Spinning Lessons – Presence


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.

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.

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.

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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.

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Kate White

Kate White wears several hats here at Schacht. Some of the many roles she plays each day include computer operating system liaison, project manager, data maven, and interface between our sales and production departments.