Falling in love with a new skill sometimes means going back to basics.
|The tools of the trade: spindle, niddy-noddy, and roving|
The trouble for me was that Beth’s book is really for wheel spinners, and with no spinning experience of my own to speak of, the idea of a wheel seemed ridiculous. Cost aside, I know nothing about a wheel’s mechanics or how to set one up for spinning, let alone whether I’d be able to master the simultaneous hand-foot coordination wheel spinning requires. Instead, I decided to begin at the beginning and take spinning back to its most pared-down form: the drop spindle.
On an usually warm September Saturday, eight of us gathered in a classroom at WEBS Yarn Store, our wooden spindles and 6-ounce balls of mixed Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) roving laid neatly at our feet. Our teacher for the day was Ashley Flagg, whose own spinning roots run deep, as a descendant of Priscilla Mullins, the spinner immortalized in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” When a friend introduced Ashley to drop spindling in 2006, in a moment of deep genetic memory, her fingers knew exactly how to move.
Most of us in the classroom probably wouldn’t be that lucky, Ashley warned, even if we were working with a tool whose history in human hands is ancient. “I’ll invite you now to excuse yourself from the concept of perfection,” she said, and with that, we dove into seven straight hours of work.
First, there was terminology to learn: spinning worsted versus spinning woolen, the critical importance of balancing crimps per inch and twists per inch, the angle of twist (yes, there’s an app for that), and the role of micron count in determining softness of a fiber against the skin. With new wisdom swimming untethered in our heads, we took up our spindles and roving.
Aiming for quantity versus quality of yarn, we pre-drafted (or stretched out) long segments of our BFL roving. Ashley gave each of us a short section of alpaca to work with, too, so that we might get a sense of the difference between the two fibers (verdict: alpaca, lovely and soft, with ample air between the fibers, is slippery in the hands of a beginner—more challenging than BFL).
|Pre-drafted roving, reading for spinning|
At the end of the day, I came home with a small skein of my very own yarn. It isn’t what I’d call pretty, and it isn’t something I’d even knit with—chunky and almost completely unspun in spots while thin as dental floss in others.
|It’s not pretty but it’s yarn.|
Watch Ashley in drop-spindle action in this video from WEBS: