New To Spinning?

"Why should I learn to spin?  I can buy any yarn I might want or need at my local yarn shop or big box store.  It's just yarn, you know?"

"I would love to learn to spin.  It looks complicated though and I'm just not that coordinated."

"Isn't hand spinning something people used to do because they had to hundreds of years ago?"

"My budget is tight right now.  Although I'm interested in learning to spin, spinning with a spindle seems too challenging and I can't afford to buy a wheel.  Besides, I have no idea how to even get started."

Hand spinning is an ancient and, until more recently, a necessary craft.   Contemporary hand spinners choose to spin for a variety of reasons.  They may be interested in creating yarn that has been carefully planned from start to finish by selecting a particular fiber for its luster or softness and using a certain technique to achieve a desired end result.  They may spin because they raise fiber animals and enjoy working with their fleeces, hair or fur or enjoy re-creating a historical craft.  Spinners may choose to spin to complement their other fiber art interests or they may find crafting yarn to be a relaxing and therapeutic hobby.  Spinning can be useful in mindfulness or meditative practices and serve as a means to quiet the mind and center thoughts.  And spinners may also spin for the simple thrill of watching colorful fiber transform into yarn that appeals to their inner magpie.

Hand spinning is less complicated than it might seem at first glance.  Simply put, spindles and wheels are tools designed with the same singular purpose: to put twist into fiber and make yarn.  The difference between them can be thought of like taking a trip by bicycle or by car.  Though the journey may differ between the two they can both share the same destination.

Spindles are an excellent, low cost tool to get started spinning.  They're portable, generally inexpensive and are far easier to use than they might appear to be at first glance.  I highly recommend new spinners at least try spindle spinning before considering buying a wheel.  If the idea still seems daunting consider most of us routinely interact with complicated technologies on a daily basis.  Learning to use a whorl on a stick to make string with really isn't that difficult in comparison.  (As someone who enjoys the idea of not so big home living I'll also point out the obvious in that spindles are much more space and storage friendly than wheels.)

If you are set on using a wheel to learn to spin on it's a really good idea to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the parts of a wheel, wheel style and drive types, researching reviews and test driving as many wheels as you are able to sit down in front of before purchasing anything.  Think of buying your first wheel as you would your first car.  Do your research, visit several dealers, kick some tires (so to speak), take the ones that pique your interest out for a spin and then try the ones that aren't necessarily one of your first choices.  You might be surprised by a wheel that unexpectedly clicks with you or has a style, setup or feature you find you really like after trying it that you can incorporate into your search.

As part of your test drive process perhaps you have a friend who spins and who would let you spend time with one of their wheels?  Joining TVH also gives you access to borrowing the guild's wheel after you've been a dues paid and meeting attending member for a few months.  And events like the Smoky Mountain Fiber Festival, Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and the Southeastern Animal and Fiber Festival (SAFF) are also great opportunities to test drive and experience a variety of wheel types and makes.  You can find a full list of regional fiber events on the front page of the guild's website.

Finding and establishing a relationship with a dealer who can help answer questions, provide setup and repair services and offer basic instruction is a very useful thing for someone just getting started.  Some dealers may even let you borrow or rent a floor model wheel for in-class use if you choose to take a spinning class with them.  We are fortunate to have several local yarn shops in and around Knoxville that vend new wheels from manufacturers like AshfordLouetSchacht and Majacraft and who offer spinning classes.  Check the resource list below for more information on these shops.

If you've inherited, been gifted or have found a wheel for free and you are able to get it to spin then, by all means use it and enjoy!  We have had many new spinners bring in wheels found stuffed in the back of closets, gifted by friends who used to spin or inherited from family members.  Some oil, a new drive band and a little maintenance can quite frequently do wonders for bringing these old wheels back to life.

If you are interested in buying a used wheel from Craigslist or from an antiques vendor specifically to learn to spin on consider spending some time researching before committing to buy.  Many antique and vintage wheels may be functional or can be made functional again and in the hands of an experienced spinner these wheels can be treasures.  However, without knowing what to look for or background mechanical knowledge those wheels could be a waste of money (in other words, not a bargain) and a source of frustration if they need parts and repair before they can be used or turn out not be functional at all.  And choosing a used wheel relies very heavily on that one key word: functionality.

