Monday, June 12, 2017

Learning to Spin on a Navajo Spindle

Someone on Knitter's Paradise sent me a private message that she had bought a Navajo spindle online (which hadn't come yet), and she couldn't find books at the library that were helpful, so she wanted my advice.

After a few huge answers, which didn't even begin to scratch the surface, I am going to post parts of my answers so it might be helpful for everyone.

I think you made a great choice for a spindle. It's a support spindle, so it's easy to spin on. You spin it against your thigh, so your hand is flat, which doesn't stress your hand and even gives it a rest from knitting or crocheting. You can spin any kind of yarn that's spinnable on that. Some novelty yarns, like chenille, aren't spun. You can spin the finest gossamer lace yarn or super bulky yarn and anything in between on it.

What kind of wool roving or sliver did you get to spin on it? If you haven't ordered anything yet, I'd recommend that you start with a nice, commercial Corriedale sliver. Corriedale sheep produce wool with a nice crimp, and it's fairly fine, but is a nice, easy fiber to spin. Ashford has a wonderful selection of colors of Corriedale sliver that's moderately priced. Sliver is pronounced so it rhymes with diver. Sliver is carded, not combed, so it will tend to produce a more fuzzy yarn than top. Top is combed, and is more organized, with more fibers being parallel, rather than jumbled, which is the way carding leaves the fiber. It's called woolen which is less organized, and fuzzier, as opposed to worsted, which is a smoother yarn, but the key here is that it's much easier to spin.

I chose this link because it shows all the colors available in the fiber. Scroll down from the merino/silk to the next listing. You could choose a natural, undyed color and dye it, or buy two 4 ounce bags, each in a different, but close shade of the same color or something close, like light blue and lavender and ply them together to get 8 ounces of yarn which is enough to actually make something. The beauty of this is that you can buy just 4 ounces to start and then get another 4 once you get started. Look around before you buy. As with anything, you might find a bargain or a sale. You can buy it in individual ounces from some sellers.

Every time you switch to a different fiber, it will handle a little differently, and you're going to have to adapt to each new fiber, so don't be discouraged when you later buy something different, and it doesn't behave like what you learned on.
You are going to start out by doing some spinning. Then we're going to ply it and make some real yarn.
First of all, when you spin yarn, you're going to get something that wants to kink and curl and fight back. That's what happens. That's going to look awful if you release the tension on it, and that's OK if you intend to ply it, which is what we're going to do. It's like stockinet stitch curling. That's just what it does. And we will fix it when we ply. I'm assuming that you probably want to knit or crochet it, and that works best with plied yarn, so we're going to make yarn that's good to knit or crochet with. At least to start. You can make novelty yarn later. Right now, you're just learning to do it.

I'd buy at least 4 ounces to start with. That's what I did. But you'll find that the whole process is mesmerizing and addictive, and you're going to be unhappy when that little bit of yarn gets spun, and you can't keep going. I know I did.

Your sliver might arrive kind of squashed. You can find a spot at the end of the sliver to pull it in half down the length of the sliver. Then pull each section apart lengthwise again. This is probably the easiest way to fluff it up again and make it easy to spin. A lot of your success will come from starting with a nice, fluffy sliver that drafts easily. Plus, if you do this, you'll have less drafting to do.

If you really get into this, you may want to buy cards and card your own wool to make heathered colors from pre-dyed wool or fiber. But for the moment, you need to find out what makes a good carded or combed fiber for spinning. And you want to have something that's a good quality, but still fairly cheap, while being a fiber that can make you proud of the first thing you've spun. The Ashford Corriedale is a great compromise. I'm telling you things like brand names because the names mean I know exactly what I'm telling you to buy is good quality, and I know what I'm recommending and I'm sure you'll get something that's easy to spin and I can tell you how to handle that fiber.

When you have your Navajo spindle and your sliver, you can get started.
Spinning consists of two parts. 

There's drafting, which is pulling the fibers out until there's about an equal amount of fibers or thickness. This is why pulling your sliver into 4 lengths is good. It tends to pull the fibers apart a bit and let them slide out more evenly when you draft, and it makes the fiber supply thinner so there's less drafting to do.

Then there's twisting, which pulls the fibers together, and that makes it more difficult to draft, and is what holds the yarn together and keeps it from just falling apart. If you get a lump in your yarn while you're making it and don't want it there, stop the spindle and grab the yarn on the side of the lump that's closer to the spindle and untwist it. Pull gently, and the fibers will slide against each other again, and you can pull the lump out. Because you're just starting, I wouldn't worry too much about lumps and unevenness. If it's not really extreme, it will make a great novelty yarn that will make people ooh and ah over.

Oh, and I nearly forgot that there is winding it onto a spindle (in this case) or bobbin to hold the newly spun yarn until you can ply it.

Oh, and I should mention right now that most of the things spinning books tell you not to do are really OK to do to produce novelty yarns. What they usually mean is not to do it if you want perfectly smooth, even yarn. That's great, but you might want to make novelty yarn, too. Other spinners ask me how I made some of my best yarn, and when I tell them, they say, "Oh, I would never do that!" because some book told them not to.
Continued soon!