Dancing with Shetland.

One of the recurring themes for me this year has been large quantity spins, usually referred to as ‘sweater spins’ in the handspinning community. I think this may be because people generally think of sweater quantities of yarn to be a sort of magnum opus for beginning spinners. As I was learning to spin, I certainly felt that the quantity of both fibre and spinning time needed to complete a ‘sweater spin’ was daunting. Shortly after I started spinning again, I started buying some larger quantities of fibre with the intention to spin them for sweaters. Each time I have delved into these stashes of ‘sweater spin’ fibre, I have quickly become disillusioned by the process. Why?

I have come to the conclusion that for me, it is expectations of what the spin will entail. This is what happens in real-time:

A large-quantity fibre spin, which for me is usually wool, takes time and effort to remain consistent. It tends to lose something as I fill bobbin after bobbin of singles, waiting to be able to ply. Plying comes more as a change in mechanics than being very excited about the finished yarn since by the time winding off onto my niddy-noddy comes, I am so sick of the wool, I don’t care.

The honesty of this sounds … terrible! As I read that paragraph back to myself to ensure it doesn’t sound too horrible, I realise that there is something about the life of a production spinner that may resemble these feelings. But I persist. I continue to buy larger quantities of wool, both fleece and processed fibre, for these elusive ‘sweater spins’ that I find hard to rev up for!


Custom Woolen Mills 100% Shetland roving, spun over 4 months from 1lbs of roving, drum-carded again into batts, prepped for Spinzilla 2015.

What I hope will happen in the process of spinning these large quantities is what hasn’t been happening (hence expectations!). I hope that the process will be quick, seamless and fun. I hope that I will blink and it’ll be done. I’ll be on to the knitting quicker-than-quick and the finished sweater? Let me tell you about the garment. It fits perfectly. It was knit so fast that I don’t even remember knitting it. And I wear it every day because it is so great.


Sample card from Spinzilla, with minimal comments.

Where did the process spinner go? Where did my love of just creating, whether fast or slow, go? Did I lose it somewhere in the process of becoming a spinner and I’ve been deluding myself that I’m a process creator and am actually a product maker? No. I haven’t changed. Honouring the time that it takes to process, spin and knit a sweater takes time. It’s not fast. The excitement I feel in those initial moments of buying a larger quantity of fibre is wonderful. But forgetting or expecting that the process will be any less time consuming to create is, well, probably natural. In the moment, excitement is natural!

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The completed yardage was lower than expected, but more than enough for me to knit a vest.

Something changed for me while spinning this project that I had started during Spinzilla 2015 and promptly abandoned for the above reasons. Spinning long backwards draw, I had initial difficulty with uptake and twist. Then I felt bored. Then I moved onto other things for the week. When the opportunity to participate in the CTA Spin the Bin 2016 came across my prevue, I thought, Why not throw it into the mix? I’ll finish it and move on.


Into spinning one of the bobbins a couple of weeks ago, something clicked with my mechanics of spinning long draw. I’ve been practicing this woolen method for a long time and all of a sudden, in a moment, it clicked. It was fluid: Pinch, treadle, draw back with open fingers, wind on. And a pure enjoyment of the fibre emerged. The wool was a pleasure to enjoy and spin. At the end, I was bummed it had come to an end!

No longer was it about the amazing sweater I’d wear and look fabulous in – although, if I get to knit something great in the end, then great!


All of a sudden, it became about the process again. About the spinning itself. About enjoying the pull and tug of the wheel as we danced in woollen spinning.


I think the key to these large quantities of wool and fibre is not to label it. They are no longer going to be referred to as ‘sweater spins’ for me. I’m only going to approach them as wool to spin in the way that sampling has produced a yarn that I would look forward to knitting with later. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just pure pleasure and enjoyment. Oh, and fun! Let’s dance.

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