If a wheel is determined to be functional or potentially functional consider what it would take to make it functional again.  For example, the wheel may only have one bobbin, be missing or have broken essential parts (which, in some cases, may have to be custom made by a woodworker or machine shop) and/or require repair or restoration.  I see "Museum Quality" in some ads for antique wheels.  Museum quality is just a way to describe the value or desirability of antiques or collectibles.  It has nothing to do with describing the wheel's functionality.  I could describe a Volkswagen bus that's been sitting in storage for the last forty years as being of "museum quality" but that wouldn't have anything to do with whether or not it could actually be made to run again (or how easily a willing and knowledgeable mechanic, the necessary parts and the money to make it all happen could be found).

For those who are looking to buy used locally here's a quick visual guide for beginners to used wheels that have been found on the Knoxville and regional Craigslists and in area antique malls:

Wheel Type Advice
High, Great or Walking Wheels

These are the most common of any wheel type posted on the Knoxville CL and found in our local antique malls.  They're frequently described as "primitive" or "wool" wheels.

Although they make lovely decor pieces and some can be restored by experienced spinners interested in a period spinning experience they probably aren't going to be a good choice for someone wanting to get started.  The great wheel is straightforward and elegant in design.  Unfortunately, most of the time when these wheels turn up for sale locally they're either missing parts; are warped, weathered or damaged or are overpriced because of antique collectability.  Some well intentioned seller may have even attached or swapped out odd parts to make it look intact when doing so could have actually damaged or destroyed the wheel's functionality.

If you are curious about what an intact and functional great wheel looks like and how it works Knitty has a great article on the subject you may enjoy.
Flax Wheel

Canadian Production Wheel

Other antique wheels are less commonly listed than great wheels in this area but do turn up from time to time.

Many of these "fairy tale" style wheels are antiques and will require some level of repair or restoration.  Some of these wheels were even built as decorative pieces and were never intended to be functional in the first place. (These are also known as SWSO - Spinning Wheel Shaped Objects.)

Here's a great post on "three really bad examples of antique wheels" including a SWSO style I've seen pop up on our local CL on several occasions. (The same author has several other blog entries on evaluating antique wheels that are well worth reading as well!)

If you are completely new to wheel spinning but have the assistance of a fellow spinner experienced with discerning the functionality of these wheels and who is knowledgeable about their restoration and care these wheels may be feasible.  However, they may not provide an ideal beginning experience or easy learning curve.

In some circumstances these wheels can be excellent tools in the hands of experienced spinners who are familiar with their care and maintenance (and who have likely made the acquaintance of a wood worker who can make parts and bobbins).  If you have some spinning experience and are considering purchasing an antique wheel the Spinning Wheel Sleuth website has a good guide to evaluating and pricing potentially functional antique wheels that may be helpful to you.

If you are drawn to the romance of spinning with a "fairy tale" wheel but the idea of tackling research, repair and restoration of antique wheels is daunting you're in luck -- a number of contemporary manufacturers like Kromski and Ashford make new wheels that combine the antique aesthetic with modern functionality.
Ashford Traditional
Louet S-Series (S10, S15, etc.)
Lendrum Original

Schacht Ladybug

These contemporary wheels turn up from time to time on the Knoxville Craigslist and can be found somewhat more frequently on the Asheville CL.

Ashford has been making the Traditional since the mid-sixties and it is a solid, basic wheel.  Parts are readily available and multiple local and regional dealers offer service and support.  Ashford also makes the Traveller and Kiwi, both of which would also be good first wheels.

The Louet S10 was developed in the 1970's.  It is also a solid, basic wheel and needs a minimum of maintenance.    Parts are also readily available and local dealer support and regional dealer service is available.  Louet also makes other wheels like the budget-friendly S17 and S15 (out of production but can still be found) that are good first wheel choices as is the Julia.

Lendrum wheels turn up on occasion.  They are excellent wheels for someone looking to invest in a wheel that can grow with them.  Regional dealer service and support is available.

