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!