Beginning Spinning: On a Shoestring and Beyond

Last week I got a great question here on the blog in the comments section from Erin P. and I thought it was worth sharing with you. It went:

Hey Knitting Sarah-

I’ve played with the idea of slowly getting into spinning but it seems like an activity that has a high entry cost just to try. You know with knitting all you need is like $10 for that first set of cheap needles and acrylic yarn.

But even a used wheel is like $300…. or a set of classes could start getting close to that price, but then you don’t even have a wheel to use afterwards…

Would you recommend getting into using a drop spindle first? or is that a totally different thing?

Could you make or recommend a post on how to get into spinning?

I think the reason I like this question so much is that I had the exact same questions before I started spinning. On a whole, “How do I get into spinning?” is kind of difficult to answer because there are a lot of variables. From your access to resources to your free time to your budget, Erin’s absolutely right — spinning is different than grabbing a skein of cheap yarn and some knitting needles and learning to knit & purl. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be super expensive, but as with anything there are trade-offs.

Let’s start with the most basic question:

What’s the difference between a wheel and a drop spindle?

A wheel and a drop spindle do the same thing. At the most basic level, both are devices that help you to pull fiber apart, put twist into it, and create yarn. It really is that simple. To explain the difference in a very simplified way, think about walking versus riding a bicycle. Say that you need to go to the store to by groceries. Walking will get you to store, but riding a bicycle will get you there faster and it’ll be easier on your body. Machines in general are created to make the tasks we have to accomplish easier and more efficient and a spinning wheel is no different.  I can spin 4oz of merino on my drop spindle or I can spin the same 4oz of merino on my wheel and create the same yarn, but the wheel will get me there with less effort and smaller time investment.

Where should I start?

Well, that really depends on a number of things. As I said before, the resources you have access to, the type of student you are, how serious you are about learning to spin, and your budget will be the major players there. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer that applies to everyone. With this in mind, I thought I’d break this blog post into two parts: a guide to getting into spinning on a shoestring and a guide to getting into spinning with a larger budget. You could certainly follow one or the other or any combination of the two. I thought I’d just highlight two distinct avenues as a starting point for you.

Beginning Spinning on a Shoestring

spindles

Spindles can cost a lot of money, but a lot of very good spindles are pretty darn economical. My first spindle was a made in a friend’s basement at a craft night and it was much like this one. I won’t say I’d recommend it because especially in the beginning having a spindle that’s well balanced can make things a lot easier and the one I got was heavy, so I would argue spending around $20-$25 for a nice basic spindle is a worthwhile investment.

I picked up this 1.1oz Schacht Hi-Lo spindle at a fiber festival and I would recommend it to any new spinner. If you want to go the Turkish Spindle route, I’ve been very happy with my spindles from Snyder Spindles. With spindles, you’re always looking at how much they weigh because that affects the types of yarn you’ll be spinning on them. As a beginner, I was told anything in the 1.1-1.3oz range would best and now that I’ve had a little experience I’d have to agree.

As for fiber, you definitely don’t need anything fancy. You want something with a staple length that isn’t too long, but isn’t too short– so like a Corriedale or Romney Top or roving would be a great choice. If you aren’t sure if the fiber you want to buy is good for a beginner, just ask the shop or farm you’re purchasing from, they’ll know.

I’d steer clear of merino and silk  — they’re pretty and awesome to work with, but they can be awfully slippery and hard to control in the beginning. Pretty colors help with inspiration (and you can check some suggestions for where to get these in the section below), but to be honest there’s a decent chance you won’t be knitting with your first handspun unless you’re a big fan of art yarn. Yes, let’s have realistic expectations — your first handspun probably won’t resemble commercial yarn at all right away. Personally, I started with a grocery bag of inexpensive natural (white) Romney that cost me $10 or $15 just because I got a lot.

So at this point, you’ve spent about $30-$40 to get started. Not bad. Now you have to learn though. Let’s assume you don’t have a friend who can teach you (that would be too easy!). I would recommend starting with some of Abby Franquemont’s YouTube tutorials. This one in particular is what actually got me spindle spinning — the video quality isn’t great, but it was my AHA moment. She is also the author of Respect the Spindle which is an excellent book. I haven’t checked out the video, but I assume it’s great, too. Most libraries have a great number of spindle spinning titles you can take for a test drive. If you prefer a more structured approach and you don’t mind spending a little extra, you can always try Craftsy’s Spindling: From Fluff to Stuff. Of course checking local shops for inexpensive starter classes is a great option to if they are available in your area.

Following these simple guidelines for basic tools and using online & library resources, you can easily start spinning for under $50. This is the route I took when I first started to dabble in spinning and it was a great way to really get a taste for the craft. I would whole-heartedly recommend this path for anyone who is even a little unsure about their commitment to spinning or anyone who has a limited budget. It is a great, solid way to get your foot in the door.

