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Spinning The Rest of The Story

Apr 1, 2008

So many of you wrote in to compliment me on "my very first yarn" that I felt a teensy bit guilty. These posts are so short that sometimes I have to leave out parts of the story in order to fit in the really important stuff.

But this time, I realized that perhaps the "rest of the story" WAS really important, that it actually holds the key to just how important Maggie's class was to me, as a knitter and as a spinner. So now, here's the fabled Rest of The Story...

I actually learned to spin about fourteen(ish) years ago, back when I lived in California. I bought an Ashford Traditional wheel, dozens of drop spindles, and had an absolute blast spinning every fiber I could get my hands on. The yarn I spun was lumpy, bumpy, and, uh, "full of personality," —not at all like the lovely smooth yarns I dreamed of spinning. I always felt as though I was missing some Secret of Spinning that would enable me to make those "real" yarns, but I never could figure out what I was doing wrong. I was confused by all the fancy-dancy spinning terminology, and I felt like I was fighting with my wheel every time I tried to adjust it. Although I loved spinning, I came to the conclusion I was just really bad at it.

Then a car accident left me with a hand injury, an injury that when all was said and done left me with only partial use of my left thumb and forefinger. I managed to re-teach myself to knit and crochet and do beadwork, but no matter what I did, I couldn't manage the spinning anymore. My left hand was my dominant hand for spinning, you see, the hand that did all the pinching and clever stuff up front. Now that the hand wasn't being particularly clever, my bad spinning got worse, and, well...I gave up.

Not terribly fearless of me.

This is where Maggie comes into the picture. After years of thinking I would never spin again, a friend at work recommended I take Maggie's class, saying that Maggie knew so much about spinning that she was often able to come up with alternate ways of doing things.

The best way to spin? In handknit socks!

Which is exactly what Maggie did. She taught me to spin so that my "good" right hand did all the clever work, and my "not-so-good" left hand was just hanging out there back stage, to guide and supervise and provide running commentary. It was tough at first, because my brain, which thought it knew what it was doing, had to become a bit humble, and realize that it needed to be completely retrained now that I was learning to do everything the opposite of how I had originally learned to do it.

The point is: Maggie was able to teach me to do that. And when I spun my first smooth, fine yarn, yarn that looked like REAL yarn, I felt as though she had given me back part of my knitter's heart.

We all have obstacles to overcome in our crafting. In my beginning spinning class, there were several folks who had been to previous spinning classes, and like me, thought they were simply bad spinners. One woman was fighting with her wheel, and Maggie helped her learn how to adjust it. One woman had had a rather cranky teacher who had discouraged her. Maggie helped her spin a lovely two-ply yarn with confidence. And the true beginners in the class, the ones who had never held a drop spindle or sat before a wheel in their lives, well. They came in saying "I'll never be able to do this" and yet they left with hanks and skeins of beautiful handspun, dreaming of what they would knit with the yarn they had made.

If you want to do something, find a teacher. If that teacher doesn't give you confidence, find another teacher. If there are no teachers nearby, find a good book. Find a way to do what you yearn to do. The world's a better place if you are doing what you love.

Photos from Maggie's spinning class

I know Maggie lives here in Boulder, and most of you cannot make it to her classes. If you'd like to learn to spin, or if you'd like a refresher course in everything from handcarding to fixing yarn with too much twist, Maggie's new book, Start Spinning, is almost as good as having Maggie sitting right next to you. It's filled with step by step photos of Maggie herself demonstrating each technique; the instructions are so clear that it's like having a spinning cookbook as you learn the delights of fiber and wheel. My copy is already a bit battered, and I've only had it for a few weeks. Plus, it now has the ultimate Sandi Seal of Approval: page 52 in the Troubleshooting section has a chocolate smear on it.

If you want to hear more about Maggie's passion for teaching spinning, there's a conversation between Amy Singer and Maggie in the Spring 2008 issue of Spin-Off magazine.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's spinning wheel? Beautiful hand-dyed alpaca roving from SakinaNeedles, which I am spinning very fine, about 38 wraps per inch.

