Learning to Spin Online

words by Ashley Martineau

As I was writing my book, Spinning and Dyeing Yarn, I noticed several challenges of teaching from a book. It felt nonsensical, like learning how to ride a bike by reading a sentence and looking at still photos. I realized if I was going to effectively reach my students, I needed a different avenue of instruction.

In 2015, I organized all I’d ever learned about spinning yarn into 60 methods to teach with multiple fiber types and preps. Then I started recording videos while my babies napped. Last year I started uploading these videos weekly to YouTube to inspire the next generation of textile designers and yarn spinners. I’ve already published over 40 of these videos online and continue to post them weekly.

My goal in this work was to teach anyone anywhere how to spin yarn and to provide the resources lacking on the internet when I was trying to learn from home. It does not replace the value of in-person instruction but can be a helpful resource to learn how to spin when you are isolated, can’t afford a teacher, or don’t have instructors or wool festivals in your area.

After the events of 2020, I especially hope to reach those who are looking to replace lost income by working from home (many yarn shops will gladly purchase locally spun handspun yarns at wholesale or consignment pricing) and to parents who want to provide extracurricular art instruction to their children while unexpectedly homeschooling this fall. I also want to give the next generation of textile designers and creative minds some inspiration as they navigate online college coursework.

Other Resources

  • There are many online handspinning instructors who have free lessons on YouTube when you search for “spinning yarn” or “how to spin yarn.”
  • Some spinning teachers allow you to purchase a one-on-one virtual class with them. Look for the authors of your favorite spinning books and see if they provide this option.
  • Perhaps a handspinner you admire with an online shop or social media presence might be available for a paid one-on-one zoom or skype class.
  • When the world opens again, visit your local sheep and wool festival to take a class in person. In person instruction is the highest level of instruction you can find.
  • Local yarn shops often have spinning classes available, with wheels to test drive before you purchase.

Wheel Recommendations

I recommend SpinOlution wheels for the methods I teach in my video series, as creative yarn textures require an open orifice and bypassable flyer to prevent textures getting stuck or snagged. If you have a wheel with a small bobbin, ratios faster than 1:6, a small orifice, and a closed flyer system (tiny hooks or loop), you will need to drastically minimize the textures of my videos to get them to smoothly fit through your orifice and onto your bobbin. Hand winding is common when you are using a wheel that isn’t engineered to spin untraditional texture or you’re spinning bulkier than what the wheel was engineered to uptake.

You can find a SpinOlution dealer to take a test drive and learn how to spin yarn on a wheel engineered to spin both traditional yarns and creative textures. Many SpinOlution dealers are happy to teach spinning classes virtually thru zoom or other video conferencing software.

I hope you find these resources helpful as you stay safe this season and discover your new favorite creative spinning methods. Being a teacher is a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I am excited to meet the next generation of spinners who will blow me away with their talent.

Ashley Martineau, author of Spinning and Dyeing Yarn, teaches new spinning methods at howtospinyarn.com on YouTube. Ashley hopes to inspire spinners of all ages around the world to embrace their own creativity and create new, unique textures of yarn for use in fashion, craft, and art. When Ashley isn’t spinning yarn, she’s homeschooling her 3 kids, weaving tapestries inspired by ancient civilizations, and working with the SpinOlution company to create new features for their spinning wheels.

You can watch all of Ashley’s videos on her website, which has playlists designed to be watched in consecutive order on topics such as single-ply methods, plying methods, corespinning methods, and creative drop spindle methods. Special thanks goes to these generous fiber contributors, without which this series would not be possible.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Book Review: Dyeing to Spin and Knit by Felicia Lo

reviewed by Sukrita Mahon

With every kind of tutorial and technique easily searchable online, dyeing has never been more accessible to spinners and knitters. Most crafters are likely to experiment with some type of dyeing or colour blending at some point in their practice. The creator of Sweet Georgia Yarns, Felicia Lo, has managed to produce an extremely comprehensive guide to dyeing that proves useful for the novice and experienced dyer alike.

In the early chapters, Lo touches on some fascinating cultural aspects and responses to colour. As a child, she was drawn to bright colours and wanted to wear them often, but her peers thought it strange. It resonates a lot with my own experience in western society, where it seems that dull, muted, or neutral colours are most favoured. It leads to all kinds of complicated feelings about colour, such as which are pleasing together or not or which look good with certain complexions. I find myself suspecting that we project a lot of feelings of inadequacies into our colour senses, especially in the west. It’s a shame, when they’re really meant to bring us joy, and maybe even freedom.