That said, the only downside is that… well… to be honest, I really struggled with the spindle. I would classify it as a little more difficult than the wheel, but mostly I think it was just the combination of the way I learn and the resources I had access to at the time that led to my problems. I could not wrap my head around what was happening with this fiber and spindle and I could not get the process to click in my head. I spent a lot of time dropping my drop spindle and very little time making yarn and I got discouraged quickly. The upside, of course, is that I only invested about $40 and even though I couldn’t get the hang of the spindle, it was enough to solidify in my mind that I wanted to continue with spinning and that I indeed wanted a wheel.

With a couple years of wheel spinning under my belt, I went back to properly learn how to use a spindle this summer and I picked it up without any problem. I’m pretty convinced it was a lack of patience in the learning process that led to my initial failure which is why even though it didn’t work for me, I still recommend starting with a spindle. The low entry cost alone just makes it such a great starting point. That said, what if you want to go beyond the shoestring approach?

Beginning Spinning Beyond the Shoestring

Let’s say that you want to dive right in — you want a wheel and you want to spin like the wind right from the get-go. Well, the very first thing I would do is check out local shops. A lot of shops that sell spinning wheels teach classes on spinning and sometimes those classes or part of them can be used as credit toward a wheel. Maybe they don’t offer credit, but they provide rentals for those who take their spinning classes – you just never know. At the very least, it’s always worth asking.

20140521-061611-22571404.jpgAs for what wheel to get, I would encourage you to check out this blog post I wrote a while back on how I selected my wheel. In it I go through all the variables I recommend that you consider and the questions you should ask yourself when you are choosing a wheel. I’ve had a number of people tell me it’s helpful and I think it’s pretty thorough, so I won’t rehash it today, just click the link and check it out. Suffice to say, a wheel will set you back — usually at least $350 for a basic package. The upside is that if you buy the ‘right’ wheel for you, you can use that one wheel for the rest of your life if you take good care of it. I think the price doesn’t sting quite so badly if you think of that big picture.

In any case, you’ll be looking for the same type of basic fiber for a wheel as you would a spindle — a Corriedale or Romney would be great, merino and silk not so great. Maybe Cheviot or Targhee if you want to get a little softer first yarn, but just like the spindle remember that your first handspun will be more art yarn than commercial yarn. Pretty colors — again — are fun and inspiring and maybe since you’re springing for a wheel you feel like splurging on some pretty colors. Spun Right Round & Dyeabolical & Three Waters Farm are just a couple shops that I’d highly recommend for their good quality bases and super pretty colors. Do keep in mind the recommended breeds (Romney, Corriedale, etc) that you’re looking for because believe it or not that is more important than the actual color in the beginning. Speaking from experience, it can be all too easy to start looking at color and forget totally about breed.

As for resources, it’s definitely easiest to learn to spin with your wheel from someone who is pretty fluent in spinning. Classes, of course, are ideal and can range greatly in what aspects of fiber and spinning they cover, so check around. Since I wasn’t able to get away for a class, I started with Maggie Casey’s Start Spinning book and DVD. I would also recommend Foundations of Spinning on Craftsy and I found Felicia Lo’s Spinning Dyed Fibers on Craftsy a really great introduction for any spinner with basic skills to really start to investigate how you can play with color.

Whether you decide to start on a shoestring or with a heftier investment, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that learning to spin was probably the best gift I’ve ever given myself. It’s not quite as portable as knitting and I can’t multitask with it, but that is exactly why I love and appreciate spinning. Sure, I can still watch tv or listen to music while I spin, but it’s different. It’s a whole body exercise that really quiets my mind and gives me those zen moments that I so need in my busy life. Oh, and I love the pretty yarns I get to create, too!

Do you still have questions?

Pop over to Periscope (a free app!) this Saturday morning at 9am CST and find me @KnittingSarah — I’ll be there live to share some of my spinning tools, pretty fiber, and be available to chat about spinning and answer your questions! Hope to see you there!

22 responses to “Beginning Spinning: On a Shoestring and Beyond

  1. Great post Sarah ! My first wheel, was a gently used Ashford Traditional that I don’t think it ever had been used much and was almost brand new. I was lucky to pick it up for $200 but my other wheels were saved up for and purchased much later. I am just now trying a drop spindle, which is challenging for me. Sometimes I wish I had started with the spindle and then followed with the wheel 🙂

    • Wow! It sounds like you got an amazing deal on your first wheel! I always hesitate to say the wheel it easier than the spindle, but it was invented to make the process of making yarn faster & easier than a spindle so it makes sense that it is for many. I think for some spindling is easier because it’s nice and slow and controlled. I know for me it was just the opposite – it was so slow I struggled to see what was happening. As I mentioned, I started back with the drop spindle this summer and I really enjoy it now. Check out the AHA video I shared – maybe it’ll help!

