Is making yarn enough?

There have been some very interesting thoughts circling around in my mind recently about my making. Some of it may have to do with the ‘Slow Clothing’ movement, which has been steadily gaining momentum. I have come across many posts on Instagram about clothing purchased or made in the spirit of slow fashion, particularly in relation to ‘staples’ one needs in one’s wardrobe. This constant chatter that I’ve been encountering has had me reflecting on not only my clothing choices, which I’ve spoken about prior, but more so on my creative life, and particularly the tools and speed at which I make.

TurtleMade turkish spindle

TurtleMade 3-D printed turkish spindle in opaque cinnamon and opaque dark gold (arms), translucent brown (shaft).

Due to my formal university education, training and early mentorship in my chosen career (trauma nursing), I was fostered to be able to move quickly, with purpose, confidence and efficiency. A few members of my family often comment on how ‘quickly’ I can ‘get things done’ and previously I have thought this to be a good thing. While blasting through the house work seems to me to be a good thing still, I am beginning to think that this same approach to creating and making is maaaaybe not the most ideal. I have often talked at length with my husband about ‘production’ spinning. The implication here is speed. Churning out a product. I mentioned about this dance between process and product last week but the thoughts have continued to percolate into more questions:

In the process of making yarn, what is most important for me? I have had a difficult time answering this question. Do I want to make yarn to knit into projects for practical use? Is making yarn in-and-of-itself enough of a project or goal?

Quickly churning out skein after skein for the soul purpose of knitting something doesn’t seem to fuel my creativity in quite the same way that spinning for the sake of spinning, creating a yarn with an appropriate tool for the yarn I wish to create, and performing the actions of spinning itself does. Slowly, the process of making yarn becomes less and less about creating a finished object. It begins to morph into a series of actions and ideas to begin to add twist to fibre to create a yarn.

Houndesign supported spindle [now discontinued]

A Houndesign [now retired] supported spindle in Santos Rosewood and Birch.

My choice of tools and fibre preparation are beginning to change in this process of slowing down. I am no longer interested in ‘production’ or ‘auto-pilot’ tools. If my intention is to spin mindfully, fully engaged in the process, then removing the choice seems self-defeating. My thoughts surrounding my fibre involves creating preparations that I am interested in spinning, engaging in the dyeing process as needed and re-tooling when the yarn isn’t working. This thoughtful process seems to be derailed for me when I then sit down (or stand, as with the Hansen miniSpinner on my kitchen counter) at the wheel and blast through my fibre, making yarn, as quickly as I can.

There seems to be a disconnect here. Thoughtful fibre preparation, time to sample and reflect on the yarn I’d like to make … followed by blast through the spinning as fast as possible. Just get it done. This product-driven mentality is related to my efficiency and purpose in tasks. I may not be the best housekeeper but gosh-darn-it, I can get our house clean to fast when I set my mind to it! See a sweater I love on Ravelry? It’ll be done in two weeks. Maybe three. Seems to diminish the creative and meditative quality of my work, me thinks!

TurtleMade turkish spindle

TurtleMade 3-D printed turkish spindle in translucent brown and opaque dark blue (arms), opaque light gold (shaft). Naturally dyed Romney carded, broken down into nests.

This is the pitfall for me: There is always another project waiting to spin, cast on and finish. There is always another bit of fibre to be used up in another project. Many in our society spend much of their time thinking and planning for the future: Dreaming and scheming about tomorrow, next week, next year. While I am excited for the future and the things tomorrow will bring, I have begun to sit in the Now. Here. This moment.

Now when Norah asks, “Up please,” while I am chopping carrots for dinner, I stop what I’m doing in the moment now. Carrots can wait. We have a cuddle, some kisses and chatter a little about nothing. She wants down and toddles off. I continue with the carrots and dinner is delayed … what? 5 minutes?

Those singles I’ve been spinning forever and day? The colours are lovely to look at on the bobbin sitting on my mantle. I need to finish them so that I can ply. I will. Eventually, when I am feeling inspired and excited to work on that project again. Right now, I want to make bouncy, low twist yarn on a spindle. A slow, meditative process of flick, draft, wind on, flick, draft, wind on, flick …

I’m not completely sure what has turned this ‘switch’ ON for me  in my creative process. Could it be a comfort with my creating that I am less and less concerned with having a final product to show for myself and the time I spend creating? Maybe it’s an understanding within myself that what satisfies my creative spirit is actually the action of making something, rather than the something itself? It’s both.