The author’s journey from craving to rejecting colour to rediscovering and exploring it in depth is very compelling. The idea that we need colour in our lives in some fundamental way stands out to me. We naturally have emotional reactions to colour, and particularly as crafters, we have the ability to explore them in such a way that can end up feeling therapeutic. Many of us can resonate with that feeling of awe when working with a special colourway. For those who are perhaps wary of starting to experiment on their own, there is an excellent chapter on colour theory that provides a basis for how colours interact and are perceived.

The sections on dyeing are very thorough, with instructions on setting up a dye studio as well. A lot of small-scale dyeing can be done in the kitchen, but when using acid dyes, it is advisable to have a separate area if possible. I found a lot of invaluable tips in this section, like choosing heavier bottomed pans over thin ones to ensure even heating. Lo touches on natural dyeing and the richness of colours that can be created with it, providing lots of tantalising photos. In the case of acid dyeing, she explains how to measure dyes to get the same colour, even without the use of a precise scale.

We go on to learn how to dye yarn for all types of different effects: solid colour, tonal, variegated, hand painted, self striping, gradient, resist dyeing, layering. There is enough inspiration in these pages to pique the interest of dyers who may already know these techniques. The part on mistakes and troubleshooting mistakes is much appreciated – I could have used these at several points in my own dyeing journey.

Spinning with colour opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and this was my favourite part of the book. There are so many ideas to explore that it left me buzzing. The beautiful complexity of the yarns created with optical mixing and combination drafting, for example, made me want to pull out some fibre right away. There is plenty of material for non-dyeing spinners to experiment with, such as the ways in which grist, pre-drafting, or staple length can affect colour.

One of the key take-aways from the spinning chapters was the multitude of ways in which fibre can be split and spun to create various effects, like short or long colour repeats, gradients, or muted colour stories. Spinning straight from dyed top can be interesting but doesn’t always result in the most exciting fabric. Batts add another layer of fun and experimentation, despite being time intensive to make. The blending possibilities are greatly increased, so even mixing two colours gently can result in a more complex yarn than other methods. The author teaches us how to make layers of different colours and spin them to different effects.

Lo obviously knows spinners well, because she nudges us to actually knit, crochet, or weave with the yarn instead of calling the process finished once it’s washed. I will, Felicia, just as soon as I’m finished spinning it all…

The book helpfully tries to explain how to best use multicoloured yarn in knitting, and how stitch patterns are affected by the way it’s dyed. It ends with a chapter of knitting patterns designed by the author. Some of these are handspun, and the rest could easily be adapted to work with handspun. They are mostly cowls and shawls, a blanket and a pair of socks.

In my view, almost every dyer or spinner could find some value in this book, even if they’ve been playing with colour for a while. The ideas, inspiration, and photographs alone make it a worthwhile addition to the spinning bookshelf – the author’s passion is quite infectious.

Rating: 4/5

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Winter 2020 is coming

The Winter 2020 issue on Warmth is coming next month, and it’s specially crafted to keep you toasty as we slide into December. This issue is full of everything: it’s got smart, informative articles that run the gamut from dyeing (with Sasha Duerr) to how to spin the warmest worsted yarn possible, from what the warmest sheep breeds are to how to spin a very fine woolen yarn. It’s got colorwork convertible mittens as well as a brioche hat from Nell Ziroli, and Maggie Casey and Judy Steinkoenig team up to make the warmest yarn and the warmest woven scarf. Judith MacKenzie writes “Notes from a cold country,” 6 of our favorite spinners tell you about the warmest yarn they can make, and we take socks that were once warm and make them warm again. You’ll read about things that warm a heart and community, such as fibersheds, community art, and Shetland’s traditional pile blankets, and a piece about one of the warmest women in the community. Of course, there’s more, too! Don’t miss it. Make sure your subscription is up to date by November 20th and look for it around the 10th of December!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Make the Best of Your First-Version Handspun Yarns

words and photos by Sarah Elizabeth

Your first textured creative yarn (art yarn) may feel like a disaster. I know mine did! Learning to draft thick and then thin, auto wrap thread, and try out other textured techniques left me with no shortage of “bad yarn”: yarn that at first glance and handle felt like it would be better if I gave up on it altogether. However, with a few simple tips and tricks you can take your first trials with textured creative yarn from bottom-of-the-barrel yarns to stash-enhancing yarns.

As a lover of both texture and colour, I consider handspun yarns to be the crown jewels of my collection, and I include my first handspun in this collection of yarn jewels. Not because I was some sort of amazing natural who spun the perfect textured yarn from the get-go, but because in its imperfections I can still find inspiration. I was not, and I am not, afraid to tweak my first version, second version, and all the versions that come after.

It is truly rare that in any learning process our first attempts are what we envisioned. Sometimes those first attempts can feel utterly hopeless; the magic happens when we keep with something and let nothing go to waste. It is true that sometimes we just need to start again from scratch, and in this case those yarn fragments, barely-spun pieces, and springy bits of fibre can have a home in your scrap bin: pull them apart, cut them up, and card them into a wild and wonderful batt to combo spin with some roving.

