobbin with singles   wet finish handspun yarn

There are a plethora of techniques with which to spin. I have only tried a few, but am learning more every day! In addition to the various spinning techniques you can choose to spin either on a wheel or with a spindle (there are a ton of different styles of spindles also). After spinning single strands of yarn, the singles are usually plied together by various techniques. There are many ways to ply, each resulting in a different look of the finished product. Last, the plied yarn is wet finished. This is done by soaking the finished yarn to "set the twist."

handspun yarn finished   handspun yarn finished

Want to try your hand at spinning?!

Pick your poison! It is a long process, but once you try it you will surely be hooked. Don't crochet or knit? As it turns out, there are a lot of spinners who do it solely for the love of spinning. They don't crochet or knit with their yarn, so they either sell it, hoard it, or give it away!

lf anyone has an interest in learning to spin I would be so excited to help introduce you into the world of fiber! Reach out to me at: riebel.farms@yahoo.com.


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