Learning to Spin with Spin-Off

Jul 20, 2011

Toni Rexroat is the
Editor of
Crochet M

I tried my hand at spinning for the first time when I was in my mid teens. My mother had been spinning for a few months, and as I watched her I thought, "That doesn't look that hard." After fifteen minutes of attempting to transform roving into yarn, I had found a new appreciation for the process. But we only had one spinning wheel in the house, and work and college diverted my attention.

But this is the year I will learn to spin. Almost fifteen years later, my mother has upgraded to a new spinning wheel and refurbished her original wheel, packaging it with a pair of handcards and some beautiful Blue Leicester roving for my birthday. After one lesson with her, I left for home to continue learning on my own.

I pulled out the back issues of Spin Off I had been carefully saving for just this circumstance. In the first article I read, Maggie Casey and Margaret Tullis discussed twist. As a crocheter, I know that an S-twist or counterclockwise-spun yarn, the twist commonly used in commercial yarns, will open up or untwist slightly when worked with a hook and sometimes loosen the ply, and a Z-twist or clockwise-spun yarn will gain additional twist even if worked in the exact same pattern. But it hadn't occurred to me that I could now create my own Z-twist yarn, my favorite for crochet, simply by spinning the wheel in the opposite direction.

I love the new control I have over the yarn I am creating. Will my first skein be a single, two-ply, three-ply, or four-ply yarn? Due to the consistency of my singles, or lack thereof, I think my first plying attempt will yield a three-ply yarn, hopefully allowing the multiple strands to add a bit of balance or at least a more interesting yarn.

In the Winter 2007 issue, I found several great tips on keeping records of the process for each yarn skein, from how it is prepared to the final twists per inch (tpi). I will definitely be tracking each step as I am sure I have much to learn from each attempt.

The comprehensive articles in Spin-Off are invaluable as I take my first steps toward becoming a competent spinner, and I can't wait to see what each new issue of Spin-Off  will teach me. Subscribe to Spin-Off today for in-depth technique articles as well as project patterns and tips.

Best wishes,

P.S. I would love to hear about your first spinning experience. Please share your adventures below.

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vhewson wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 4:50 AM

I came to spinning through Elizabeth Zimmerman's knitting books. She felt that knitting anything but wool was a waste of time. Not being able to afford pricey yarn,  I asked a friend of ours who had restored a spinning wheel and taught himself to spin, if he would teach me.The next time they came to visit, he brought his wheel and after dinner sat down to spin. Then it was my turn. I have a real problem with people watching me do something with my hands but I tried and tried, with Chuck making comments that were getting more and more terse. Finally he said something I couldn't make out and when I asked him what he had said, he replied "I just have to say to you what my mother used to say to me, you can't possible be that dumb". His wife was horrified, and needless to say that was the end of the lesson. I thought it was funny and it has been one of my best fiber stories over the years. A couple of years later, I told Dana Kraemer that I would buy a spinning wheel from her if she would teach me how to spin. She said she could teach me the basics in fifteen minutes and she did. On the way home I just had to stop and show Chuck I wasn't so dumb after all.

Virginia Hewson

SharonW wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 5:58 AM

Hi Toni.  I recognize your wheel.  It's the same one I use and during this month's Tour de Fleece, I am using it almost every day now.  I take it to my front porch and spin and spin and spin.  And, it makes the most beautiful yarn.  When I first started, I made rope like many beginners. That was about eight years ago.

I started spinning quite serendipitously.  

On my way home from seeing my newborn granddaughter I saw a magazine in the airport that had the most beautiful pair of knit gloves on the cover.  It was Spin Off and the gloves were made of hand spun, hand dyed yarn.  I'd been knitting since I was about 10 and doing all kinds of needlework.  But there were terms in the magazine I had never heard, like Knitty Noddy, Z-twist, S-twist, Plying, etc.  There was also an article about dyeing wool.  The color geek in me was hooked.

Back at work as a graphic designer for a local newspaper, I was given an ad to work on for a new advertiser.  Guess what it was?  A display ad for a local wool & spinning shop.  An Ashford brochure was included as reference and there they were again...knitty noddies and wheels and all the other tools I had been reading about.