The issues

First yarns usually have a few common problems: they often have weak spots, are of an uneven tension (overspun/underspun), and have uneven width – unintentional thick and thin spots that lack flow.

Weak spots

Weak spots are areas that are too thin for comfort, a yarn that broke when you took it off the bobbin, or yarn that lacks stability when you try to use it in a project.

The fix: Needle felt and then add a little friction felt magic. First, take the 2 ends and twist them around each other, crossing them by approximately 1–2 inches (12–25cm). Hold the newly twisted area (it will be a loose twist around) with 2 fingers. I use my thumb and first finger to hold the 2 broken ends in place. I hold them on top of a needle felt pad and then needle felt with a 36-gauge needle starting in the middle and then moving to one end and then the other. Flip the yarn around regularly, from top to bottom and side to side, repeating the needle felt process. As you work, wrap any stray ends around the yarn and then needle felt in place.

Once the 2 broken ends are joined together, roll the yarn between your hands. I don’t want to give this area a really different look, so I don’t use an actual wet felt process; rather, I use a friction felt by using the natural moisture of my hands and the friction of the rolling action to help further join (tangle) the fibres together.

At this point, I give the section of yarn a little tug to find out if my repair work is holding. If I sense any residual weakness I will continue to both needle and friction felt until the broken ends are joined to my satisfaction.

Overspun or underspun sections

Overspun yarn will be very kinky and twist back on itself tightly without effort on your part. Overspinning singles is used for yarns to be plied, so one of the most common fixes for an overspun yarn is to ply it. However, if I intended to create a singles yarn, I would put the yarn back on my wheel or spindle and work in the opposite direction to that which I spun the yarn in the first place. A slightly overspun yarn or one with sections of overspin can also sometimes be dealt with once skeined during the finishing process while the yarn is still damp. I work the skein by gently snapping small sections of the yarn, gradually working around the entire length. I will repeat this process a number of times in one session and sometimes repeat a session as the yarn dries. Lastly, my favourite way of working with an overspun yarn is to spin it again, either in the opposite direction to release the additional twist (for extremely overspun yarn) or with another yarn to experiment with coiling it onto base yarn or leaving twisty back loops!

Underspun sections in your yarn can show up as puffy areas that look more like the fibre before spinning and can leave weak spots. They can be dealt with by using the weak spot repair technique discussed above. If your entire yarn lacks twist and integrity, you can re-spin the yarn by putting it back on your spindle or wheel and spinning in the direction you spun it. When I re-spin a yarn on my wheel, I work with more brake tension to increase the uptake and reduce the likelihood of creating the opposite problem of an overspun yarn.

Thick and thin

Having uneven width along the yarn strand may be the easiest to work with: knit it or crochet it on a needle or crochet hook that is bigger than standard for the yarn weight. The uneven thick and thin will make lovely net fabric. This may require a bit of experimentation to get the correct size for the nicest look. I start with the ideal tool size for the thickest part of the yarn I am working with and tweak sizing from there. If your thick and thin yarn also has other issues, such as those mentioned above, or you want to knit it into a project where the look or style you would like requires a more even yarn, I would move to plying the yarn as a way to smooth out the worst of the uneven areas. Plying 2 uneven yarns together often works in an uncanny way, creating an unexpected level of evenness. Of course if your yarn has significant width differences, your yarn, plied or not, will still have an uneven texture. If the yarn you would like to ply does not have enough twist after a plyback test, you can re-spin the yarn in the same direction you spun it to begin with, creating enough overspin that the yarn will not be underspun when you ply it. You can also chain ply yarn made of an uneven thickness to create a very interesting rope-like yarn. Another method is to ply your thick and thin yarn with a thread or cord for a bubble or bobble look.

Use them as they are

One of my favourite ways to enjoy my first handspun yarns both of the more traditional vein and those first creative textured yarn attempts has been to embrace them for what they are and to find uses that suit their unique nature. Find some examples below and then use your creativity and curiosity to experiment!

Use yarn that is overspun, thick and thin, or from a scratchy fibre (or all of the above) to crochet or knit into a small cloth, either alone or with another suitable yarn. Use it as an exfoliator or for your dishes. This yarn in finer or softer fibres can make a delightful springy and interesting fabric. Arm knit or use large needles to create a cowl, scarf, or shawl with this living yarn.

