Tips and Tutorials

  • Spinning and Yarn FAQs

    Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions I get about spinning and yarn in general. 

    Yarn Questions

    Q) I have some wool yarn that is scratchy. Is there anyway to make it softer like using hair conditioner?

    A) Unfortunately there is no good way to make wool softer because most likely you have a coarse wool you are dealing with. Sheep’s wool ranges from very fine soft fiber like Merino to thick coarse rug wool like Karakul. The larger the micron count, or diameter, the more coarse it will feel. Woolen yarns also tend to be itchier because the fibers are arranged in different directions and their cut ends protrude from the surface of the yarn more. 

    Usually anything over 24-25 microns starts to feel itchy on the skin, with anything over about 30 being uncomfortable. This is often mistaken for a wool allergy, which is actually pretty uncommon. Hair conditioners do little to affect the softness because you cannot change the diameter of the fiber. In fact, you may do damage to the yarn if you use something with the wrong pH. That is why it is always recommended using wash specifically formulated for wool.

    Q) I have a wool allergy. What other natural animal fibers can I use?

    A) See above. Wool allergies are actually not very common. What you are probably feeling is the cheap sweater effect. Or you may have a problem with the lanolin (natural grease) in the fiber. Try using 100% ultra fine wool like Merino. You will not itch. If you have a true allergy to sheep's wool, you can try alpaca, which has no natural grease and is hypoallergenic. Again, be careful with what you choose because adult alpaca can be coarse as well so you will want to choose a fine baby alpaca. 

    Q) What is the difference between woolen and worsted yarn?

    A) These are basically two different spinning and fiber preparation techniques that result in a smooth dense finished yarn in the case of worsted vs. a loftier, less dense woolen spun yarn that is good for sweaters and insulating fabric. Here is a table from The American Wool Council that shows the different characteristics:

    Woolen Worsted
    Spun from short wool fibers
    (1-3 inches long)
    Spun from long wool fibers
    (more than 3")
    Spun from medium or coarse diameter wool fibers Spun from fine diameter wool fibers
    Fibers are washed, scoured and carded Fibers are washed, scoured, carded, combed and drawn
    Lower tensile strength than worsteds Higher tensile strength than woolens
    Low to medium twist Tighter twist
    Bulky, uneven yarn Fine, smooth yarn
    Soft, fuzzy appearance Crisp, smooth appearance
    Heavier weight Lighter weight
    Not as durable as worsteds More durable than woolens
    Does not hold crease well Holds crease well

  • Valentine Pink Hearts Handspun Yarn Project

    Valentine Hearts handspun yarn - 222 HandspunFor Valentine's Day, I made a corespun yarn with some cute little crochet hearts and a simple bulky single with the left over fiber. This photo is before I washed and set the twist so it's still a bit curly. The wool is a gorgeous Border Leicester roving that was generously provided by Solitude Wool for this project. They are located here in Loudoun County, Virginia and produce a variety of unique breed-specific yarn and fiber. I wanted to show off the amazing texture of this wool - its a soft and bouncy long-stapled fiber that has a fuzzy halo effect when spun around a core. 

    Valentine Hearts handspun yarn detail- 222 Handspun

    Valentine Hearts handspun yarn Border Leiscester roving from Solitude Wool - 222 Handspun

    Here's how I made the corespun yarn with little hearts:

    First, I blended the different shades of pink roving on my trusty Strauch Mad Batt'r drum carder to get some nice subtle contrast. I did this to add some color dimension to the yarn. 

    Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    Remember to keep your hand clear of the licker in!

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    Next, I added a little some hot pink and red merino top for low lights. To add just a little bit of fiber at a time, you can feed the roving in slowly in a side to side motion while cranking the carder. This will give you just a bit of well blended color instead of big chunks.

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    When the drum was full, I slowly pulled the fiber from the drum using a knuckle saving batt pick.