  2. Great post! I bought an Ashford KIWI a long time ago and didn’t like the wheel at all. I like spinning though and now am saving for a more useable wheel for me. I’m also going to invest some time into trying a few wheels out ….. I have to drive a couple of hours, but it will be worth it.

    • Absolutely! It’s hard to explain because it’s not like a wheel is a pair of jeans, but they definitely have different ‘fits’. I went to buy a wheel fully expecting to get an Ashford and once I sat at my Lendrum, I knew I’d wait as long as necessary to save for *that* wheel. It was just The One for me and I never would have guessed had I not sat down with it.

  3. Great post! I took a spindle course this summer, and really haven’t practiced like I should, so the youtube link will be a good review. I agree with your comment that the wheel was invented to make it easier – and I know that is a direction I want to go, when I get the dinero together for it. I am so lucky to have a local store with a great teacher AND she rents wheels AND she sells used equipment on consignment. Now I have to be strong and stop spending my fiber money on fiber, but save it for a wheel. 🙂

    • That. Is. Awesome. I have a good friend who had a similar store nearby and it was such a great opportunity to learn! Yes. I need to stop buying fiber and save for a very fast flyer, but so far I haven’t quite been motivated enough!

  4. My path sounds like it was similar to yours: cheap spindle, inexpensive fiber, followed quickly by wheel. What really helped it click for me was hands-on help (which I got free by attending a guild meeting).

    • That’s awesome! I forgot to mention my other challenge – I think I may spin lefty. Or at least I’m backwards from the only hands-on help I’ve ever had. I think that a why I worked best on my own!

      • Well … I *am* lefty. I can’t figure out which way I spin (yeah, I know), but I think it’s different on wheels than on spindles. :p

      • I just read an article that discussed how there is no ‘right-handed’ or ‘left-handed’ spinning, so I guess it would be more accurate to say that my forward hand is my left. And it’s the same for both wheel & spindle spinning for me.I’m a total weirdo though in that although I’m technically right-handed, I am pretty close to ambidextrous. But that’s a story for another day!

  5. Wow Knitting Sarah! This is Erin, from the first question. Thanks for the info! It’s good to know that the drop spindle seems to produce the same product (albeit with more effort). That was always a little fuzzy to me.

    You really went above and beyond in answering my questions, thanks lady!

    Erin
    (RavID:pynetree)

    • Sorry– one more point. Another thing that I think has made it seem more difficult is that I’m from Southern New England. There doesn’t seem to be as much of a fiber community as there are in other places. I do hear people talk about their stores offering spinning classes or going to fiber festivals or guild meetings. But there really isn’t much of that around here. So maybe that’s making some of these issues feel a bit tricky.

      • No worries! Are you able to pop into periscope tomorrow so I can answer some of your questions? That might be easy and more fluid or you can always email, too – knittingsarah[at]gmail[dot]com – I love answering questions! I can sympathize with you though – despite the fact that I have the resources available to me, I wasn’t able to get away for any classes or guild meetings. The place I bought my wheel was even crazy flexible, but I had little kids and just couldn’t get away. My spinning quite literally started with some very short & informal guidance from a couple friends, but I would say 98% of my spinning I picked up online – in tutorials, Craftsy classes, other blogs, and my Tour de Fleece teammates. It will feel wildly overwhelming at first and it may take more time to get going without guidance, but I’m living proof it can be done! And I will help in any way I can!

    • You are welcome! I love helping other crafters and answering questions! I used to teach knitting, so good blog questions let me flex those muscles a little. ☺️

  6. Thanks so much for this post. I have wanted to get into spinning, but the cost seemed a little much. I am definitely going to check out your suggestions!

  7. I too wanted to spin and was on a shoestring so to speak. I researched the heck out of the magazines, library books for wheels. I ended up going to the Boulder County Fairgrounds to check out WOOL and see if I could get anything for cheap. It was there that I was introduced to the Spinning and Weaving Guild. I was invited to a meeting and there I did meet Maggie Casey and many others who helped me along the way. They let me try the wheels they had, gave me wool to play with and in no time, I was able to confidently know I would really use the purchases I would invest in. Fort Collins, CO now has several spinning/yarn/knitting places where you can take a class using their equipment. Used stuff is available online. Ebay. And a good person should be able to share knowledge on spinning as well as knitting without a fee. I do.

    • Right?! I volunteer to help people all the time (my blog is living proof of that!). And how wonderful that you had such a great experience in finding your way into spinning!

  8. Excellent post! I learned how to use a drop spindle in an $80 class from my local fiber store. The spindle and some fiber were included. That got me off to a good start, but I agree: the first yarns I spun were nothing like the yarns I like to work with. Maybe one day…

    • I will say, it’s a lot like riding a bike or anything else. It’s a struggle and then there’s kind of an AHA moment and suddenly it’s all coming together and the yarn becomes much more what you’re envisioning. I was taking my new spindle through its paces this morning and since it’s heavier I was actually changing up the weight of the yarn I was making at will — a first for me with a spindle!

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