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on Jul 10, 2008 7:10 PM

Pingback from  Must Have More Yarn! » Spinning/Fiber Junkie

Maria wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 7:40 AM
I have a Lendrum double treadle complete. I bought it about five years ago and have only used it about four times. The reason is because I also felt like it was too complicated and my results were awful. When I read about Maggie, I wondered who is Maggie? Could it be the same person who wrote the book I just ordered? Yes, it is Maggie Casey. I feel more hopeful now. Maybe when I get her book 'Start Spinning' I will do a better job. I knew when I first saw it that it was different from all the rest. Just seeing a Lendrum wheel in it and how to use it made me want it. I wish all the wheel manufacturers had videos of how to use their particular wheels. Thank you for telling the rest of the story.
MidoriW wrote
on Apr 7, 2008 5:09 PM
to purlgirl: my sister tried to teach me to spin years ago on her (i think)lundrum wheel. i had the worst sore belly muscles that i have ever had in my life. it was horrible, and i was discouraged. i still managed to save until i could mail order an ashford traveler wheel that my son helped me finish and assemble. i read every "how-to" book that i could find, and tried several kinds of wool until i could manage to spin just fine with no sore belly. i think a lot of the trouble i had was in tensioning of the wheel being too tight (with my sister). after suffering 10 years with carpal tunnel, i have finally retaught myself how to knit with out hurting myself, and last month began spinning again. it was lumpy and bumpy, and i couldn't remember how to "set" it. so i knit straight off the wheel a little mug-rug from Elizabeth Zimmerman. it is soft and sweet, and i love it. because every time i use it, i see that i can learn to learn again. keep it up. don't give up. if you spin something that vaguely resembles yarn, use it for something. it will please you. -midori
ClassicC wrote
on Apr 6, 2008 10:08 AM
Maggie taught me to spin too! I stopped in to buy some wool and a drop spindle. At the time there were no spinning classes open, so she sat down with me and showed me how.
ChristyT wrote
on Apr 4, 2008 9:15 AM
Please tell me -- did I miss the patterns that we voted on awhile ago (a "best" of Intereave knits)
Thank you so much!
LoriG wrote
on Apr 4, 2008 8:28 AM
As a beginner spinner, you have greatly encouraged me! Thanks Sandi!
BeverlyP wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 1:22 PM
Hi Sandi,
I am a long time spinner, I find that when I switch spinning direction, to go from an S twist to a Z twist or vise versa, my hands automatically change position to respond to the direction of the twist. Sometimes changing twist is for plying, but sometimes, every year or so, I just change to get my hands and brain and body more balanced. It's amazing how we get used to and comfortable doing a thing one way and get sort of stuck in a groove. Can you talk about the S and Z twists in relationship to knitting; their different 'look' or behavior? I love Knitting Daily. Thanks. Beverly
Purlgirl wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 10:40 AM
Oh, Sandy, your yarn is beautiful! It is my dream to learn to spin. I love everything about the process. I have taken two separate spinning classes and have not made any yarn yet! I own a nice wheel and a spindle, but it is so frustrating when you just can't get the hang of it. I prefer the wheel, but it doesn't like to cooperate! Try, try again!
Kathleen O wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 10:19 AM
Hi-I am sooo glad Sandi, you have pursued spinning-it adds such quality to a knitter's life to be able to create a project beginning with the yarn. I am a spinning teacher as well-my one piece of advise to new spinners: start with short sessions daily-no more than 20 minutes. During these sessions-you will notice a few but brief "ah -hah!" moments. Keep building on those. If you repeat these short sessions for a week-your brain-muscle connection will begin to be established and the "ah-hah!" moments will increase in frequency and length. And with short sessions-one can handle that length of time more easily and your brain won't get overloaded. And if you NEED a teacher-think about finding a local spinning guild for assistance. Good luck!
RobynnT wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 9:06 AM
I was fortunate enough to have a few lessons with Maggie (She called me a natural which is one of the greatest compliments I've gotten) and she is truely an excellent teacher. I imagine it will be a little harder to get into her classes now that she a bonafide celebrity!
Boothacus wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 7:58 AM
Sandi, a great story, and you can see how skinny you are getting by the pictures!!!!
A good teacher can teach anyone anything. A bad teacher can ruin a student on a subject the already love. The key to teaching is encouragement, patience and finding the way the student learns best, if possible, and approach from that standpoint. a good teacher is priceless and has an influence that can last a lifetime. It's a very powerful position and should be use to encourage as opposed to just bully and show how much knowledge the individual has.
As an aside, I've noticed a lot of us have gone into crafts and/or fiber due to injury or limitations which have given us some downtime from what we used to do. Keeping a mind active and constantly learning is wonderful therapy. Knitting has been great therapy and now an obsession. Just wish I could figure out how to exercise and knit at the same time!!!
Thanks Sandi!
JoyJ wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 1:21 AM
thank you for sharing your relearning, and how you actually are living as you write - FEARLESS! It is very encouraging, and any time I say I am afraid to try a new knitting/crochet technique, I will learn to be FEARLESS just like Sandi!
AudreyD@2 wrote
on Apr 3, 2008 12:59 AM
I'm glad to hear the rest of the spinning story. I first tried to spin with a drop-spindle at age 9, soon after I learned to crochet, in the 70's, but lacked a teacher and the wonderful books (not to mention the internet)we have now. At 10, I developed a movement disorder which disrupted my fine and gross motor coordination for a few years.
While I no longer am plagued by it in my daily life, it does take me longer to learn to do things like drive a stick shift, dance, use a sewing machine or even a spinning wheel. I have been spinning with the drop spindle for some 5 years, now. With good teachers, I have branched out to spin linen and cotton on the spindle. I have been spinning with the wheel for some three years and now have a Kromski Mazurka. I also have taken up weaving. I give spinning and fiber talks in my children's classes at school. Learning to spin has given me an appreciation for all the beautiful cloth we have and the access to just about any fiber we can think of. Spinning makes me happy.
Audrey M. DeNeui
RuthW wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 10:53 PM
I had to relearn to knit after a TBI - (brain injury). It keeps us challenged to (re)learn something new! Thanks for the rest of the story, Sandi. You are an inspiration! I hope to meet you when I go to visit my daughter in Windsor. She got married in Loveland last year and sad to say Vermont has lost a great gal to Colorado, but it is a great place to visit! Thanks. Ruth
Kchealy wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 10:20 PM
Thanks for sharing your story and photos. I actually saw the woman with the green hair recently from your class in the RTD station in downtown Denver, spinning in public with her Kromski Sonata! I love seeing people spinning in public - such a rarity!
Korie BethB wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 10:03 PM
Sandi, thanks for the words of encouragement and the humor! I get so much out of reading your posts, and not just for my knitting -- the line between 'fearless knitting' and 'fearless living' is really thin at times, innit? Even though I don't know you personally, you've changed my life for the better. Thanks again.
Meeb wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 9:55 PM
maureen j - one can spin cotton, silk, bamboo, tencel, flax, hemp, bunny... your dog. just off the top of my head. i know someone who has spun cotton from medicine bottles and dryer lint.. just to say she could. but do yourself a favor and start out with wool ... it's way easier to learn on. make a pillow, or potholders, or shoelaces or something if you don't wear wool. if you actually can't even handle wool, you might try alpaca. i learned to spin with that - it wasn't too hard, and it doesn't affect some of my friends with allergies the way wool does.