Small samples that twist and turn and that are uneven and unique can be used in simple projects without a pattern. Projects that use single or double crochets or stocking or garter knit stitches will be the most straight forward to work shorter lengths of handspun yarn into. Hats, fingerless mitts, and leg warmer patterns, along with shawls, cowls, and sweater edgings are all places you can use small amounts of not quite perfect handspun yarn. By using wraps per inch (WPI) to match the weight of a base yarn, it is straightforward and easy to insert rows of handspun yarn next to a base yarn. A bonus to this approach is that an even millspun or handspun yarn juxtaposed with a textured creative yarn is the perfect way to show off the beauty of both yarns.

Project Looms are a wonderful way to play creatively and to make it up as you go! Project looms are a style of loom in which your project is left in the frame after completion, which means no finishing, easy to hang, and almost no rules! Project looms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles such as stars, circles, rainbows, mountains, clouds, animals, and more! The brilliant aspect of the project loom is that because your project remains in the frame, it matters very little if the yarn you use has weak spots, is overspun or underspun, or is not really a yarn at all! Use the yarn in a plain tabby weave (over one, under one, repeat), make bubbles, create tassels, or simply stuff it into the spaces between the warp. Let your imagination be your guide!

Don’t let imperfection spoil your creative fun, for often that which we perceive as flawed is where true beauty can be found.

Sarah Elizabeth is a Canadian born, classically trained painter and sculptor with a Baccalaureate of Arts from the University of Guelph. Her current focus is in mixed media works with a basis in textiles. Sarah uses traditional and functional handcrafts such as spinning, weaving, macramé, felting, and stitching to inform the basis for her professional works, which are inspired by the breathtaking landscapes of the Kootenays. Sarah is the artist and owner behind Sarah Elizabeth Fibre Works, a destination fibre art supply business based in Rossland, BC, Canada with a focus on ethical, sustainably sourced and produced fibre art supplies and tools for all fibre art enthusiasts including knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, felting, macramé, stitching, and more.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Review: Spinning for Socks online course

reviewed by Karen Robinson

I love knitting socks, but I had never knit socks using handspun yarn. Even though I was inspired by the Sock issue of PLY (Winter 2018), I still hadn’t sat down and actually tried any of the techniques given in that issue. So I was really excited to take this online course from Alanna Wilcox on Spinning for Socks.

Upon purchase of the course, I received a PDF with a link to the course and a unique password. The course contains two hours of pre-recorded videos that you can watch on your own schedule as many times as you’d like. (You can schedule individual one-on-one lessons with Alanna after taking the class if you need/want more in-depth lessons.) There are also 3 worksheets provided as part of the course: an overview of the videos, a chart of wool grades and micron counts, and a twist gauge tool.

On the course website, the list of prior knowledge makes it clear what you need to know to be successful in this course. Essentially, it’s suitable for spinners with a basic knowledge of spinning. A list of materials is also provided, although it is recommended to watch all of the videos first before purchasing any items to be sure you don’t buy anything you personally wouldn’t find beneficial.

The videos include an introduction plus 4 videos, with a time stamp list of contents for each video so you can jump to a specific topic. This is very handy for when you want to go back and watch part of a video again. Videos are between 21 and 35 minutes long.

The intro video gives a brief overview of the workshop, why you’d want to use handspun for socks, and suggestions for how to go through the workshop. The course videos cover spinning from already prepared fiber as well as spinning from fleece. Alanna does a good job outlining at the beginning of each video what will be covered in the video. Each video contains some lecture, some demonstration, and some slides with images. Overall the presentation is clear and organized.

Video breakdown

The first video gives a good overview of the considerations to keep in mind when planning for spinning and knitting socks (desirable sock qualities). An advanced spinner would probably be familiar with this information already, but the video is still worthwhile watching for little tidbits here and there. For someone less familiar with this information, you’ll get a solid foundation.

One small issue I noticed is that when you finish a video (which is hosted on Vimeo), another video from Alanna’s channel comes up (not related to this course). Although it doesn’t autoplay, it does replace the course video on the website you are viewing, so if you want to get back to the course video, you need to refresh the page.

The second video looks specifically at the best wool for socks as well as possible blends. Alanna shows example of carding and pulling through a diz and gives options for what to do if you don’t have hand cards. (You can also use commercial top.) There’s a short quiz toward the end of the video giving 3 options for you to choose which blend would be best for socks, which is nice to test the knowledge you’ve learned in this lesson.

The third lesson is divided into 2 videos. The first one starts with a lesson on worsted spinning and uses short backward draw. At one point in the video, the sound quality isn’t quite as good (it seems like some minor feedback); if you’re listening with earbuds, you should watch for this about 5 minutes in because it might be jarring to your ears (it lasts about 5 minutes). Alanna does a worsted vs woolen comparison (which is a little repetitive because it was also done in the first video but it’s more in depth and can be good to reinforce the knowledge, especially if it’s new to you). She shows how to measure twist angle and then gives a challenge for you to try out measuring twist. (I found this to be a really helpful part of the course.) She also shows how to use plyback samples to figure out the best twist and WPI to use. (Note: the camera had some autofocus issues during this part.)