A Houndesign [now retired] drop lace spindle in Santos Rosewood and Birch. Hedgehog Fibres deep stash club colourway in Merino, Silk & Flax.

So, I’m slowing down. Using tools that are intentionally ‘slower’ and take more time. Participating in my own fibre prep and dyeing, learning my spindles that until now have collected dust, and minimizing the ‘production’ spinning. It’s been a wonderful experience thus far. In the meantime, I’ll leave the quick, purpose-driven nurse at work, where she belongs and thrives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about your creative process? Is it fast? Slow? Somewhere in the middle? How do you find balance in your making?

Join the Conversation

  1. Sometimes I feel like I’m working fast, for example when I knit up a hat out of DK weight or thicker. However, I know that’s just the bigger yarn and needles. I feel like I take forever to knit with smaller needles and fingering / sock weight yarn. I wish I were as fast as others; however I’ve only been knitting for 14 months and know that it will come with time. I’m definitely faster with crochet, which I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old. I definitely enjoy the process and the finished product.

    1. You’ll definitely get faster as time goes on! But I know what you mean about bigger needles and yarn. Sometimes there’s a place for quick, too, huh?! :)

  2. This post just helped justify my dozen or so spins-in-progress, thanks! ;) In all seriousness, I think i bounce back and forth between product-crafting and process-crafting. I have many, many WIPs but they all exist because I want the final product, not just for the joy of knitting them. But sometimes I lose interest or need a different style of project to fill my time, so I start something new. I think my spinning is sometimes more just for the process, I don’t always have a final project in mind, but I also don’t finish skeins very regularly.

    1. It’s interesting how some of our projects are product driven but we enjoy making them and others are all of one or the other. I love that contrast in our creating and crafting.

  3. I think we all fall somewhere in the spectrum of process and product and those motivations change based on what we feel like at a certain time. (We are generally not people who need to make our clothes to survive or make our livelihood which is a whole other amazing thing.) If we were completely product oriented we’d just skip the process and buy an item right? We all want the process to some extent. And if we were completely process oriented we’d just make sample or swatches and never care if it became something “useful” or not. I love how fibre crafts combine both the aesthetic and creative enjoyment of making something beautiful with your own hands and the practical desire to make something that will bring warmth and comfort, something that will actually be used over and over for a long time. Clothing and accessories are very intimate things that we have next to our bodies and invest with a lot of meaning.

    I can feel when a project is mostly about the product- like I just want the finished thing really badly. Other times I have given things away because it was fun to make them but they don’t fill a need in my life as an object. I am trying to be conscious of making things that I will use rather than just going for things because they are pretty. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been a knitter for a long time and a spinner for awhile and I want the whole process from fibre to finished item to be well thought out.

    1. I think you’re right that sometimes it’s only about the product and other times, it’s only about the process. Then there are those times that it’s about both and in a lot of ways those are my favourite. The whole consumerism movement is all about product and I think many of us are rebelling against that by making our own things.

  4. For myself, it must be about process if I was to analyze as I personally have kept only four knit items for myself out of hundreds upon hundreds I have made. The majority are sold or give as gifts. I am hugely into stranded knitting which is not a fast endeavour. I understand your joy of spinning on a spindle, it is meditative and calming, and in the hectic world we live in if you can find some calm the activity is certainly worth doing.

    1. You are so right. We wouldn’t give our things away if it was about product only – or we’d only sell them.

  5. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the process of making. When I’m in production mode, I get mad at myself for any mistakes I make.

    Right now, I have to limit my knitting time and am not spinning because I’m recovering from an injury. Because of the injury, I’m definitely in process mode with my making.

    Sunday I made a silly mistake- I read the chart and then promptly knit something completely different. Noticed it after completing the return row. I had to tink 2 of the 3 rows I knit on Sunday (about 190 stitches per row). I looked at it as simply part of the process.

    I think I like it better when it’s about the making. I’m easier on myself.

    1. I think that’s normal, isn’t it? To get frustrated when we are trying to produce. When our projects are big and complicated, it’s so easy to forget that it takes time and energy to create them and making a mistake is inevitable!