as to finding a teacher - of course, your LYS first, but also check out the online guild listing at interweave press, and issues of spin off for ads for all the fiber festivals coming up this summer. there's bound to be one reasonably close to you, or work your summer vacation around one. they're great fun, and great fun for kids, too.

maggie's new book is absolutely fantastic. (if you're a beginner, don't even go near alden amos's book unless you're also a very secure rocket scientist).
SharryB wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 9:24 PM
I can sooo relate to your "rest of the story". After acquiring several sheep (now up to 60) I decided that I really should learn to spin or do something with all that wool!!! I took a spinning class and soon learned that it was the hardest thing I had ever tried. I would be up at midnight crying until my Husband insisted that I go to bed and try again the next day. All of a sudden everything came together and I have been an avid spinner for the last twelve years. So I say --never give up; it's worth it!! Then I tried knitting--bad. But after a couple of years I do believe I have it!!!! At least enough to use some of that handspun I've stored in the other refridgerator.

I really enjoyed the article about Maggie in SpinOff.

SB in New Mexico
H.H wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 9:11 PM
Thank you *so* much for posting about your hand injury! After a bike accident, it took two years to get my dominant hand in knitting condition again--I'm still working on regaining flexibility, and I'm going to just keep working on it--your post is very inspiring.
MinnieO wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 8:44 PM
i am generally an ambidextrous person anyway, so when i learned to spin, i deliberately taught myself to draft with either hand, to prevent cramping. now i've done it long enough that i don't cramp any more, but still switch off on occasion, just to keep "my hand in." good on you for relearning!
mljan wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 7:54 PM
I'd love to be able to spin. I want one of those beautiful wheels! But, what fiber can I spin here in California, where I wouldn't wear wool, and can't anyway. What other fibers are satisfying to spin.
I've seen pictures on some of the blogs of colorful roving (Is that right?) and then the pictures of the yarn spun from it are amazing.
This is one area where I envy all you folks in snow country.
on Apr 2, 2008 7:53 PM
Excellent story on relearning to spin!!

