Making your own yarn?

Following up on my post last week from the Portlandia episode featuring the material culture of the 1890s, I thought I’d tell you about a little historic side-project I’ve been working on for the last month: Learning to spin wool into yarn.

What? Why would anyone want to do that when there are so many fabulous stores to buy yarn in already? Well – I’ll tell you – it’s not something I went out looking to do. By happenstance, I got a spinning wheel as a hand-me-down from a cousin (who found it in the garage of their newly purchased house), and for Christmas, my sister gave me a bag of fleece from a farmer friend of hers in Oregon. Suddenly, I had the materials I needed – so why not learn?

Of course, I had to do some research (yeah!) and started off with a few books from the library, some video’s on youtube, and trying to understand how the machine worked. These methods helped get me started, but I didn’t get very far. I clearly needed a class, and thankfully the Piedmont Yarn shop had one available. So, for the last month, I’ve been taking a once-a-week wool spinning class from Lou Grantham, of San Francisco Fiber.

I’ve learned about washing the wool (not too much soap, not too hot, don’t put the water down the drain); preparing the fiber (using paddle carders, flickers, dog-brushes and even a drum carder), drop spindles and spinning wheels, worsted and woolen, and the most fun (for me anyway) is the difference between long draw and short draw (long draw for short fibers, short draw for long fibers).

It’s like magic to watch this messy ball of fiber to into a nice sooth piece of yarn! The only thing I haven’t quite mastered is plying – but I think with some practice I’ll get there (and I do need to learn how to dye it). Thankfully, I still have three very full bags of fleece (yessir-yessir, three bags full) to practice with.

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