  6. I think this is an excellent thing to think/talk about. When I started knitting, I needed to learn the process in order to create a project. And, the unevenness of my stitches made the projects look wonky, with unintentional holes and uneven edges. Eventually, my stitches because more even and the eagerness to make things overtook the process. There were things I did not like to knit – namely swatches. Then I tried my first sweater, sans swatching… it was a huge disaster. I spent all this money on yarn that was totally unsuitable for a sweater. However, I learned that expensive yarn is not always the best and that swatching is a necessity. Now, I find the swatching process to be comforting, soothing, meditative even. There is no goal but just to knit. So, the swing back from product to process has made full circle.

    The same could be said of my spinning – when you start out, there is so much to teach your hands and muscles to do – it is hard. But, once your muscles and hands know what to do, you are free to revel in the process – the feel of the fiber in your hands, the magic of drafting, the mesmerizing rhythm of the spindle or wheel. Again, the circle comes back to the process.

    I find the same true as I am learning new skills in weaving where there are many, many things to learn. The idea of doing all those steps to “just swatch” seems daunting and really not fun. However, the suggestion of winding a bit more warp to swatch at the beginning or end of a project is a welcome suggestion – I can find happiness in both the process and the project!

  7. I too was a product spinner. I gave myself tendonitis from attempting to turn a fable amount of fleece into a sable amount of yarn, and knitting it all up. Now that I can spin again, I am limiting myself to spinning 1/2 hour a day, every day. At first I thought it would make me crazy, but it actually made spinning a delight again. It has opened up so many possibilities. I was so focused on getting things finished, that I forgot to really look at my spinning, play with new ideas, and increase my skills. Like you, I am spindle spinning and loving it. I look forward to making a cowl with my spindle spun yarn. I still need to turn all that fleece into yarn, and still work on my Hansen. But I am so enjoying the flow that new pace and insights have given. I started spinning back in the 70’s. It’s good to feel like a new kid again.

  8. Nola Mosier says:

    I’m new to your blog and am loving your thoughts and observations on the spinning process. The other day’s post on whorl ratios really gave me something to hang on to, a grounding of sorts, a place to start even though I’ve been spinning for a few years now. As for today’s post, I’ve long known that I’m a process person, not so much a product person. Much of the joy in spinning for me comes from watching the (especially multicolored) fiber slip through my fingers, become yarn and fill a bobbin or spindle in a smooth progression. The resulting skein is the finished product. Should it become a hat, scarf, sweater or gift for a friend is another project altogether. For those of us who meditate It is another opportunity to practice being in the moment.

    1. I’m so glad that post helped as a jumping point for you to start using ratios. I think the mediation that people talk about around spinning is important because it takes time to get to that level of spinner but once you do, the benefits of spinning/relaxation/mediation are priceless (I think)!

  9. Kitty Clemens says:

    I have been knitting since I was four years old. I am 62 now and still going strong. I am finding many times that I am speeding up. Going faster and faster and am not really part of the process. It is really about getting the project done so that I can start the next. Sometimes I feel so tired of the speed, it is ridiculous, but it seems I cannot help myself.

    I am in the middle of a large man’s sweater and having the front and back done I had the person try it on for size. It was bigger than it needed to be. I know I have been rushing through it and not paid enough attention to the tension. So I suggested I would redo this. It is not a big deal for me, I have no starting over again. However when starting over yesterday, I found myself knitting more “mindfully” and enjoying the process much more.

    I know that I will be speeding up with many projects, but I also know now that there will be many more times that I will totally enjoy the process and not rush to the finish line.

    So neat to read I am not alone in this thought process

    1. No, you are definitely not alone! I feel that pull of all the projects out there and I want to blast through my current stuff sometimes to get to the next one but I find the really quiet time I spend on my stuff much more fulfilling.

  10. I am primarily addicted to the drop spindle because it is so mobile and easy to take with me everywhere. I am the epitome of , “Spin faster by the hour on a wheel, spin faster by the month on a drop spindle.” But the most common question I get is not, “What are you doing?” rather, “What do you do with all the yarn you make?” And my answer is usually a laugh since the truth is, “Nothing. I just make yarn.” I love spinning. I sorta like weaving, I sorta wish I knit, I guess I could crochet. But I *LOVE* spinning on my drop spindles.

    1. I love that quote! And I love making yarn too. There’s nothing like it!! I think it’s the whole working from scratch thing.

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