In part 2 of the third lesson, Alanna shows you how to deconstruct commercial sock yarn to find twists per inch of both plied yarn and the singles and then shows how to spin to match that commercial sock yarn. The focus here is on how much twist to add in both the single and the plied yarn. She discusses the number of plies best appropriate for sock yarn; however, she does not mention other options such as cable, crepe, or opposing ply yarn. She also talks a bit about fiber prep and wheel setup. The challenge for this lesson is to spin a specific WPI and twist angle yarn using a fiber recommended.

There are some great examples of pretty handspun socks (credit given to the spinners/knitters at the end of the last video). If you like cats, make sure to watch to the very end.

The verdict

If you’re new to sock spinning (or have tried sock spinning but haven’t felt successful) and want a good foundation for where to start, this video course will definitely be helpful to you. If you’ve done some spinning for socks using 3-ply and 4-ply yarns that you’re happy with and want to expand your skills beyond those yarn constructions, you won’t find that in this particular video course, though you may find some tips sprinkled throughout that you would find helpful.

My sock spinning experience so far

As for myself, I started with some BFL fiber and spun some samples to put on a card to help keep me consistent as I spun. I feel like I did great with regard to the twist angle and twists per inch; however, I was so focused on that part that I didn’t pay as close attention to my WPI. So when I finished my 3-ply yarn, I realized that it was more of a sport weight than the fingering weight yarn I had been aiming for.

I did start knitting a sock with it, but I used my usual size needles for fingering weight yarn and realized that was making my hands hurt. So I haven’t finished the first sock yet (and I even made it an ankle sock) as the knitting is slow going. But I did spin only half of the fiber, so with the other half, I’m trying again, this time trying to focus as much on the thickness of the yarn as I did on the twist. I’m still working on this project but so far I’m already noticing a difference and feel hopeful that this attempt will produce something much closer to the fingering weight yarn I am aiming for.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Get to know the PLY team: Beth Vincelette

Beth provides PLY’s customer service, so when you write to the contact us email address or call the PLY phone number, Beth is who you’ll reach!

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what fiber craft(s) you do, and how you got started in the fiber world.

Knitting is my “main” fiber art, but I also love quilting, spinning (obviously), needlepoint, and sewing. I also dabble in weaving. Oh, and photography. And drawing and watercolor painting have recently been added in to the mix. It all got started in the Girl Scouts when I earned the Knitting badge. Other than that, I was a pretty terrible scout! I’m not one to blindly follow along with whatever the rest of the crowd is doing, so that was a mismatch from the get-go.

Tell us about how you got started with your role at PLY and what you do for PLY.

My best friend told me about the opening at PLY after she saw it on Facebook, and I still don’t know why she didn’t keep it for herself! She would have been an excellent choice. She’s also the one I blame for getting me into spinning because she raises Finns and I think she just wanted to off-load some of her fleeces! Anyway, I sent in a totally non-traditional email as an application, didn’t include a resumé, and was completely shocked when I made the cut to have an online interview with Jacey, and even more so when she offered me the job!

This photo is from a
class with Franklin Habit on photographing your knitting. The man is genius personified, I tell you; take any class with him that you can!

And I must say that I absolutely love this job! I have had so many customer service and retail jobs where the clients were just so consistently unpleasant, but that has not been the case at all with PLY! Most of my work comes in by email, but I absolutely love it when our readers call. One customer even called from Australia! There are a few readers who keep in touch with an email every now and then, and it absolutely makes my day to know that someone on the other side of the country is thinking about me when we have never met face-to-face. What an honor!

What do you do with your free time?

Free time? Hah! What free time? Have you seen the list of hobbies? My beloved and I also moved to a new home at the end of May. It had been empty for some time and needs a lot of work, so that is currently taking up a bunch of our time. It has been a lot of fun putting our creative energy into faux painting techniques, using stencils for wall decorations, and choosing paint colors. He is orignally from South Korea, so finding a mutually-pleasing aesthetic is proving to be a challenge: he favors a more Zen approach, while I am left drooling over all the super colorful renovations Lucy Neatby has been posting on Instagram!

What else would you like to share about yourself?

We live in Conneticut with my two boys and two frisky kitties (Jacey and I are cat twins!). I fully intend to milk the “my house is a mess because we’re not done unpacking” excuse to avoid housework as long as possible. And I love the fact that I can do my job in pajamas and nobody knows the difference.

I used to be a bad ass. This was the test for my Third Degree Black Belt in TaeKwonDo. Before I hit them, those bricks were on fire. The man on the left, in the two-tone uniform, is my teacher and my beloved. I met him in class.

