Craft Ideas for Adults | 22 September 2015Fiber for Spinning Share article facebook twitter google pinterest We know what goes in to making fibers, but many of us skip the process and buy what they need at the store. What if you knew it was easier than you thought? In Yarn Works, we see a simple approach to spinning, dying and creating our own material. Since fiber is a material that disintegrates relatively quickly, little is known of the earliest fibers used by people. We assume that these early fibers were derived from local plants and animals. Wool is known as one of the first spun fibers, along with plants such as flax and nettle. The origin of silk (before 2600 BC) is linked to a Chinese legend about an empress who, while sitting under a mulberry tree, had a silkworm cocoon unex- pectedly drop into her cup of tea. She noticed how the fiber that floated from the dissolving cocoon made a very fine thread—and so began the silk industry. Although it’s uncertain whether this tale is true, we do know that silk was a greatly guarded secret in China for centuries before it was carried along the Silk Road (a trading route that reached from Asia to Europe and Africa from 200 BC to AD 200) and subsequently spread around the world. Flax is an ancient plant with a history that stretches back before recorded time. Flax has had a tremendous impact on human life, not only as a fiber source for sturdy clothing, but also as a food source that is extraordinarily nutritious. Every garden of preindustrial times contained a patch of flax just for household use—the seeds for food and the stalks as fiber to spin. It is because of flax that flyer spinning wheels (sometimes called “flax” wheels) exist. These wheels were developed just for spinning flax more efficiently. Cotton has also been in our spinning baskets since before written history. Archaeological evidence shows that cotton was grown in the Middle East and Americas since about 5000 BC, but there is no clear historical record of its origin. It may have been indigenous to the Americas, India, Asia, and Africa. Nevertheless, prior to 1793, flax remained the most sought-after fiber for warm-weather clothing because, even with flax’s multiple processing steps, it was still produced for less cost than handpicked and teased cotton. When the cotton gin was patented in 1794 as a means to expediently gin (remove the seeds of) the North American variety of upland cotton, flax was quickly shown the back door and cotton came raging in, making comfortable clothing more affordable for the average person. Spin Concept Spinning is magic. Well, that’s what people say when I demonstrate spinning in public settings. Yes, the visual effect of the turning of the wheel and the fiber mor- phing into yarn looks like alchemy. But in reality, spinning is one of the simplest of human activities. All it requires is a stick attached to a filament of fiber. Then twist the stick and pull. You’re spinning! In my beginning spinning classes, I’m always asked, “How long will it take to become a proficient spinner?” In his book Hand Woolcombing and Spinning, Peter Teal has a great answer to that question: “How long will it take? You should, if you practice for six hours a day, produce a fairly reasonable yarn in three days.” With some exceptions, he’s pretty accurate in his statement. So don’t despair. Practice! Twist: The Five Primary Spin Characteristics The act of spinning is simply drawing out a group of fibers, twisting them, and repeating the motion. These few steps make a continuous strand—a.k.a. yarn! The more a fiber is twisted, the stronger and more rigid the strand becomes—that is, until it breaks from the tension. The less a fiber is twisted, the softer and less strong the strand becomes—until it breaks from the lack of spin. A good twist is the balance point between too much and too little tension. Spinning is all about achieving balance. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Let’s begin with the five primary spin characteristics of a yarn: Fiber type—protein, cellulose, cellulosic, synthetic, etc. Spin method—how the fiber is actually spun, such as worsted, woolen, etc. Wraps per inch—a spinner’s equivalent to stitches per inch; this helpsspinners determine what diameter of yarn they are spinning. Spin twist—this involves the direction of the twist (to the right—Z-twist—or to the left—S-twist), the number of twists, and the angle of the twist. Ply—the number of single strands of yarn making up the final yarn. These five characteristics are the keys to selecting the most appropriate yarn construction for specific spinning and knitting projects. The first part of the book discussed fibers, so now it’s time to dive into the other four characteristics. You can read the following pages on spin from start to finish or drop in as desired. Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: Yarn Works is the ultimate sheep to sweater reference book for fiber enthusiasts everywhere. Have you ever wondered what the best spin method is for a chunky yarn? Or how to dye fiber to the color you want? Or perhaps your yarn isn’t holding its shape when you knit… This how-to book answers all of those questions and more in a detailed, behind-the-science manner. The better you understand the science behind the subject, the better you’ll be at applying your creative inspiration to spinning, dyeing, and knitting your own yarn. This book is divided into four main sections – Fiber Workshop, Spin Workshop, Dye Workshop, and Knit Workshop – and includes a brief history on each subject. Each short, informational workshop takes you through the essential learning activities for spinning, dyeing, and knitting, giving you the hands-on experience you’ll need to master the subject. Follow yarn from its fiber beginnings, through the process of spinning, to dyeing the spun yarn with natural and synthetic dyes, and finally finish off by using your new yarn in fun projects. Whether you’re a knitter interested in learning to spin and dye your own yarn; or a current spinner or dyer looking for inspiration, you’ll find everything you need to know about the subject of yarn in this book, along with some great exercises to get your creative juices flowing. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.