Beth Smith

What Option Did I have?

So Erika left me a comment which brings me to my next subject:

“I finished the red Ashland Bay roving, plied it, and washed it yesterday. Swatched it last night. Best EVER! It’s smooth and even, and when knitted almost looks store-bought! (Which does bring up the thought of why spin by hand to make yarn that looks store-bought, but that’s a totally different conversation…)”

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a few weeks now, so what a coincidence that she would mention it. I was reading Peter Teal’s book “Hand Woolcombing and Spinning” (You know I’m a big fan of the combing of wool.)

Here’s a portion of the introduction to his book.

“Every would-be spinner should suspend from her distaff a length of machine-spun thread, the perfection of which should be the goal at which to aim.

So often the cry is, ‘But it is the very perfection, the very uniformity of machine-spun thread from which we strive to get away’; but is it? Is it not more truthful to say that the yarns produced, instantly recognizeable as ‘home spun’, are that way because spinners cannot do any better?

‘But we want yarns of character’, they cry! Of course we do, all of us, but let it be a good character we give them. Let us first produce a plain yarn perfectly, and then doctor it in some way to produce the ‘character’, if you must. But you know, I am most willing to have a bet with you that, by the time you can produce a really perfect plain spun yarn, you will be so proud of it for the beautiful thing it is, you will be extremely loth to adulterate it in any way!

Of course this does pose the question: ‘If we are going to make hand-spun yarns as perfectly as machine-spun products, why bother; why not just buy the yarns of commerce and have done with it?”

Mr Teal goes on to say that by spinning our own yarns we can make the exact yarn we require for the final product we desire. “The hand-spinner who thoroughly understands the trade has complete freedom to design a material conforming to the highest standards.”

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Several people have told me that they only want to make bulky, uneven, novelty yarns and so have no need to learn the techniques and skills I’m trying to teach. They only want to make a yarn “that looks like that” – as they point to a novelty skein I’ve spun.

I have an issue with this but also a little inner turmoil. I feel as their teacher that it is my responsibility to convey my spinning knowledge to the best of my ability. I feel that it is their responsibility as students to learn all the skills necessary to spin a yarn, some may describe as boring, and then adapt those skills to make the yarn they’d like as their final product.

Sure I can teach anyone how to make a lumpy, bumpy yarn in less than 4 lessons. Anyone can then go on and spin that same lumpy bumpy yarn for years and eternity. Acutally, it’s a waste to even pay me. Any beginner can do it. Don’t we like to buy yarns with different textures and characters? Wouldn’t it be better to learn how to change the character of the yarn we are making instead of settling for “the best we can do”?

I had a student tell me this week that she couldn’t do something and I felt annoyed about that and told her to stop saying can’t. This is a woman in her 50s I would guess and I was talking to her like I would my 6 year old. What? You can’t predraft? You can’t treadle in a regular rhythm? You can’t? She’s a knitting teacher for crying out loud.

But I digress.

I belong to a spinning guild. Many of the seasoned spinners there will tell beginners to treasure their first yarns because later they’ll have trouble reproducing it. They’ll learn to spin a fine yarn and then won’t be able to return to the bulky and the lumpy. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a load of crap! If you study the craft, work at it and practice you will get to the point where you can make any yarn you want. You’ll be able to reproduce those mill spun threads and also make that fabulous designery stuff that Adrienne Vitadinni would drool over.

Those first yarns ARE to be cherished – and made into something. Yes, because you can later go back to them and see what progress you’ve made and then later again with your yarn you designed with character and see that was your true goal all along.

The point of this whole post is this. I think we should make some bumpy yarn if we choose to. To be able to make that choice we first need to know how to make the smoothest yarn possible. Learning how to technically make the yarn smooth will teach you the necessary movements and techniques needed to make a true designer yarn. Bumpy yarn by accident is not designer. It’s an accident.

Definitions of choice on the Web:

  • the person or thing chosen or selected; “he was my pick for mayor”
  • the act of choosing or selecting; “your choice of colors was unfortunate”; “you can take your pick”
  • of superior grade; “choice wines”; “prime beef”; “prize carnations”; “quality paper”; “select peaches”
  • appealing to refined taste; “choice wine”
  • option: one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen; “what option did I have?”; “there no other alternative”; “my only choice is to refuse”

  • In spinning you can go as far as your curiosity will take you. There is always something to improve or tweak. New things to learn. Watch one spinner spin and take something away with you. Watch another and you have something else to help you. Pick up a new fiber. Try a different wool. Spin your cat’s hair! There are millions of right ways to spin. It is right if the final product is what you were aiming for. Again we’re back to a choice and not an accident.

    So back to Erika. Could she have bought a mill spun yarn in that particular red, blended with silk, in the thickness she chose to spin it? I don’t think so.

    O.K. off my soap box for the day.

    If you are interested in the Peter teal book it has been out of print but it’s back in a revised edition. This revised edition only has one difference that I can see. An additional chapter at the end speaking of spinning related improvements Mr Teal has seen and used over the last 25 years since the first edition was published. The book goes over spinning yarn for weaving, spinning with different kinds of equipment and also, and most importantly, preparation of wool and spinning for a worsted type yarn. The book is not inexpensive – $30 – but it will be an asset to your spinning library.

    Something Else
    Saturday night Lou and I went to see Martin Short at the Whiting in Flint. Four words. Hi Lar I Ous.
    He did all of his most famous characters, told a lot of jokes, and sang a lot of songs. Including this one:

    In case you’re wondering, I don’t blame Canada for anything. I just think it’s a funny song. Reminds me of blaming my brother for everything I ever did wrong=)

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