Am I a Consistent Spinner and Other Lies I Tell Myself

Consistency is tough. It has been something I have strived for in so many aspects of my life, my spinning being only one small example. As PLY’s customer service representative, I try so hard to provide a consistently high level of assistance to all of our wonderful readers. I try to make my spaghetti sauce taste pretty much the same every time I make it. But my yarn? Oh. My. That is another story.

I try, I really do. Thankfully, being a world-class spinner was not a job requirement. (Thank you, Jacey!) Please bear in mind that I have ADHD, and sometimes I forget to take my meds. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to live with this type of brain, I refer you to the movie Up. If “Squirrel!” means anything to you, now you get it. If you don’t know the movie, it’s fabulous on so many levels, so you should watch it. Really. Without meds, I see a lot of squirrels on an hourly basis.

For example, I may start out with the intention of spinning a lovely laceweight in an amazing blue fiber that’s a blend of silk and Merino and other lovelies, and I’m fine until “Squirrel!” And my fully focused, mostly even worsted yarn becomes a mostly even-ish woolen yarn a few (hah! several!!) less WPI than what I started with. This is the sad but true story of my spinning life. I console myself by saying that nobody will ever notice once the shawl is knitted up after the singles have been plied. I mean, plying hides a multitude of sins, doesn’t it?

I consistently tell myself that if I concentrate really, really hard, I can make sure the rest of the spinning is 100% worsted so the plying will make up for my encounters with grey rodents. That my whimsy merely shows the “hand” in handmade. Maybe I tell myself that only expert eyes will examine my knitting that closely, and if they do, maybe they need to relax a bit and back off.

At the end of the day, the one consistent thing about my spinning is that I try. Sometimes I actually succeed. For very brief periods of time. The trick is to not let that stop you. You just have to find the “convincing arguments” (some would say “lies”; po-tay-to, po-tah-to) that keep you going. Find them. Use them. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. My personal motto is “It will be fine.” The “it” changes all the time. Sometimes it’s my spinning, sometimes the spaghetti sauce. Either way, I end up with something worth the effort.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

October Vlog with Jacey and Jillian

On October 18, Jacey Faulkner and Jillian Moreno kicked off the PLY vlog with a live virtual chat with spinners from around the world. If you missed the vlog (or just want to hear it again), you can catch up with it here. Listen as Jacey and Jillian each share their favorite parts of the recent Basics issue. Watch with glee as Jacey shares one of the mystery boxes she receives from Judith MacKenzie, filled with surprises for each issue. Need a visual on joins for both worsted and woolen spinning? Jacey shows you how she does each. Jillian shares the wonderful fiber and tools from indie artists featured in the Basics issue. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the upcoming Winter issue on Warmth and learn some behind the scenes secrets of PLY. Don’t miss the great Q&A as they answer questions from spinners like you! (And watch for announcements for future live vlogs from PLY.)

Links mentioned in the video:

Ply Basics

A Spinner’s Dozen

Rachel Smith Wool n’ Spinning

Katie Weston – Hilltop cloud



Cat and Sparrow


Akerworks Bobbins

Into the Whirled

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Reader Feature: Leslie Ann Bestor

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started spinning.

Basically, I tricked myself into learning to spin. My first fiber love was knitting, and I followed that bliss and focused on learning, making, and teaching for years. Then I picked up weaving, which was like coming home to me, and I became devoted to learning and exploring it deeply. I resisted the siren’s call of spinning for a long time, convinced it would take away from my weaving and add a second learning curve when I really just wanted a singular focus on my weaving.

And then Spinzilla happened. I had just become Weaving Manager at WEBS yarn store and ignored the call for a team captain until it became apparent the spinners were too busy to take it on. I didn’t spin, but I recognize a fun competition when I see it and volunteered, thinking my organizing and cheerleading skills could lead the day. Then, as the event came closer, I realized it would feel weird to be exhorting my teammates to “spin more!” and “faster!” when I wasn’t adding to the team total. So a weaving guildmate taught me to spin, and I made lumpy yarn with much encouragement from my teammates and fell in love both with spinning and the community of spinners.

Of course, spinning lives up to my worst fears: it competes with weaving for my time and money, adds another type of fiber stash to an already packed house, needs more tools – and it soothes my soul and, ironically, has opened a whole new style of weaving to me.

Do you have a favorite type of yarn to spin?

I have a fondness for the sheepy things; I love the sproing and bounce. But then I took a silk spinning workshop last August (2019) and became entranced. I declared 2020 to be the Year of Silk and decided to focus on learning and experimenting and trying new things with silks and silk blends. It feels so indulgent and luxurious to work with, yet it is strong and has that wonderfully long staple.

What do you like to make with your handspun yarn?

