Handspinning For Beginners – An Overview of Spinning Materials
In my previous article I discussed drop spindles and how to acquire one. This article will discuss different materials you can use in handspinning and some places you can find them.
When I first showed interest in handspinning I purchased a really low quality questionable wool roving that wasn’t carded (brushed to straighten fibers and remove vegetable matter) and came in a hastily packaged ball of fluff. Needless to say it didn’t work out. When I decided to really give it a try years later I looked to Facebook groups for advice and support. The most recommended materials they suggested were Romney and Merino wool. Wool of various types from different animals seems to be the most popular choice of textile in handspinning. This is not only due to the variety available but also the end product it creates; how well it an be dyed, price points in some cases, and the ease of spinning it. Many will suggest trying a cheaper wool to see if you enjoy spinning but I think something that is more medium quality is better. You may find some cheaper wools harder to work with and not enjoy the learning process.
When starting I purchased a small sample of Corriedale roving. It was packaged for needle felting and was not the best quality but it worked decently. The second I bought was a lovely Merino and Silk wool top braid. The basic difference between roving and top is that the top is combed specifically for spinning whereas roving is simply carded. Leaving fibers 2-3 inches long. The longer the fiber strands the better. Short strands can break (pull apart) more easily when drafting to spin. (Something I will cover more in my next article.)
I have some knowledge but no experience in processing my own wool so instead I’ll share some of what I have worked with. I don’t have pictures of them all so here are just a few samplings. All the names are different breeds of animals like sheep where the wool came from.
This was my first braid I worked with. I bought it at Madrona Fiber Arts Festival in Tacoma, WA. It was an 80% Merino and 20% Silk blend. It was a learning experience figuring out how to draft a braid to spin but was a lot of fun. It was just enough silk to not be too slippery for a beginner like me and the Merino was easy to work with. I could see why Merino of different types is so popular to work with.
These were both undyed natural Shetland wool tops. By far my favorite wool. They still smelled vaguely of a farm and for this future small scale farmer that made me feel overjoyed and connected to the animal from where these came. If I were to recommend a wool based on my experience this would be the top of the list.
I bought this Targhee from the same supplier as the Shetland. It was quite similar to the Shetland so I thoroughly enjoyed spinning it. Highly recommended!
This is Angora rabbit fur (breed unknown). It was so fluffy and light and produced a fuzzy yarn. A little difficult to spin and I inhaled some fiber and started choking on it but it’s so deliciously soft it was like spinning clouds. We all have to learn somehow!
This last one is Icelandic wool. Rough with vegetable matter and not my favorite to spin but it feels so “authentic.” I plan to use it in another Norse related craft so the yarn it is producing feels right to me.
Wool can come in different forms and levels of processing. Most wool you will find has been dyed (the different processes can effect the wool) and some are treated to not felt. If you’re worried about felting you purchase a “Superwash” wool. You may also see wool with different microns listed. This referred to the diameter. The diet, health, environment and other factors effect the wool produced by the animal. The lower the micron the finer the wool. Different blends will also effect the wool. Some may not be the easiest to work with but the textures and colors blended are designed more for “art yarn” rather than a fine consistent yarn for projects such as knitting socks. Depending on your project you will need to look for different materials.
If wool is what you want and you’re ready to buy you can find wool roving and top at local fiber and yarn shops, on big name sites that sell other handspinning equipment like “The Woolery”, Facebook and Ravelry groups (always be wary of these and ask the group the best way to proceed with purchases), at fiber festivals (they are everywhere if you look them up!) and of course sites such as Etsy. I tend to buy in person or via Etsy. My favorite shop on Etsy happens to be based close to where I live. Be sure to check out: “WoolGatherings” on Etsy!
Other options are acrylic and plant materials. Both are harder to find and I have yet to see any in person. I realize some may want to choose options not connected to animals but it may take some work. Certain plants such as flax (which creates linen) needs more processing. Have you ever see pictures of people handspinning with material in their mouth? Well, it turns out their spit creates a chemical reaction that helps break down and bind the fibers together. Not your thing? You can purchase or create concoctions that will do the job. Personally, I find this would take away from the joy of handspinning and make it more of a chore. I have plans to try plant based materials in the future but working on a spinning wheel may be an easier route.
The world of wool and other materials is so vast. One can easily spend hours each day discovering different breeds, blends and more. I have an extensive list myself of wool I would love to acquire. I would highly recommend shopping around before buying and even doing more research. If you’re buying locally and the supplier can’t answer all your questions you may need to try somewhere else.
Questionable wool is not the place to start!