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    Look at how fluffy and amazing this batt is!

    drum carding tutorial - Strauch Mad Batt'r Drum carder - 222 Handspun

    It looks like cotton candy. You can see just a touch of the red coming through here.

    drum carded wool art batt - 222 Handspun

    To make the yarn, I used a commercial mohair/acrylic blend lace weight yarn for the core and some tiny crochet hearts that I made. 

    drum carded wool art batt - 222 Handspun

    To core spin, attach the core yarn to the leader. Then start to allow some of the fiber from the batt to spin around the core. The key is to spin it at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular to the core). This fiber is so fluffy that I didn't have to do any pre-drafting. Treadle slowly and made sure to keep the yarn close to the orifice so you won't overspin it. I used my Majacraft Aura wheel with an Overdrive head set to a medium ratio (middle whorl) and tight tension to take the yarn in quickly. This is to pull the yarn quickly onto the bobbin and prevent overspinning. You'll have to adjust your own wheel until it feels right, but this is what works for me.

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    Once you have enough of a start, then it's time to add your add-ins. When I crocheted the tiny hearts, I left two three-four inch tails to use as anchors. To attach them, take one of the tails and lay it parallel to the core in front of the heart (closest to the wheel). Then start spinning over the core and tail with your fiber to anchor it down. The other tail will get anchored down past the heart (closest to you).

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    While holding the anchor yarn against the core, wrap the fiber around the core covering the the tail yarn and core yarn together and up to and then past the heart just a bit.  Stop, then backtrack spinning before the heart and then go back past it again to make sure it is secure.

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    corespinning technique with add-ins tutorial - 222 Handspun

    And there you have it! I just need to wash this and set the twist and then I can make any number of things with it. Maybe I'll make some more crocheted hearts stuffed with catnip for my feline Valentines.

    Valentine handspun wool art yarn - 222 Handspun

    Valentine handspun wool art yarn - 222 Handspun

    To purchase the pink Border Leicester roving I used in this project, visit Solitude Wool

  • Tips for Buying Your First Spinning Wheel

    1) Pick the best you can afford and then spend even more

    Spinning Art Yarn on a Majacraft Aura Spinning Wheel with an Overdrive Head

    Yup I said it. Splurge on your first wheel. If you're going in, go all in, not half way. Don't feel guilty about it either. If people look at you like you're crazy, just remember that people spend thousands of dollars on tech gadgets and flat screen TVs. This is no different than that. Spinning wheels cost more than people think they should, but that shouldn't deter you from saving up and buying a really good one. They cost a lot because they are all handmade by small mom and pop companies. They are designed and built by engineers and artisans that have spent hundreds of hours researching and prototyping the best designs. There are no mass produced wheels coming out of sweat shops in China and flooding the shelves at Walmart. (Thank goodness). Be prepared to spend upwards of $600-$1400. It's not just an expensive toy, it's a quality piece of equipment that you will use to make magical and beautiful fibery goodness with. 

    Yes, you can spin on a PVC or cheapo wheel you made yourself from supplies you got at the hardware store, but you won't want to do it for long. There are very few great quality wheels in the under $600 range. Every accomplished spinner I know has bought more than one wheel. I have traded up several times myself. I now own the wheel that I think is the best out there in the market. I've sold enough yarn and fiber along the way that I could get the one I really wanted. I didn't buy it first only because it wasn't made yet. So, if you're committed to spinning regularly on a wheel and want to increase your skills it will be worth it and your spinning will be better for it and more enjoyable. If you change your mind, you can always sell it fairly quickly and easily. I've had no problem selling my used wheels and there is a good secondary market for the quality ones (not the crap ones).

    2) Do you want traditional or modern aesthetics?

    Kromski Sonata Spinning Wheel


    When I first started to learn how to spin I had a romantic notion that my wheel should be a traditional looking style and have a place in my home like a piece of furniture. When I took my first classes I tried a few brands of wheels and I liked spinning on the Kromski Sonata. It was easy to treadle and had the aesthetics I was going for (mahogany finish, spokes, and all that). What I didn’t account for was discovering art yarn and my changing style of spinning. I quickly got over the somewhat odd look of a disk shaped wheel as opposed to a spoked one that had the mystique of traditional looking wheels a la illustrations in Sleeping Beauty. After all, I’m not living in a reenactment village and I don’t think anybody else cares what my wheel looks like. I feel silly admitting this now, but all the spinning I had seen up until then was at fairs and heritage museums. So you can see where I got the notion that that’s what I was going to have. Most traditional looking wheels are different mechanically than the ones you use for spinning jumbo textured art yarn which leads me to...

