Last night I headed off to the Knit-Wit's knitting group as I normally do on a Wednesday night, unexploded WWII bombs permitting, where we had a spinning workshop scheduled. Kellie (who sadly doesn't get to make it as often as we'd all like) was along to show us how it should be done, bringing with her a basket full of bits of fleece, hooks, spindles and samples of handspun yarn.
We started out with a table full of interested potential spinners, as Kellie took us through using a hook to practice drafting/spinning on. I'm afraid I couldn't get it. I had no problems with drafting, but I just couldn't maintain tension using a hook to set the spin - I just ran out hands! After staring at my hands and the hook in bafflement for a good fifteen minutes, exchanging bemused glances with an equally baffled Mandy, I reverted to my spindle after which all was good.
Kellie showed me a new technique for applying the Park and Draft method of spinning which was considerably more fluid than my previous attempts. I also learnt a more stable way of attaching and wrapping the yarn around the spindle than the one I'd been using, as well as being shown me how far I could draft out the fibre before spinning, which helped no end.
What a difference having someone show you rather than just reading about how to do something makes!
By the end of the evening I was making good progress, doubling the amount of spun yarn on my spindle. I even managed to join new some new roving without making a complete hash of it and as always, watching the fluff turn into yarn was fascinating.
I was also interested to see the difference between a re-enactment spindle (which both of mine and all of Kellie's are) and a modern American style spindle, which Mandy was using.
The whorl on Mandy's was much larger than either of the ones on my spindles and it's position was more central - although not completely centred, it was definitely a bottom whorl spindle. There was also a little hook set into the top, to help keep the yarn in place I guess, whereas my spindles just have a notch to give the half hitch knot something to catch on. The modern spindle was also far more ornate and highly decorated, with someone having spent a lot of time making it pretty to look at. The re-enactment spindles have a certain simple beauty about them (I like them) but are functional items first and foremost.
I came away with a couple of pieces of merino fleece to practice with, so I can try out spinning with something other than the Blue Faced Leicester silver tops that I picked up from the Mulberry Dyers. Although I have to say that I like the Blue Faced Leicester... When I draw a fibre out, it's typical length is something like 9cm which means it is very easy to spin. It's also soft, fluffy and feels nice.
Of course, that doesn't mean that any yarn I'm spinning at the moment will knit up nicely, given my beginner status, the quality and spin on the resulting yarn is very variable. Hopefully, when I get to having a go at plying, some of that will sort itself out but if it doesn't, I'm not too worried as I'm treating this as very much a learning exercise at the moment.
I have found myself starting to look at online sources for fibre, with Blue Faced Direct, The Yarn Yard, Shunklies and Violet Green all catching my eye.
So far I'm resisting though...