For a long time I was definitely a process spinner – my joy was in the time spinning and the finished yarn was an afterthought waiting for a suitable project to show up. In the past couple of years, I’ve come into making intentional yarn, creating the yarn I envision for a project, usually weaving. I’ve been weaving a series of wide scarves on my rigid heddle loom, mixing my handspun with a commercial weaving yarn to create warp-dominant pieces that showcase the handspun. This has been a lot of fun, especially with the silks and silk blends.

My other favorite reason to spin is for gift giving. Many of my friends and family create things from yarn, and I love to surprise them with something special – a luxe blend or amazing colorway. And then I get to indulge myself, too, in the spinning process.

How long have you been reading PLY?

Since I started spinning in 2014. Spinning friends who mentored me raved about it, and I could see why. I fell in love with the simple beauty, the eye candy, and as I learned to spin, I learned more and more from the articles. I have many issues in my bookcase, they are my reference library and resource guides, and a couple that I bought digitally (the Silk issue is pretty much open on my laptop all the time these days).

What do you look forward to most when you get an issue?

An afternoon/evening of relaxation, inspiration, and education! I get myself a beverage and settle into a cozy corner to pore through it. Admire the front cover and see what Jacey has to say, scan the contents and see if anything jumps out, and then begin a long perusal. Sometimes it’s a brief once-through with an eye to coming back to certain things. Other times, when I have the time, I devour the articles as I go. After it lolls around the house for a few weeks, it goes on the shelf with the others, ready to refer to for guidance or inspiration. They feel pretty timeless to me.

Tell us about a project you worked on that was inspired by an article, project, or issue of PLY.

Since I have been raving about silk, you can guess that my favorite issue of PLY is the Silk one. Once I took the silk spinning class, I bought the issue digitally and consumed it, rereading articles several times. I wanted to learn more about different kinds of silk, and 2 of the articles got my interest. The first was an experiment with multiple types of silk comparing luster and direction of spin/ply which seemed like a great way to try the different types of silk. The second was a project to make what the author called a deconstructed cowl. It was colorful and playful and involved an assortment of fiber preps, so here was another great way to learn about the varieties of silk. When I declared 2020 the Year of Silk, I got ready for it by seeking out and buying all the soft and shiny bits for these 2 projects.

When the pandemic came along I thought spinning would be my salvation, relaxing and calming me as usual. But when I tried my default yarn, the mindless kind I thought would be soothing with its regularity, my mind just raced with anxious thoughts. I realized I needed something to help me focus my mind, which learning some new will do, but I didn’t want to add stress; I needed something fun. Immediately I thought of the deconstructed cowl, and here is how it went:

I had some of the supplies already and then bought the rest to go (nominally) colorwise with them. I looked for the brightest, most cheerful colors I could find. I filled my basket with bombyx brick, hand painted bombyx combed top, hankies, cocoons, sari waste, and more random bombyx top. I set the basket next to me while I was spinning the single and chose randomly what to spin next.

This part of the project was so delightful! I put no pressure on myself to make perfect yarn, and since the project was a bit wacky, it was all going to look crazy anyway. At the same time, I was focused on learning to work with the fibers, so my mind was occupied with what was in my hands rather than what was in the world. This spinning was definitely my happy place: the colors were fun, I got to keep changing it up, there was no wrong way, and – the shiny!

I spun the top and the brick over the fold with a short forward draw and the sari silk with a short forward draw; the hankies I drafted out and just added twist at the wheel (Lendrum double treadle with jumbo plyer).

The second step involved coiling the single around a core (I used 10/2 cotton, a weaving yarn). I had never done coils before and certainly never saw myself spinning an art yarn (how did I get here?), but the pictures in the article were so clear and precise that it was easy to pick up. To be honest, I’m not sure I got it right, but the end result works; it looks like success to me. The coiling was fun, too, kind of like holding the reins on a cantering horse. Of course, that would be a carousel horse because it was so brightly colored, and then there were these cocoons dangling like little bobbles! I posted pictures to my spinning group, and a friend dubbed it Seuss-like, a comparison I love.

I did change things up when I had a break in my coiled yarn which allowed me to do the plying from 2 separate bobbins rather than trying to wind a plying ball, which sounded tricky. Of course the bobbins weren’t even, but I realized the leftover coiled yarn makes a perfect necklace.

The last step was to crochet this twisted and plied colorful cord. I wound the plied yarn onto my swift and worked from the swift to crochet what I now call the Seussian Silk Garland. It is heavy and shiny and has these dangly colorful cocoons. I wish I were living in my parents’ house with their big bay window because that would be the perfect place to hang this garland, as a swag that would sparkle and shine in the sun. For now, I have my garland draped around the walls of my bedroom, very renaissance in a Seussian way. It will be my goofy garland of the pandemic, a symbol of joy and learning shining through.