    3) Decide what kind of yarn you want to spin

    Spinolution Mach III Spinning Wheel


    Will you spin traditional yarn or art yarn? Do you want to primarily spin for yourself or sell your yarn? This will dictate the types of wheels that are appropriate for you. If you want to spin bulky coils like in the photo above, then you won't want to do it on a wheel with a small orifice and hooks. If you want a good production wheel that you can spin pounds of yarn on at a time without stopping, then go for a wheel that can handle those requirements. You will want a jumbo flyer and bobbins for that. If you plan only to spin small projects for yourself and mostly spin DK and lace weight yarn, then you can get a standard wheel and flyer.

    Here are the main deciding factors for selecting a type of spinning wheel based on the kind of yarn you want to spin:

    Main Deciding Factors and My Pick/Humble Opinion About Each*

    Majacraft Aura Spinning Wheel

    Orifice and Flyer Type: MY PICK = Orifice - Openring, or delta (no hole); Flyer - Ring or Pegs (no hooks)

    This is important to determine because you are not going to want to spin highly textured super bulky yarn on a wheel with a small orifice and hooks on the flyer. It is a bad idea for several reasons. What drove me crazy (especially as a beginner and just learning) was having to stop and start every time I lost the leader and had to fish it out with a hook or had my fiber get snagged on a hook. Stop, start, stop, start, stop, start. It's a total waste of time and very frustrating. You need to build a rhythm when spinning and you can't when you are constantly doing other things. Almost none of the wheels with standard orifices (the ones that are holes leading into the flyer) are large enough to spin bulky art yarn with add-ins. Wheels with delta and ring orifices and hookless flyers have an advantage because you can fit large elements through them and there is nothing for the fiber to catch on or have to squeeze through. It's also easier to find your end if it gets wound around the bobbin. Even better, they're not just great for bulky yarn, you can spin thin yarn on them too. Just a note on the flyers - I found that the ones with wooden pegs do not hold up well and can break off pretty easily if jostled (do you have kids or pets?). The best I've used is a flyer with a metal ring or delta like those on Majacraft wheels. It is more durable and less fussy than the others I've tried.

    Bobbin Size: MY PICK =  Jumbo (8 oz. or more)

    Most regular sized bobbins only hold three to maybe four ounces of fiber. I only use small bobbins if I'm going to ply two together. Then you need to do that on an eight ounce or larger bobbin. So don't get a small flyer. If you want to spin bulky yarn and not have to stop just as you're just really getting into it, then get a flyer that can hold eight ounce or greater bobbins. The ultimate size for super bulk yarn is two pounds. Yes, I've spun two pound skeins of yarn before and it's awesome. You may not do it every time, but if you want to sell your yarn you will want to spin larger sized skeins. I often spin a double size skein and split it in half to sell as a matching pair. And if you knit or crochet you can appreciate having more yardage for your projects.

    Ratios and Speed: MY PICK = Slow to mid-range for medium to bulky yarn and faster (higher) for thinner yarn

    Almost all wheels are OK for multiple types of spinning and whorls can be added if you need to change. You'll want a larger ratio and slower speeds for bulkier yarn and plying, and smaller, faster ratios for lace weight etc.

    Drive Type: MY PICK = Double

    Doubles drives are good because most can be used as single also. They are great for bulky art yarns and add-ins and can provide more control. Single/Scotch Tension is OK too, but not as good for bulky art yarn. I've used a single drive (Majacraft Pioneer) and it was OK for bulky yarn but has a hard time when I'm trying to Navajo ply really bulky yarn. The Majacraft Aura with a double drive has no trouble with this however.

    Treadles: MY PICK = Double

    I'm not sure why someone would only want to treadle with one foot unless they only had only one foot. Or they have a puny wheel. 

