It’s disappointing. If you go to the typical store, wool has been processed into clothes that look pretty much the same. Different breeds of sheep have different kinds of wool, but that sweater you buy is probably made up of a conglomeration of wool where the distinctiveness of each type of wool has been lost. Those with a flair for the artistic may want to learn how to spin wool and produce their own clothing to use or share with family and friends as gifts. In today’s article I’ll outline some considerations, and share links to some resources on this site to help you get started with spinning wool to make your own clothing garments.
It’s important to know that while there is always expensive fine Merino wool clothing offered for sale, most of the wool used in clothing is poor quality.
You can buy clothes that are made from good quality wool or wool of a single type if you’re willing to spend a lot of money. But if you’d like a more local approach, you can source your wool from a nearby farm, or even start your own sheep farm.
This way you can spin your own wool, and create yarn that’s made from wool you know the origins of, from the breed of sheep you have a strong affinity for.
Getting Started as a Handspinner
Getting started is tricky, though. Spinning depends on drafting wool, or pulling a piece of wool out to make it thinner and thinner while the wool is being twisted. The easiest way to see how this should work is to experiment with a spindle.
There’s a delicate balance that needs to be maintained—the wool needs to be drafted just before the twist hits it. The yarn should be at least a little uniform and without too much twist. It takes some experimenting to get the hang of it.
Or you can try spinning on a wheel, which is my recommendation and how I learned to spin. I have an article which will guide you to set up and use a spinning wheel which you may find helpful as you’re starting out.
How a Spinning Wheel Works
A spinning wheel moves the yarn along much faster than a simple drop spindle does, so it requires more ability to control the drafting process.
But after a few sessions at a spinning wheel, most people are well on their way to accomplished spinning.
What kind of wheel? There are many factors to consider if you’re acquiring a wheel. A spinning wheel is a complicated piece of equipment, which is why I’ve created a roundup of the best spinning wheels for beginners to help you choose the perfect spinning wheel. Here are some things to keep in mind:
When Selecting Your Wheel Consider
- How Portable is the Wheel – One of the first things to consider is how portable you need your wheel to be. Are you going to be taking it to spinning classes? Craft fairs? Many wheels fold for easy portability. Other wheels have virtually no portability at all. Avoid getting stuck with a romantic-looking wheel if it isn’t going to suit your lifestyle.
- Buy the Right Type – Some wheels are designed for specific types of spinning. A charkha (the type of wheel associated with Gandhi) is primarily used for spinning cotton. It’s important to verify a wheel will be suitable for your fiber needs.
- Get a Tried-and-True Model – A popular wheel is always a good idea for a first wheel. It’s easy to get answers to questions, and if lots of people in town have the same wheel, so much the better. A wheel can definitely be confusing to use initially, so knowing where to get answers can make a big difference.
Antique wheels, unfortunately, should really be avoided unless you know what you’re doing. They’re often missing critical pieces, and they’re often intended to spin just one type of fiber. Graduate to one of these fine specimens once you have more practice and know exactly what you want and need.
Then there are the technicalities. Single or double treadle? Scotch tension? Drive ratios?
Single or double treadle and scotch tension are really just a matter of taste. Drive ratios are more critical. A drive ratio is the size relationship between the drive wheel and the whorl. The wider the range of drive ratios, the more types of yarn that can be spun. Many wheels will let you move between ratios, which is a nice feature to have as you learn.
Choosing Your Fiber
And what can you spin once you have that wheel?
Well, of course wool of every imaginable description. Most fiber stores also sell Angora rabbit fleece, and alpaca, and camel fiber. These are fun to experiment with on their own, or to blend them with your wool using a drum carder.
It’s also possible to buy silk and cotton to spin, and I’ve even had a go spinning yak fiber.
In short, you’ll have access to an incredible range of beautiful and luxurious spinning possibilities. Many of these are available online and can be ordered through retailers like Amazon or on auction sites like eBay.
You may not be able to produce something out of a Neiman Marcus catalogue at first. But buying a spinning wheel and some roving is a good first step toward creating some beautiful hand-made clothing items that you can be proud of.