Epilogue: I have started my second PLY pandemic project, the study of spin/ply twist direction on luster. I am proceeding slowly, as I apparently need breaks for wild color, but I’m learning a lot as I work through the different varieties of silk.

Leslie Ann Bestor can be found on Ravlery as carpeyarnum and Instagram @leslieannbestor.

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PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

My Garden Coat

words and photos by Sally Hands

As a committed spindle spinner for over 10 years, I thought the time had come to spin a really big project.

I usually use local fleece as I’m lucky enough to live in Wales where we have more sheep than people. I’m also a big fan of the Fibreshed movement and of saving the planet. I won’t use fibre with air miles on it; I buy local and grow my own dyes – woad and madder for blue and brick red and onion skins from the kitchen for yellow.

A couple of summers ago, I came back from a nearby farm (Cwmchwefru Wool) with a big Corriedale/ Shetland fleece, soaked it overnight, washed it in the morning with dish soap in very hot water, and then spun it in the machine in sections inside a pillowcase.

Over a period of weeks, I dyed it with the plant dyes from the garden. I had to source some woad from a supplier as I didn’t have enough fresh stuff. I ended up with a big pile of multicoloured fluff in different shades. The dyeing didn’t have to be consistent since I was going to blend and mix it.

It’s nice sometimes to make projects with minimal equipment in a small space. With a spindle, rigid heddle loom, and something to card or comb with, this was one of those projects. Even a relative beginner could make this, and if you weren’t a confident spindle spinner when you started, you would be when you finished! For a beginner, I’d recommend you prepare a smooth lump-free length of fibre; I comb mine and then blend it a bit, either by using a blending board or just by breaking off small pieces of coloured fluff and spinning them randomly. And it helps to pre-draft.

My favourite spindle is a Turkish spindle from Ian Tait at IST Craft on the Isle of Wight, and this spindle was great for all the singles. To make a 2 ply, I put 2 cops into 2 old teapots and plied from the spouts. This puts a useful tension on the yarn as you ply. I plied on the heavy low-whorl spindle I learned to spin on. I was using the same yarn for warp and weft and spun both the same way, but I did put a bit of extra twist in. You don’t want your yarn fraying in the beater as it’s woven. The singles were a lively multicoloured thread in blues, reds, and yellows, and I plied randomly.

This way of spinning is slow. With the Turkish spindle I have to watch my hands for the over-two under-one wind on. It could be quicker to use a light high whorl spindle with a faster spin and an easier wind on where you don’t have to look at your hands. But my Turkish spindle is a favourite, and this was a big project; I’d be spinning a little bit every day for nearly a year, so I used the spindle I loved. I work as an artist and musician and have come to realise it’s the process that is a joy more than the finished piece.

I almost always spin my default yarn. It’s quite fine: the singles are 32 WPI, and the 2 ply is 18 WPI. I spin a small cop as twirling a heavy spindle hurts due to an old shoulder injury. My 2-ply skein weighed about 32 grams when it was washed and measured around 90 yards. I looked at the first skein in these colours and thought it looked lovely. Only another 25 skeins to go!

When the pile of skeins grew to about 20, I just had to wind the warp. I couldn’t wait to see the colour effect. I wound a warp on the rigid heddle loom that was 28 inches wide. Since I was going to weave 120 inches, I added on top of that about 18 inches to the warp for waste. The warp in the random spun yarn looked yummy!

I quickly went on to spin the rest of the yarn and wove the weft to 120 inches. After cutting the fabric off the loom and admiring it, I zig-zagged with the sewing machine across the middle halfway up and cut across, giving me 2 rectangles measuring 28 inches x 60 inches. After being washed, it was a little smaller. I pressed it damp after again spinning it in the washing machine in a pillowcase to protect it and stitched it by hand into a loose cocoon coat.

I’ve been so pleased with this simple coat. I’ve been asked where I bought it, and I’ve worn it to the opera. My yarn wove nicely in a 10-dent reed, but you can spin the yarn to any thickness; just warp it in a fatter reed if it’s thicker. I’ve seen loads of cocoon jackets and coats on Pinterest this year, and if you want to be environmentally friendly you can wear it over basic leggings and a t-shirt and look dressed up. You don’t have to shop for new clothes.

I’m considering my next big project and may buy black, fawn, and grey fleece from the farm and make a multicoloured yarn in natural sheep shades next time. Just don’t worry about quick projects; enjoy the spinning. It’s the process that satisfies the soul!

Sally Hands is an artist and musician working in  Wales. She spends all day making and teaching art and music; at night  she has acquired the bad habit of spindle  spinning lying across an armchair with her feet in her husband’s lap demanding a foot massage. You can find her @sallyhands on Instagram.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.