I have wanted a spinning wheel since I was a teenager. There is something about starting with a raw material and producing something from scratch that appeals to me. It reminds me of the 'good old days' when people had to be creative in order to survive - although that might have more to do with my desire to always be doing something creative rather than the romance of the issue. Without skills like spinning, weaving, crochet and knitting we would either have frozen to death or had to evolve a good covering of hair to cover ourselves.
I finally got one last year for my 40th birthday so I had to hit the web to find out some basics on using it before I could really start. First port of call was Ashford's own web site as they provided my wheel. Other brands of wheel have their own web sites so I would recommend starting there of you have a different brand of wheel. It has information on wheels, looms, etc but also some hints and tips and free patterns in the 'Inspiration' section. Further hints and tips can be found at Handspinner.co.uk in the 'How to' section. For those who like magazines and communities of like minded people, Interweave has just the thing - Spin Off magazine has a web site full of inspiration, helpful free articles and people to chat too. I spent hours looking through all these sites picking up what I could so that I knew what I was doing - or at least looked like I knew what I was doing.
This video from Ashford was a huge help in showing me how to start off properly but my first spun yarn was still awful. It looked like a worm had exploded. It was chunky and ugly and fraying and unravelling - sorry, no pics as I disposed of the embarrassment as quickly as I could. It took a while to get to grips with adjustments that the wheel needed in order to produce a tight spin. The information was all there in the information booklet I received with the wheel but it took some tweaking to find the right setting. But I got there in the end and while the next piece of yarn was only a little better than the first, the third piece was leaps and bound better. By then I felt confident enough to try spinning some of the beautiful hand dyed Devon tops that I had bought on Etsy. I still had to tweak things a bit here and there but got into my stride very quickly and eventually had two bobbins full of yarn that had to be plied or twisted together. That worked out much easier than I expected and I soon had 100g of spun Devon tops as my very first yarn. It was the culmination of 25 years of fantasy over spinning and I wasn't disappointed.
Yay! I could spin! So I spun some more.
One important piece of information that I found was not emphasised in my online quest was wheel maintenance. I did, however, find two helpful items - one set of written instructions on looking after your wheel and Ashford's maintenance video. If you do think about getting a wheel then do bear in mind that you need to oil the bearings regularly. It took me three months to remember to buy spinning wheel oil and in that time my wheel developed a nice squeak. All sorted now though.
For those who can't afford a spinning wheel or who don't have the attachment to them that I do, I can recommend spinning with a drop spindle. Before I got my wheel I used a spindle and it produced a very nice yarn simply and quickly (see the picture below for yarn spun with the spindle). Spindles can be picked up quite cheaply (from £8 in the UK and $7 in the USA) or you can buy kits including a spindle, fibre to spin with and written instructions for a little more. You can see a nice little video here that is less than five minutes long. For a small outlay and five minutes of learning time this could be a nice little skill to pick up - especially if you are a knitter, crocheter or use yarn for any other creative uses.
These yarns were all spun with a spindle after a short online lesson. I have since used them to crochet with and they were lovely to use.
So there you have it, spinning. A new skill that allows you to create something from very basic materials to create yarn and fibre for clothing, toys or decoration. I hope the links I have provided will help you wade through the myriad of online sources. There are, of course, many other sites that hold information but when you want to get stuck into trying a new craft sometimes you just want accurate information as quickly as possible. If you have any other recommendations for links though please do leave a comment so others can find it too.