The Spindle And The Wheel

Sunday, I was cleaning up all the browser tabs I’d left open from the past week. Most of them were longer articles I wanted to read, not skim, and videos that actually seemed worth watching. One of those unwatched videos was a 10 minute talk by Clive Thompson, The Pencil and the Keyboard: How The Way You Write Changes The Way You Think. He details the differences in how handwriting and typing affect your brain and why each is suited to different tasks, say note taking vs writing an article. It’s worth a watch. Near the end of the speech, around 9:25, Thompson says, “There was no individual tool that is perfect for any situation. What we really need is a lot of different cognitive tools in our tool kit. We need to be able to move back and forth between one mode to another…”

A week before watching said video, I felt the urge to spin. Not on my wheel, but on my turkish spindle which is a bit of a change. Since I got the Sidekick in September 2013, I have spun zilch on any of my spindles. Zero, nada, zip. Why the sudden change of heart? One of my spoils from Stitches West was 0.7 ounces of roving from Wonderland Dyeworks. The fiber was soft with beautiful color, and I wanted to enjoy spinning it for more than an a tv episode. So, out came the spindle instead of the wheel. This afternoon, I finally finished the single. Tomorrow, I’m plying back on itself with a spindle of course.

Looking at this single after taking such a long break from spindle spinning, I am very sure of one thing: the yarn I make with a spindle is entirely different from the yarn I make on a wheel. My spindle spun yarns are much the same, smooth and shiny, while my wheel-spun yarns are hairier and lacking the same luster. This all comes down to drafting. The only drafting method I’ve used with the spindle is the inch-worm forward draft because it’s only one that kept the spindle in the air. It isn’t called a drop spindle for nothing. The wheel let me try other drafting methods until I settled on a hybrid long-draw as my default. Just like in writing, in spinning there is “no individual tool that is perfect for any situation.” Sure, the wheel allows me to spin lots of different yarns - bulky or fingering, dense or airy, smooth or haloed - but I haven’t been able to replicate the yarn I spindle spin. To be fair, this is probably more my doing than the wheel’s. 

The reactions I get from both tools are fundamentally different. When working with a spindle, there’s an immediate knowledge of whether or not there’s enough twist. With the suspended spindle, either the single holds together or the fibers pull apart and the spindle hits the floor. There’s not much warning. Sometimes though, as the fibers slip, enough twist builds up in the thinned section to keep the spindle in the air. I’ll take it. Spinning at a wheel, the single is pulled away from me instead of towards my feet which makes the question of twist a little harder to answer. I’ve spun plenty of yardage that had enough twist to make it onto the bobbin but too little to actually hold together. Some of my most frustrating spinning moments have been pulling a single off the bobbin only to have it to fall apart over and over again as I’m feeding it though the orifice.

I once read a blog comment but where writer said they couldn’t wait to upgrade to a wheel from a spindle so that they could be a “real” spinner. With all the tutorials and articles focusing on wheels over spindles, I can understand where they’re coming from. Still, don’t discount the spindle. It’s been a valid tool for millennia, and it’s not going away any time soon. Just like the pencil and the keyboard are suited to different tasks, so are the spindle and the wheel. Being able to use move between them and use both, will allow us to do so much more than we could with just one.  

The 5 Reasons I Went To Stitches West

I got up bright and early Friday morning to go to Stitches West. I was wearing one of my favorite knitting cat shirts and a small matching scarf of my own making. In my backpack, I had knitting for the round trip train ride, extra shopping bags, a snack, and all my usual purse accoutrements. So, was it worth the almost 4 hours I spent on Caltrain and the Santa Clara VTA getting there and back? Yes. Absolutely, positively yes. Will I be going again next year? Definitely.

Stitches West is a like a yarn shop combined with a spinning shop, both of which are on steroids. This was the second time that I’d been to a Stitches event, the other being Stitches South, and both times were enjoyable. What’s more, these two events make me want to go to other festivals because they give me an idea of just how much amazing fiber goodness is out there. Here are the 5 reasons I went and why I try to go to other fiber festivals. 

All the yarn and fiber you could want. Even knowing what to expect, I was still completely overwhelmed when I walked through the doors. There was yarn to my left and yarn to my right. It came in every color of the rainbow and any weight you could want. I didn’t know where to start so I just walked the aisles trying to keep my mouth from falling open. I went with the intent of restocking my stash of spinning fiber and was completely spoiled for choice. A sweater’s worth of wool from Miss Babs, a brand new tote bag, and buttons came home with me too.

It’s easy to find new yarns and dyers. Once I had my wits back, I was able to start picking out individual booths that interested me. Many of these dyers I might never have found if I only had the internet to rely on, such as Wonderland Dyeworks. The second I walked by her booth I knew I couldn’t leave without some of that delicious fiber.

You can touch everything. Seriously, you are encouraged to feel yarn and fiber to gauge it’s softness and quality. There’s different breeds of wool, alpaca, llama, silk, and various plant fibers to get your hands on. 

There’s the chance to meet your favorite designers. The night before, I printed out Dotted Rays by Stephen West and cast on so I’d have some knitting for the train. The shawl pattern is a pretty straightforward knit with an ingenious treatment for the short rows. When I walked past the Mixtape booth, I had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved the pattern which was great to do face to face. 

Inspiration is everywhere you look. If you’re in a making funk, inspiration is all around you. Maybe it comes from a particular skein of yarn in a booth. Maybe you see an amazing shawl on someone’s shoulders. Maybe a bump of fiber gives you the jumpstart to spin for a sweater. Inspiration to knit, crochet, and spin is hard to miss.