Spinning Lessons - Presence

Spinning Lessons - Presence

By Kate White

As a knitter, I always planned my projects with the finished product in mind, choosing my pattern and recipient, and then the yarn, with great intention. As a spinner, on the other hand, I’ve been acquiring fibers with no knowledge of their destiny, or even how to spin them. I bought my first roving about 5 years before I learned to spin.

The happy beneficiary of Jane’s stashbust last year, I found myself in possession of a bag of white silk caps, which stayed in my closet for the winter while I spun Shetland, Corriedale, and Merino silk. In May, I attended Weave a Real Peace’s annual meeting, where one of the activities was a dye potluck. I took my caps with me and in they went to the indigo baths. They came out gorgeous and I spent another two months gazing upon them.

silk before and after dyeing

Before spinning on my Ladybug, I wanted to try the fiber on a drop spindle to give me a bit more control. Denise helped me to separate out and pre-draft the caps, and Ben loaned me his 2.2 ounce hi-lo spindle. As you might imagine, crafting is a communal art around here. During my lunch hour one day, I sat under a tree and set out to spin; I learned fairly quickly that this spindle was too heavy for this project. I picked it up out of the grass and picked out a new 1.1 ounce spindle. And I was in love! My spinning felt controlled and weightless, my fiber was consistent, and I was in heaven. I also realized it would take me years to spin the 3 ounces of fiber I have at the rate I was spinning it.

laceweight silk on the drop spindle

Last night I sat down at my Ladybug with my caps, a high-speed whorl, and a freshly-oiled flyer, and everything went haywire. The twist ran up the fiber into my roving and I kept forgetting which way to turn the knob for more or less tension, which didn’t really matter because I didn’t know if I needed more or less. I spent more time retrieving the yarn from the bobbin than spinning it, and since I can’t figure out how to do a successful join, I tied knots, cringing all the way.

I can’t begin to comprehend the physics of what was happening on that wheel. I know there must be a sweet spot where the staple length, drafting, treadling, tension, and drive ratio all work together, but I was never very good at geometry. My options now are to ask for help, read a book or watch a video, or breathe and experiment. I suspect I will do some of each.

roaring like a lion
Kate spinning silk on a spinning wheel for the first time (Wikimedia Commons)


I hope this fiber will become a beautiful yarn for embroidery. The richness of the color, the sheen of the silk, and the very fine singles fulfill a vision I’d already been having for a project. Sometimes I am intimidated by those crafty visions, and that’s probably one reason that I start many projects and finish few.

Ultimately, I will have to get to know silk with my mind and with my muscles. My reward for that will be learning to embroider. But I am calling this yarn "Presence." Once, I did not know how to use a drop spindle, or a spinning wheel, at all. I didn't know what to do with a silk cap, or how to dye with indigo. I didn't learn those things by having a grand vision, but by showing up and trying. So, today, I’ll just spin on my spindle under the tree for the sheer joy of it. Maybe tomorrow I will sit down at the wheel . . . and breathe.

spinning with a drop spindle

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