I am going into my 10th year of teaching spinning to any and all who come to fairs, faires, and festivals for a good time. I really haven't found anyone I couldn't teach to make whatever kind of yarn they wanted to use.

And yes, I sell my yarns to knitters and crocheters when I have some left over from my projects. Occasionally I take on commission jobs, but not too often as I hate having to meet deadlines!!

Happy Spinning to you! I am enjoying the KnittingDaily emails and sharing them with others as well.
Sue in the CactusPatch
Stimps wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 7:12 PM
I adore spinning... I am totally uncapable of doing it well with a spindle, but I'm getting better at doing cotton on a charkha, and my wool (and other fibre) spinning is great on a wheel.

I can't wear socks when I spin, though, because my feet slip off the treadles. =)
AnnaM wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 7:09 PM
Sandi, thank you SO much for telling us that because you were injured, you didn't try. I have been a non-fearless needlewoman for more that 3 years now, with badly damaged rotator cuff muscles on my left side, and debilitating arthritis in my hands. I have had to give up a beloved dressmaking career because of it all. But I must be ready finally hear what you have said, because I believe i could spin! I will find a teacher (anyone know a good one in Baltimore, MD?) THANK YOU , Sandy, Knitting daily, and all you guys!
LisaB@2 wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 6:28 PM
Your comment on finding a teacher and if no one available or moreover no good one then a book etc, etc... Was right on target. So many people have told me that they tried knitting and were overwhelmed.. [they likely had a bad teacher]... and now they think they can not do it.. same thing goes for just about anything....

I don't have a spinning teacher.. I am self taught.. but the more I play with my wheel and fiber the more I learn... for example.. I can not talk and spin unless I want really tight thin yarn.... To get a good weight without too much twist I have to focus on staying at an even rythem... Which is good for me to as it is very calming.... Like so many things in life.. practice and patience are key

So glad you were able to get back to something you love.
JanetB@4 wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 6:16 PM

I love your coment regarding learning to do what you love. How fearless! I have printed it out and have it on my cubicle wall. Maybe your quote will inspire me to learn to knit 2 socks on one circular needle. You inspire me.

"If you want to do something, find a teacher. If that teacher doesn't give you confidence, find another teacher. If there are no teachers nearby, find a good book. Find a way to do what you yearn to do. The world's a better place if you are doing what you love."
Rebecca S wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:41 PM
The Red wheel is the Schacht Ladybug - made in Boulder Colorado. I think the wheel that Sandy was pictured spinning on is also a Schacht - The Matchless!
Rebecca S wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:39 PM
That "jazzy" wheel is the new Ladybug from Schacht. They are a spinning wheel manufacturer in Boulder, CO and they make stunning wheels! I think the wheel that Sandy is pictured spinning on is the Schacht "Matchless". If anyone doesn't have time to take an entire spinning class, Maggie does impromptu spinning lessons in her store. She taught me to spindle spin in about 10 minutes and then I was hooked. I bought a Kromski Sonata wheel and I have never had more fun in my life!
Jennifer H wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:39 PM
PS... The red wheel is the Schacht Ladybug.
Jennifer H wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:35 PM
Maggie is an excellent teacher. She taught a class at the Estes Park Wool Market last year that I took. I wanted it to go on for days because I was learning so much.
elizaduckie wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:12 PM
And ooh, ooh, ooh what is that jazzy looking wheel, in the picture at Maggies shop, with the RED wheel on it???
elizaduckie wrote
on Apr 2, 2008 5:08 PM

It was someone who pointed out that just because I couldn't do the long draw technique [I didn't know that was what I was trying to do] didn't mean I couldn't spin. I always thought there was only one way to spin. That's absolutely a mad idea! When I know there's another way to do almost everything, especially knitting.

Someone showed me, while I was mooning over her wheel, and casually mentioning that I could not use that method due to shoudler and neck problems, that she could spin perfectly well in a short draw method...well! Right there and then I bought a previously owned Ashford Traditional! Now all I have to do is buy Maggie's Book!