We have several Schacht dealers in our area, Their Ladybug wheel is a great value and has two drive systems built in (scotch tension and double drive).  It is a solid wheel that travels well and will make new and more experienced spinners quite happy.

Other brands to look for:

Buying used can be a very safe and easy experience if you look in the right places.  Interested buyers may be able to find wheels being sold by spinners that can vouch for as well as demonstrate their functionality.  Used wheels may also be found being sold on consignment at some yarn shops or online on sites like Ravelry's various used tools and/or manufacturer specific groups or the Spinners, Knitters and Weavers Housecleaning Pages.  TVH guild members also list wheels for sale from time to time in our classifieds section.  Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to 500 for a basic, beginner friendly used wheel like an Ashford Traditional in good condition or more depending on the wheel make and any included accessories.  

I regularly see new spinners on Ravelry's various marketplace groups looking to buy their first wheel but who only want to spend $100 or $200.  Bargains absolutely do pop up from time to time but they're the exception rather than the rule.  Buying a used wheel is not quite the same as a buying a used appliance.  Used does not always mean the value will be greatly depreciated (especially with some high-demand wheels which may actually appreciate in value).  Most contemporary wheels hold a good deal of their original value used as long as they've been cared for.  This is actually a good thing for a new spinner as if it turns out that they don't enjoy spinning after all or want to sell their first wheel later the can likely recoup a reasonable amount of their original cost.  Consider saving up until you find a wheel that you love versus compromising to buy one now that meets a very low budget requirement but may turn out not to be a great fit for you or the kind of yarn you want to make with it.

Are you considering building a wheel? There are plans available on the internet including the Dodec wheel that Spin Off magazine had an article about in 2013.  If you're looking to build a wheel specifically to save money consider that there are many factors that go into wheel design and construction.  The experience would be interesting and rewarding as a learning experiment.  It probably isn't going to be a massively money or time saving one.   For those who want to build a wheel to satisfy their curiosity have fun!  We would love for you to bring your project wheel to show and tell.

For those who are on a very limited budget it might be worth considering investing in a well made and well balanced spindle instead (which can be purchased for as little as $25-45) or find a shop like The Woolery that offers a wheel layaway option in addition to parts, accessories, service and support. 

In revisiting this article (as it's a continuing work in progress) it's probably worth emphasizing that this page is primarily aimed at our local audience in East Tennessee.  Our guild is very young considering the age of spinning traditions in other areas of the country (and certainly worldwide) but we are a growing, active guild and we regularly receive inquires about how to get started from prospective new spinners in our area. None of the advice given is absolute but hopefully some part of it may be useful to someone who is interested in our guild and/or learning to spin. 

In the end the best tool for learning to spin with is one that fits your body and your budget and one that you can stick with as you push through from initial frustration to finding joy.  Once you experience that eureka moment where everything almost magically comes together spinning can quickly become an excellent companion craft to watching television, relaxing on your front porch with a mug of tea, sitting on the sidelines at a game or chatting with friends during knit group.  You'll attract attention and smiles when you spin in public and few children (or adults) can resist being entranced and delighted by the sight of a spindle dancing in the air or a wheel humming along.

In short, if you're interested why not learn to spin?

- Jessica Cantu, March 2014

(Note. - This page is a work in progress!  If you are a TVH member and have advice you'd like to add to the page please let me know.)

Fiber and Spindle Resources:

Several TVH members are also fiber vendors and indie dyers.  You can find a directory of member vendors on our TVH Fiber Directory page.  Barb Keyes may also have spindles available for purchase during meetings.

Several LYS's carry wheels and fiber as well:  Forget Me Knot is a Schacht dealer, The Yarn Haven is an Ashford dealer and Clinch River Yarn is a Louet and Kromski dealer.   In addition, shops like the Smoky Mountain Spinnery in Gatlinburg and The Woolery in Frankfort carry an extended line of spindles, wheels, fiber, kits and related fiber tools.

Beginning Spinning Friendly Groups (informal meetup groups, not classes):

Local Spinning Instruction/Classes:

Online Information Sources:

Book Suggestions:

DVD/Video Suggestions:

(Last Updated 3/4/14)