    Maintenance/Fussiness: MY PICK = No oil required

    A wheel like a Kromski Sonata also has to be oiled frequently which collects a lot of fiber dust and can be a messy business and a pain to do all the time. Majacraft, Louet, and Spinolution wheels, for example, do not need to be oiled and are mostly care-free. 

    Portability: MY PICK = Folds for travel 

    If you want to go to festivals or take classes then choose a wheel that can fold up or is lightweight and portable. Trust me, it's a real drag lugging around a heavy wheel or if you have a small car. 

    Materials: MY PICK = Solid wood

    I've had a plywood wheel and I have to say that it was not good material. First, it splintered and chipped easily and did not hold up to travel, and second, it weighed a ton. I have not used a PVC or MDF type wheel except the Pioneer which only has MDF in the actual drive wheel. The rest is wood and it's lightweight and durable. I have no complaints with solid wood.

    Style: MY PICK = Castle/Upright

    I would not go with a Saxony or traditional style wheel based on all the factors I've outlined here. The Saxony style wheels are nostalgic looking but not as versatile.

    Design: MY PICK = Good design decisions

    What do I mean by this? The shape of the parts and craftsmanship. The sort of materials chosen for their duty. Sleak lines. Smooth edges. Foot pedals that don't cramp your feet or make it hard to treadle. An adjustable orifice height. Easy to attach or remove bobbins. Interchangeable parts that are easy to swap out, replace, or upgrade. Parts that don't snag, wobble, or fall off.

    You can probably guess which type of wheel I think is the best out there but please don't let it stop you from trying other ones. People build spinning wheel brand loyalties on what they like and don't like just like they do with cars and clothes, and it's a personal choice. Honestly, you should go to your local yarn store / dealer or borrow a friend's wheel and try as many as you can before buying. This is just meant to help guide you towards a decision since there are many unknowns when you are starting out. It can be intimidating because of the expense, but have faith. If you stick with the top brands and their quality models and compare them based in the checklist above you should do just fine.

    * These are soley my opinions and are based on my personal experience. I have tried several types of wheels and have not been paid to make any remarks about them. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments.

  • Why Buy Handspun Yarn?

    Handspun art yarn

    Why Buy Handspun Yarn?

    I get asked this question sometimes and I try not to get too irritated from a question that seems to challenge the value of what I do as an artist. But... for the uninitiated, it’s kind of hard to answer without sounding snooty, so the best analogy I can think of is “why do people choose a gourmet meal over fast food?”. It’s not the kind of thing you’d eat every day unless you’re a really good cook and have the time and can afford the best ingredients. It’s more expensive and time consuming to make, and just like high end food, handspun yarn can be more of a treat than an everyday indulgence. I do have customers that spend quite a bit of money on handspun yarn though. We’re talking hundreds of dollars’ worth a year. Handspun yarn can be habit forming. But when you put it into perspective, it costs less than splashing out on a new car or kitchen appliance. I guess it’s all relative.

    I can only speak from my own personal experience and opinion as to why I can’t stop spinning and buying other artists’ handspun yarn. I confess that I am a “connoisseur” of handspun and I was before I learned to spin. That’s how it all started for me. 

    When I bought my first skein of handspun it probably cost more than four skeins of Lion Brand, but boy was it wonderful. I still have it today hanging in my inspirational gallery of never-to-be-used yarn. These are the yarns that I take out and pet occasionally, then back they go into their bags. People have asked me “What are you going to make with that?” and I stutter “ummmm… maaaake with it???”. Um, nothing. What a weird question. I’m just going to keep looking at it.

    BUT, I don’t want to discourage people from using handspun yarn. It’s actually very useful and functional. So back to the original question of “Why buy handspun?”.

    There are several advantages to buying handspun  vs. commercial yarn:

    1. Texture 

    You just can’t find the same amazing texture or handle from commercially spun yarn. So much of the character of the particular fiber really stands out in handspun because of the lack of harsh handling when processing the wool and spinning on a wheel  vs. a machine. Some small mills do a good job of treating wool carefully and preserving the texture, but there is nothing like the experienced hands of a careful spinner to bring out the individual qualities of a particular type of fleece, especially when spinning breed-specific yarns. A good spinner knows what spinning techniques to use to match with the type, fineness, and crimp of the wool and how to blend fibers to achieve different types of functional yarn (i.e. rug yarn vs. sock yarn vs. scarves and baby hats).

