If you are a hand-spinner, or want to be, you’ll want to pick up a copy of The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs: Techniques for Creating 80 Yarns by Sarah Anderson. And if, like me, you’re self-taught, this book is a treasure.
There is a moment early in a spinner’s learning when just creating a continuous strand of yarn from roving, top or batt seems miraculous in itself. Whether that first yarn is created on spindle or wheel, it will likely be inexpert and thick-and-thin, but that it exists at all is cause for celebration.
As you progress in spinning skills, you may teach yourself (or be taught) how to vary the yarn you spin. If, like me, your default singles are fairly fine, it will seem an achievement when you spin a consistent skein of soft, fat singles.
But there’s more — much more — to learn. Finding a spinning teacher is frequently difficult, and that’s where Anderson’s fine book comes in.
Anderson teaches the tricks of washing raw wool. She lays out in clear language, illustrated with dozens of instructive photos, the basics of carding, combing and flicking wool to prepare it for spinning. She explains the difference between S-twist and Z-twist yarns. She shows why you’ll want to choose one twist sometimes and the other on other occasions. And then she takes you into plying, from simple balanced 2-plys to complex 8-ply cabled yarns, with stops at spiral yarns, beaded yarns, slub yarns and many more. Anderson even includes some wear tests to compare how long different kinds of handspun lasted in the heels of hand-knit socks.
Some of the yarns are wildly surprising: Yarns with spiral or knotted cocoons, or halos, or beehives, or pigtails, or tail-spun yarns. Since each technique is illustrated with a knitted or crocheted piece, you can see how the yarns act when put to use. Will you want to spin every yarn shown? Probably not. But knowing how they’re made will strengthen your understanding of the art.
Perhaps one of the most useful pieces of this book is the collection of 64 reference cards — perfect for taking to your wheel as you work. Each card refers to a specific technique in the book, with page number, for easy reference. One card is an especially handy angle calculator, so you can see at exactly what angle your S- or Z-twist is spun.
“We humans have been spinning for thousands of years,” says Judith MacKenzie in the foreword. “Making thread is primal; we did it before we formed clay, before we worked metal — long, long before we made glass. You would think, in all these thousands upon thousands of years, that everything that could be done to create beautiful, useful thread would have been done … After all, how many ways can there possibly be to shape fiber into yarn?”
The answer, of course, to MacKenzie’s question is somewhere between innumerable and infinite. Spinners bring their own touch to the yarns they create. But if you want to progress in the art and craft of spinning, Anderson’s book, together with The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius (Storey, $35), is essential to your library.
Photos by John Polak.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News magazine. She is a self-taught hand-spinner, knitter and weaver, and looks forward to rooing, or hand-plucking, her Shetland sheep this spring.