Hi all! You’d never guess it from the title, but in this post I’m going to be talking about how spinning on my wheel has been going and about the first few skeins to come of my wheel!
My first evening behind my wheel was a disaster, if we define disaster as the opposite of producing something remotely resembling yarn without a constant state of dread. Alright, that’s a bit too much maybe, but that first time behind the wheel was hectic! The wheel in general allows for much more control in drafting than a spindle does, as you’re free to draft with two instead of one hand. That though assumes a basic familiarity with the speed and fibre intake of a wheel, which, having never sat behind a wheel, I significantly lacked. In my case that mostly translated in a lot of breakage of the yarn and having to put a lot of effort in just keeping up with the wheel. I did manage to get something on the bobbin, but it wasn’t a lot, unlike the built up frustration at that point. I didn’t expect to be great at it in my first sitting, so I had planned to more or less treat it the same as how I learned to spin on my spindles; small daily intervals of practise focussing on wheel familiarity and eventually getting to a place where I could focus on fine-tuning technique etc. However, that first evening was quite a modest springboard to be sure.
So the second day I sat behind the wheel I expected it to go much like the first time. Except… it didn’t. As if by magic the whole process went a lot smoother and I felt a lot more in control than I did the first day. I don’t really know how that happened and obviously I was still a bit of a rabbit on ice skates and in many ways didn’t really know what I was doing, but overall it was just a much better experience than that first time. Encouraged by this I kept coming back to the wheel over the following days and just kept on spinning.
From that second attempt on, I noticed my experience with spinning on spindles helped a lot. While the motions are different, I had experience with drafting under speed and in general with putting twist in fibre. I’m definitely a beginner and there are a ton of things I need and want to learn, but overall broadening my horizons from only suspended spindle spinning to also learning on a wheel has been less painful and frustrating than I imagined it would be. I want to get to know my wheel better and would like to get a decent hand in fine-tuning the wheel to the yarn I want to spin but all things considered I’m pleased with where I am now.
Which brings me to showing you the first few skeins I spun on my wheel! The fibre used is the same bag of otherwise unspecified wool from Norwegian sheep that I previously used to spin a skein on my Turkish spindle. I mentioned that I had quite a bit left of that bag and decided to use the remainder for my first wheel spinning endeavours.
I spun these semi worsted from a combed top preparation. I didn’t spin them as tight as you might do for true worsted spun yarn, I spun in more air for a looser plumper yarn. The nature of the fibre I felt leaned more towards the rustic side rather than polished. I say this all as a beginner who is fairly clueless in a lot of things I’m doing on the wheel and a lot of it is guided by pure luck and intuition. That said being able to use two hands for the drafting made me feel more confident in experimenting with these things than on my spindle.
I spun the singles until I filled most of my bobbins and then plied them when I ran out of bobbin space. As with all my spindle spun yarns I plied them with two strands. The skeins are predictably and hilariously different in size as I lack the experience to judge the bobbin to skein ratio. The bigger skeins weigh 65 and 70 grams and the smaller skeins weigh 40 grams. Because the bobbins on the Ashford are small they fill up quite fast when plying.
I’m happy with the consistency on these and the thickness of the yarn which is somewhere around a dk weight. It’s not nearly as consistent and uniform as a machine spun yarn but it is close enough for me (also, I’m not sure if I even am aiming for that). In any case it is miles away from the first skein I produced on my spindle (which was a true thick and thin fest) so it’s an improvement across the board.
A lesson I learned quickly while spinning this yarn, and my main take away from wheel spinning, is how much faster it is compared to spindle spinning. I mean this is fairly straightforward and something I knew on a theoretical level long before I got into spinning. I thought I was prepared for how it would work out in practise but it still caught me by surprise just how much faster it is. All things considered spinning is still a slow craft compared to, ahem, buying commercial skeins but compared to spindle spinning I just flew through my fibre here. The good or bad thing about this (depending on your perspective) is that my fibre intake will multiply exponentially, the undoubtedly good thing is that hand spinning the materials for a big project suddenly feels attainable. The amount I’ve spun here is not enough to be used for a sweater on its own but it is the largest amount I’ve spun to an equal thickness so far and I cannot help but flutter with excitement thinking about the doors that this opens for future spinning projects.
Onions and the next step
Soon after, I decided to naturally dye my first wheel spun batch of handspun. It might sound a bit daft to some to put my precious first sizeable bits of self made yarn through something as drastic as, well, boiling them in a pot of water on a stove, but I figured that as long as I stuck with familiar dye stuff and method it was worth giving it a shot (without risking destroying my precious bounty).
I suppose that the crafty heart wants what the crafty heart wants and mine wants earthy golden green tones. So off they went into the dye pot! If you are entirely new to dying wool with natural dye material I would probably not suggest throwing your first batch of handspun at it, or any yarn that is precious to you, but otherwise I think it’s great to try!
I got out my largest dye pot as I wanted to dye all skeins together in one go to get an even dye result, as the hope was to use them together in one project. The yarn weighs about 210 grams in total. I used alum to mordant and about 60 grams of red onion skins to make the dye bath aiming to get a nice saturated colour. You can read a more detailed post on how I dye with onion skins here.
Because this is handspun, it’s hardly a uniform group of skeins. I kept track of them in my notebook while spinning and had noted down details of each individual skein, but now needed a way to keep them apart during and after the dye process. My trick was to tie knots in the piece of scrap yarn used to tie the skein that corresponded with their number in my notes (so, one knot for skein 1, two for skein 2 etc). I wasn’t sure whether the knots would survive the dying process, but it worked really well!
The result of the dyebath is a beautiful deep golden green, very similar to the grey istex yarn I dyed I while back, which was what I was aiming for. I left the skeins in the dyebath overnight and in the morning they looked a lot darker, almost charcoal, which was a bit of a shocker! However, all that excess dye washed out (it was quite a lot as you can imagine) and the end result I was left with was a lot more in line with what I expected. As it was drying in the wind outside I kept looking out and marvelling at the colour.
I could hardly contain my excitement while I waited for the skeins to completely dry to cast on! (ask my cats). In the meantime I decided to go with a simple triangle shawl for my first handspun project. Nothing fancy but a good first handspun project where I wouldn’t have to worry about potentially wild gauge changes and I can easily alter the size to get the most out of my mileage.
Well, I’m only 2 repeats in and I’m already smitten! I keep looking down at my knitting and I just cannot believe that I’m knitting with yarn I spun and dyed myself. Seems like the stuff of dreams and tall tales but here we are.
All in all I’m thrilled to have spun my first wheel spun skeins and not in my wildest dreams would I have pictured them this much like…. yarn I would actually buy?! I can hardly believe it! I ended up with quite a decent yardage, and feel like I should be able to get a sizeable shawl out of it. I haven’t knit a shawl in a bit so I had kind of forgot how fast those first rows go!
Have a great week!