    Handspun Art Yarn

    2. Color 

    I think this one is pretty obvious but the sky is the limit with the range of colors. This is one of the reasons I started spinning and dyeing my own yarn. My sense of color and palettes are quite different than what you’d find in a craft store. 

    Hand Dyed Wool Fleece

    Hand dyed Cotswold locks by 222Handspun

    3. Variety 

    Again, like color, there are soooo many different types of handspun yarn and each one is unique. They range from the traditional looking worsted weight wool, to art yarn with unusual and hard to find materials.

    Handspun Art Yarns

    Handspun art yarn by 222Handspun

    4. High quality materials 

    A lot of handspinners like myself seek out the impossible. We’re constantly searching for the best quality, rarest, craziest things we can spin. This leads to connections with good sources, and as it turns out, a whole underground spinning community of like-minded people. I’m lucky enough to live in a woolshed region where there are tons of local farmers who sell to handspinners. Many grow endangered and rare breed sheep, which of course, I have to spin. Very recently I’ve acquired a sample of some of the finest 13.5 micron  Sharlea Merino wool on the market imported from Australia - just because I can. A micron count is how the fineness of wool is measured. The lower the number the softer and finer it is, and 13.5 is on par with cashmere. It may stay indefinitely in my Fiber Hall of Fame too. It’s just too amazing to mess with.

    Rare Breed Local Cotswold Lamb's Wool FleeceCotswold lamb wool fleece by 222Handspun

    5. Supporting local economies and small businesses

    I feel much better supporting individual artists than large corporations for all the obvious reasons. Yes, it’s more expensive than the acrylic stuff you can buy at Walmart. But again, it’s all relative. I know some people that will spend $500 on a meal and wine in an upscale restaurant. So why is it that something completely handmade that takes several hours to make by a skilled artisan should be any less expensive? It’s not made by a nine year old child in a sweatshop in some third world country, but if you really factored in the labor costs the hourly rate would be about the same as that poor child who works at a mill churning out synthetic junk by the minute. I’m not poo-pooing acrylic yarn. It certainly has its place, but there is a case to be made for buying quality handmade products now and then when you can afford it. Most spinners I know spin yarn as a labor of love. They truly pour their hearts into their craft for little or no monetary return. Handspinning is not lucrative as a profession, but is more than worthwhile as a pursuit, both for the artist and the consumer.

    Locally Sourced Wool / Mohair Blend Handspun Yarn

    Handspun art yarn by 222Handspun

    The following is a quote from my interview in Spin Artiste where I talk about preserving the ancient art of handspinning that sums up the many reasons why you should buy handspun yarn:

    "Growing up in Rhode Island, I’ve seen all the old mills that were once part of a vital economy and are now shut down and basically turned into museums. It’s strange and a bit sad how most people today have no idea how fabric is made, never mind yarn. Much like what has happened with the move to factory farming, the milling process is so far removed from our everyday lives that what was once commonplace is now a total mystery. I’m fortunate now to live in an area in Northern Virginia that has so many fiber farms nearby and a strong spinning community that keeps us in touch with our roots.

    I tend to think that just like with cooking, having the best ingredients is a big part of your success. A lot of people are tired of mass produced acrylic yarns from the chain stores and want more authentic materials. A big selling point of handmade is not only the quality and craftsmanship, but that it tells a story that people can connect to, and that’s the message I try to get out.

    Handspinning on a Majacraft Pioneer Spinning Wheel 

    Handspinning yarn by 222Handspun

    Interested in buying handspun yarn? You can check out my Etsy store or do a search for other fine spinners local to you on the Etsy website.

    If you'd like to read more about my process, please read my About page or my interviews.

    Thanks for supporting my small handspinning business. Now go out and get some handspun! You deserve it. And don't feel bad about keeping it on a shelf. We can always make more. :)