Teaching Spinning

When I decided that I wanted to spin, I arranged to take classes through my local yarn/spinning shop. At the time, The Rug Hut was located in downtown Los Gatos. (They've since moved to a nearby town.) We had a very good spinner, Mark Daley, as our teacher. Now, Mark is a superb spinner, but she had never taught a class before. So it was an interesting experience. Mark told us that we learned to spin and she learned to teach.

One of the problems that I had, was that Mark was quite insistent that we learn how to use a drop spindle before we could move on to using the wheel. I don't know about the rest of you, but this was not a happy experience for me. I am a natural klutz and tend to do things like walk into walls, miss stairs, and drop things. Especially drop spindles. I finally told Mark that the drop spindle was not going to be part of my life (so much for my life as a fortune teller), and went to right to the wheel.

Where I could spin. This is not to say I didn't make the same lumpy-bumpy yarn. However, I could make yarn.

Now, I'm wild for others to learn to spin. I especially enjoy getting fiber producers to where they spin. If the person raising your wool spins, then they have a much greater appreciation about how darn irritating it is when you have bad fiber. All of a sudden, they become almost as fanatical as the rest of us about reducing the number of second-cuts by the shearers. I even know some fiber producers who organize 'weed walks' to hand-pull particularly noxious weeds.

The technique I finally came up with to get people spinning follows.

  1. When I spin with a wheel, the wheel is usually off to my right. This allows me to spin directly in front of me (as opposed to torqueing my body to the left). So I sit down with my wheel to the right, and the newbie spinner on my left. I use my regular wool hand cards, and card a bit of wool. I then hand the cards off to newbie spinner and have them card.

  2. And I start spinning (while they card). This works because the newbie spinner is orientated to the wheel and the spinning exactly the way I spin. So I can show how my left hand works and my right hand.

    The left hand is drawing out the fiber and opening up the drafting triangle. The right hand is 'pinching off' the fiber and then opening up to let a small of twist through to the drafting triangle. They can see the twist run up into the triangle. And how I can stop it by pinching off the twist. So I do this for ~five minutes. I let a bit of twist into the triangle, pinch off, and draw my left hand out away from the twist. I let a bit of twist into the triangle, pinch off, and draw my left hand out away from the twist. When I get a bit of yarn, then I let it wind onto the bobbin.

  3. Then I let the newbie spinner spin. I don't change positions, just hand off to the person on my left. I'm still controlling the wheel. All they're doing is spinning. Because I'm controlling the wheel, all they have to worry about is spinning. We purposely break the yarn and reattach it a few times. If the newbie spinner is getting rattled, I can slow the wheel way down, or even stop it if necessary. If the spinner is really nervous, then I do the right-hand thing and they do the left-hand thing. But pretty soon, they're doing both parts of the spinning. When newbie spinner seems comfortable with this, then we switch places.

  4. I spin, and they control the wheel. They get to start and stop the wheel, shift the hooks on the flyer. And I can keep the spinning up with their control of the wheel.

  5. Once they're comfortable with the mechanics of the wheel, I had the fiber back to them. They invariably look at me like I'm daft. Which is a possibility -- but by that time, they've fallen back into the rhythm of spinning. The logic of this is the same as learning to pat your head and rub your tummy. It is much easier to learn it piecemeal. So once you're comfortable patting your head, then you rub your tummy.

    So now they're spinning.

I sit and card fiber for them for awhile, then after a few minutes wonder off.

The whole process takes 15-30 minutes. Now, are they spinners? Well, yes and no. They have spun a yarn. And hopefully it was a pleasant experience.

But I also tell them that there's a lot more to learn. Like plying and spinning different fibers. And controlling the thickness of the yarn. Or even making it more even. I try to avoid the discussion of wool combing because I will go "right around the bend" and go into a 2-hour monologue and drag out the scary wool combs.

And the whole purpose is simply to introduce them to spinning and have it be a positive experience.

There are many approaches to teaching spinning. Many people have successfully learned from books. Two books that have helped many people get started are:

If you have comments, please send email to: Rosemary Brock.

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