The Opinionated Spinner: Knitting with Handspun


I'm a Spinner.  Note the capital S.  I don't consider myself a Knitter, just a knitter.  I came to yarn and fiber through my desire to spin.  I first remember this desire at the age of 7 or 8 when I went to the Golden Gate Kennel Club dog show and saw someone spinning their dog's fur.  I remember thinking that was so cool!  I have an early 1970s photo of a spinning wheel at the Renaissance Faire.  This would have been a 5th or 6th grade field trip, so age 10 or 11?  There are no people in the photo, I was clearly only interested in the spinning wheel.  Later I made a journal entry during a college class when reading "A Room of One's Own" and described the private space I would have in the home I would someday share with my future family.  Even though I didn't know how to spin, the room contained a spinning wheel.

When I finally learned to spin in 1998 it felt as though I were remembering something that I had known.  I don't mean that I was some sort of spinning prodigy!  I spun the same beginner yarn that everyone spins.  But I loved EVERYTHING about it and I knew that it was a sort of craft "calling."  I had found my perfect art form.  All these years of experience and love for spinning have led to opinions, many of which I intend to share in this blog. I am paraphrasing a title from Elizabeth Zimmerman for this series of posts because I really admire her style!

So here goes:
I have heard people tell new spinners to knit with their handspun right away.  I agree.  But what I don't agree with is the rationale that I have heard for this.  It goes something like this...
 As you spin you get better and better.  Pretty soon you will be making much better yarn.  It will soon become apparent to you that this early yarn is ugly and you won't want to knit with it.  So hurry and knit it up now before you get more skilled at spinning and start to realize how ugly your beginner yarn really is.

To which I say, Balderdash! (Or something similar, but less blog-friendly!)

I certainly agree that new spinners should knit or crochet or weave with their newly spun yarn if those are crafts that they enjoy.  But I completely disagree with the reason.  New spinners should make something with their yarn because yarn is for making things!  And because it adds to the magic and beauty of spinning. Before you start spinning, the fiber is beautiful.  Then it gets spun into singles and looks quite different from how it started.  As a new spinner, it is difficult to predict what the differences will be, but it changes in a magical way.  The colors mix, the sheen becomes more or less apparent, etc.  Then it gets plied into a plied yarn and once again it changes in a magical way.  Then you wind it off the wheel or spindle into a skein and it looks totally different than it did on the bobbin.  Magic! 

Now wash it.  I think dish soap or shampoo and a little agitation should be used.  (What "a little" means depends on what kind of fiber it is.)  Now rinse it.  One of my many opinions is that I don't care to use "no-rinse" products.  Use a little vinegar in the rinse water if you have it.  Once it dries it will look different than it did in the unwashed skein.  Magic!

So let's just review all the magical transformations, shall we.  From the scrumptious potential of fiber to singles yarn.  From singles, to plied yarn on the bobbin.  From plied yarn on the bobbin to yarn in a skein.  From unwashed yarn in the skein to washed yarn hanging in the skein.  Now twist it into one of those yarn shop skeins.  Again it looks different!  All that transforming is so delightful and so magical, but we aren't done.  Make something with it, and there is yet another fun transformation!

Never in this learning process should you compare your handspun to commercial yarn or belittle it in any way!  If you want to judge your work, take a look at your finished object, whether it be a knitted hat, a crocheted or woven scarf, or even just as swatch that you use as a potholder. Chances are, the fabric is beautiful.  If you aren't happy with the fabric, it may be that a less dense or denser gauge would work better.  Or perhaps there is a better match of stitch pattern to yarn.  If there is a problem, it isn't because of your handspun, I'm sure.  You just need a better match of pattern to yarn or tools to yarn. This kind of analysis and judgement is much more useful than comparing your yarn to that of another spinner, or worse, a commercial yarn.

So go!  Spin!  There is joy and beauty in your handspun! 

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