A little over seven years ago, I took up spinning. I had taken up crochet and knitting a few years before that while adjusting to my new role as a mother, and desperately needed something creative to do that was easy to pick up and put down between the baby’s naps. Crochet and knitting had opened up a world I hadn’t considered before, one that had eventually led me to take up work writing knitting patterns. I would not have thought even at that time that I’d ever become so immersed in the world of textiles as to try to learn how to make the yarn itself, but the thing about turning a hobby into a job is that it left me wanting a new hobby.
Even though I started spinning just for fun, it didn’t take long to find that spinning was teaching me valuable information for my knitting job, as well. I think of it as crafty cross-training. Spinning uses different muscles (physically and mentally), and develops more skills and knowledge that inform your work (and your play!). I learned about the structure and characteristics of different types of yarn and fibres while I made pretty little skeins of yarn. Each thing I learned about yarn made me want to learn even more, and I’m still excited about how much more there is to know and explore about making yarn.
Learning to spin expanded my knowledge of different fibres, and gave me a chance to explore them in further depth. The vocabulary of spinning was my new world, with words and phrases like staple, crimp, drape, twists per inch, ply, singles, short or long draw, combing, carding, worsted, and woollen providing a more detailed way to look at yarn.
This increased understanding of yarn and wool has helped me in my design work as well as in my personal projects. I better understand what characteristics to list when requesting yarn for a design. I have a better sense of what fibres I prefer to design with (wool), and which types of yarns I want to use for different purposes and different stitch patterns. When a magazine arranges for me to work with an unfamiliar yarn, the knowledge I have gained through spinning helps me, so that while I am waiting for the yarn to arrive, I can plan ahead for changes that may need to be made to the initial design.
Design, like any other form of problem solving, involves troubleshooting when things don’t go according to plan. Spinning gives me more knowledge to bring to solving problems, but has also, in teaching me more about how yarn behaves under different circumstances, reinforced why swatching is such a vital practice. I was a swatcher before I started spinning, but I soon became a better, more scientific, and more enthusiastic swatcher, preventing problems by spending more time getting to know the yarn before starting the project.
On one occasion, I even used my spinning skills quite directly to help me finish a sample. The soft woollen spun yarn that was delightful in the fabric was not going to hold up to being pulled through stitches over and over for seaming. Rather than switching to different yarn from my personal stash for seaming, I simply added twist to a few yards of the remaining yarn, and set it by washing before I used it to seam the sweater.
All in all, spinning has brought me far from who I was when I first picked up a crochet hook and some yarn at a craft store, planning to learn to crochet so I could make a few gifts. Back then, I evaluated yarn based on it feeling soft and looking cozy (the bouclé that I had bought did not make it easy to learn stitches). Since then, I’ve learned to look at the label and consider the characteristics of the yarn to decide if it will work with the project I have in mind. I try, with my gradually improving spinning skills, to bring out the best of the wool in the yarn I make, just as I try to ensure that my designs bring out the best in a yarn.
What I value most of all though, in what I have learned from spinning, is that it has helped me to enjoy the process of all my crafts more, and made me more confident in trying new crafts. Because so many of my spinning projects have been about exploring a fibre rather than about making a perfect yarn for a perfect project, I have become better at enjoying trying things for the sake of trying them, and I now enjoy the swatching part of the process as much (or even more) than making the project itself.
Spinning has helped me to embrace the spirit of possibilities, of trying something just to see what happens, of making something because I want to make it rather than endlessly justifying creative endeavours (whether to myself or to others) in terms of practicality and productivity. Sometimes the thing I am making is also practical, but the important thing is that it doesn’t have to be so in order to justify the practice of crafting, which can rightly be an end unto itself.
All images credit Jessie McKitrick.