Spinning Tips for Beginners
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
As written by a beginner! This post contains all the things I learned in my first try at spinning yarn in the hopes that it will help another beginner on their hand spinning journey. Each segment below is one thing I learned, along with an explanation of how I learned it or why it's important to know for beginners. If you have questions I didn't cover, be sure to leave a comment here or on my Instagram or Facebook pages!
(Learning 1) The wool you choose as a beginner is very important. Different wools have different feels to them along with different fiber lengths.
For my first spin, I choose Cheviot combed top wool roving from BlueMoonAlpacas. I particularly liked that I could buy 1 pound at a time, which was enough for about 4 finished skeins of 2-ply yarns.
Whatever you choose, I definitely recommend starting with a staple (fiber) length of 4 - 6 inches.
I've found through some experimenting that splitting the roving into 4 sections lengthwise (along a length of about 1 yard at a time) works well for me to control the drafting. You can also pre-draft your wool for an easier time at the wheel.
(Learning 2) The leader needs to be wool. Yes, it made a difference.
I tried acrylic, then cotton, then wool. The wool yarn was the only one that was able to pull the wool out of my hands and into the wheel.
I also found that the skill of starting the bobbin carried over to starting on a new length of the roving and also re-starting the yarn when I accidentally broke it off. The trick, I think, is to get about 3 inches of fiber overlapping before you let the spin run up the join.
Remember that if you mess this up, you can always pinch above where the join was supposed to be, let it unspin or forcibly untwist it, and try again!
(Learning 3) The short forward draw is a great choice for beginners (me). I know that many skilled spinners prefer a long backward draw or a combination of the two - I definitely found the short forward draw easiest for controlling the fiber.
On that note, I was also surprised by how much space needed to be between my hands - the drafting triangle will be longer than you think! This is, of course, determined by the staple length. For the yarn I chose which has a staple length of 4 - 5 inches, my hands need to be about 6 - 8 inches apart to properly draft the yarn.
The more I spin, the easier the drafting becomes. On average, I find I need to draft 1 - 1.5 times per times I push on the treadle to get a yarn with the right amount of twist. However, I think this will change a bit as I work towards making thinner yarns.
I am also finding that as I get more comfortable with drafting, a long backward draft becomes easier and helps to get more consistent thicknesses. If I'm struggling though, I always do a few short forward drafts to get back into rhythm.
(Learning 4) When you set the drive band tension at the beginning, that's not the last time you'll adjust it. The fuller the bobbin becomes, the more tension is needed. However, increase the tension in very small increments. For me, I turn the knob about 5-10 degrees at a time. You can see me do this in the video above - it's a very small adjustment!
If the yarn isn't getting pulled onto the bobbin, try tightening the drive band a bit. I usually turn the wheel by hand to pull on my "backlog" of yarn before resuming my treadle.
It is possible to make it too tight as well - if the wheel is no longer spinning well when you treadle, it's probably that the band is too tight. Loosen it a bit and try again.
Big tip: Remember to loosen the drive band when you finish spinning! Leaving it stretched between sessions could cause it to loosen along the wheel, meaning you will need to re-tie it to get the proper fit and friction back.
(Learning 5) Once the bobbin is full, leave it be for at least 12 hours! Resting overnight allows the yarn to relax into its new twist, setting it before plying.
As I only have one bobbin for the moment (more in commission from a local wood worker!), this means leaving the wheel entirely for a day, then hand winding the single yarn off into a ball, then repeating until I have two singles ready to ply together.
This does not, notably, apply to freshly plied yarn, which can be wound onto a niddy noddy right away.
Some more experienced spinners recently told me that you can wind of immediately into a ball and let the ball sit as long as you get it under sufficient tension when you wind off. I have yet to try this. So far, I've found that winding off after letting it rest overnight is tricky enough to keep the tension up - we shall see how I fare winding off immediately down the line.
(Learning 6) To ply the yarn without a lazy kate and/or without extra bobbins, flower pots work fantastically. This tip came to me from Start Spinning by Maggie Casie which I borrowed from my local library. I purchased the pots at Michaels on sale, definitely worth the $3!
The trick is to make sure you buy pots with holes in the bottom that are heavy enough to resist if/when the yarn starts to pull upward. Mine are terracotta and work just fine.
Other plying tips:
Make sure you are spinning the wheel the opposite direction used to spin the singles yarns. This creates the balance in the final yarn.
You probably need more twist than you think. Visualize the yarn before starting and, if possible, pull a few inches of a similar yarn from your stash for reference as you work. Don't be afraid to stop and start to check the twist.
Your forward hand is now responsible for keeping the yarns separate and setting the twist, as before, but the way you hold the yarns will take some adjusting.
The bobbin will fill up significantly faster than when spinning singles, so remember to stop frequently and switch hooks to fill it evenly.
When the bobbin is totally full, wind it off onto a niddy noddy, then continue at the wheel. Tie or splice the next bobbin to the yarn already on the niddy noddy to continue winding.
(Learning 7) Niddy noddys don't have to be expensive. Or made of wood.
I like to refer to mine as the Home Depot Special - made entirely of PVC and cost less than $10!
The PVC I used is all 1/2 inch and was cut for me in store by a helpful employee. One piece 18 inches, four pieces 6 inches, two t-joints, 4 caps. The caps aren't strictly necessary, but I like the finished look. I pop one off to remove the skein when ready for washing.
The length of the center piece helps you measure the yardage of your yarn. Simply count the number of threads on one length, then multiply by the center length times 2 (because the yarn goes around it 4 times). For an 18 inch niddy noddy, every wrap will be 2 yards.
When you tie off the yarn, make sure the tie goes in a figure 8 pattern - this will keep it from slipping when you wash the yarn (I learned that the hard way). If you have extra singles yarn at the end, the ties are a great use for it. If not, any scrap yarn is just fine.
(Learning 8) Washing the yarn makes a dramatic difference.
Once my yarn was off the niddy noddy and officially a skein, I hung it on a hanger to admire. It really wanted to twist. If I had tried to knit or crochet at this point, my work would have leaned in one direction or rippled with no hope for lying flat as a result.
To wash the yarn, I used an empty kitchen sink. First, a hot bath with a splash of regular dish soap for about 20 minutes.
Next, a warm bath with a splash of vinegar. I added a few drops of lavender essential oil to avoid the whole thing smelling of vinegar - 1 or 2 drops is PLENTY. This bath lasted about 5 minutes.
Finally, a trip through the salad spinner!
If you don't have a salad spinner, gently roll it in a towel and that should do the trick. The key here is not to twist it as it dries because it could affect the final twist of the yarn.
Hang to dry. Ta-da! A beautiful (to me) finished skein of yarn!
I found that with the salad spinner, the final skein only took about 2 hours to completely dry. Of course, my house in the summer is 78 Fahrenheit so that's probably a factor.
If you want to speed it up, a nice sit in the sun or in front of a gentle fan should do the trick.
My first spin is quite uneven, but I'm pleased as punch I was able to do it. The final yarn measures an average of 8-9 wraps per inch, making it a bulky yarn.
It's a bit uneven for anything requiring a specific gauge, but should make an excellent hot water bottle sleeve (pattern coming in December - quick and easy gift!).
Thank you for joining me for my first adventure in spinning yarn! I hope you've found this post to be helpful.