About two weeks later I was visiting the shop and was lucky enough to buy a refurbished Ashford Traditional.  It is a wonderful wheel.  It took me about a month to produce something other than rope.  I practised every day until I got it right.

Have fun spinning.  It is very relaxing and so rewarding.


SharonW wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 6:04 AM

An addition to my previous comment.   I just read Virginia Hewson's comment and have to add that the man I bought my wheel from all those years ago and showed me how said that he didn't teach me - he showed me how and I taught myself.  He has only one arm and also spins and dyes and sells beautiful products.

Adina wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 6:40 AM

Hi, Toni,

My original spinning experience was almost 30 years ago, when I worked for a museum organization, Historic Hudson Valley, and I was taught the rudiments of spinning for demonstration purposes.  I was captured by the thought that I could control my own knitting projects to a great degree. Couple this with the fact that in the 80's, there was no yarn in the shops that I really liked, and a new venture was launched. I bought my first wheel, a Louet, and my husband solicitously asked if I was learning to spin, or learning to swear! One thread led to another, and soon I was researching sheep breeds, taking classes and going to fiber festivals (very hazardous for the wallet)! I am still an avid spinner today.

GwenB@3 wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 7:28 AM

I started to tell my story here. It was turning into a book, so I posted on my blog, over here:


It involves a 7-year-old, a road trip and a county fair. Enjoy.

joyhogghwh wrote
on Jul 20, 2011 9:00 AM

It was 1971 in Toronto and I was lucky enough to get a slot for practice teaching at Black Creek Pioneer Village, while acquiring a teaching degree at the University of Toronto. One of the interpretors there was Edna Blackburn, and then and there I was in love with her old Quebec wheel. The sound, the rhythm, the comfort of spinning enchanted me. She also ran a farm in the Caledon Hills where she housed mostly American hippy girls on their breaks and taught everyone to spin and weave. Some were into "macrobiotic" eating but snuck those good old Canadian butter tarts as often as they could. I drove my bug from my university and later from northern Ontario as often as possible to learn, and eventually acquired an old Quebec wheel as new wheels were not really on the market in the Toronto area. After the Internet came into play I found a group on the old Prodigy sonnection which we called "The World Spinners" and this group has been going for over 20 years. Of course, I bought several new wheels after seeing the quality of yarn if you can control the whorl size and tension with more than just your hands!

on Jul 20, 2011 9:05 AM

Back in 1998, I talked my late husband Jimmy into taking me to MD Sheep & Wool. I knew I wanted to learn how to spin and had bought two issues of Spin-Off. Nonetheless, I was a spinning idiot--knew nothing about wheels, spindles, or fiber, although I had been knitting since I was 8.

When I spotted a wheel that looked nice, he bought it for me. A Schacht Matchless. Who knew? I didn't. And I bought myself some fiber. Off we go home and I sat down to spin. Lumps. Big lumps. Struggle, struggle, struggle. Of course, had I done some research, I would have realized that buying merino/silk/angora was a terrible choice for a novice spinner. After yards of lumpy garbage, I gave up. And Jimmy said, "I guess this is just a new piece of furniture."

After he died in 2002, I immersed myself in knitting and writing my blog, The Knitting Curmudgeon, to assuage my grief. And sat at the wheel again, this time with a bag of "domestic wool." I spun! No lumps! And I learned not to grip my fiber, something that I now teach novice spinners. Let it loose! And buy the right fiber.

Toni Rexroat wrote
on Jul 25, 2011 1:44 PM

I love hearing all of your stories!

GwenB@3, I followed your link and laughed my way through your story. I think we all have a craft or two we inadvertently stumbled into.

SharonW, I do love my wheel. My mother upgraded to a traveling wheel, which I may have to do in the future, but right now I am really pleased with this wheel.

Fiberella, I am sorry to hear about your husband, but I am glad you were able to use spinning and knitting to immerse yourself in.

Thank you again for sharing all of your stories and keep them coming.