Note, I didn’t say information never becomes outdated. Sure, information becomes obsolete. Techniques change and improve, modern methods and technology take over. More informed ways of doing things prevail over previously sworn-by methods. But the wisdom and underlying traditions inherent to the process are always there, and sometimes technology just gets in the way.
Spinning is a process that has basically remained unchanged for thousands of years. Spinning’s core elements remain constant: you can get the same results with a simple hand tool and a little bit of fiber that you would get with an expensive spinning wheel–or an enormous mechanized factory process. We take it for granted today that, in most parts of the world, we who choose to become handspinners do so as a hobby. Spinning is a luxury rather than a necessity. Handwork, fiber arts, DIY, arts and crafts, whatever you want to call it, the urge to return to the basics is cyclical, and currently the fiber arts is experiencing a popularity that doesn’t look like it’s about to wane anytime soon.
Spinning and weaving experienced a similar renaissance starting in the Seventies as part of the grassroots movement in which people embraced a return to tradition, and self-sustainability was a motivator for many. Spinners published their knowledge and experience to share with other spinners. Some of these books are only available today through used booksellers, but they’re worth searching out. Ironically, the Internet makes it easier than ever to find those elusive or out-of-print editions.
Bette Hochberg wrote a series of booklets on handspinning in the Seventies and Eighties. Thanks to Alibris ‘s network of used booksellers I found two of Bette’s booklets immediately. Handspindles, published in 1977, is an in-depth yet compact guide to every type of spindle you can lay your hands on, from drop spindle to supported spindle, to spindles from every part of the world. There is a lot of historical information in here as well. Handspinners Handbook, published in 1980, instructs spinners on getting the most out of a spinning wheel. Don’t let the size fool you. These small volumes pack a ton of valuable information, photographs, and charming illustrations that teach the reader how to spin from start to finish.
I found the illustration below to be very enlightening. I have a modern reproduction of this type of spindle made by The Spanish Peacock that he calls a Victorian Lady’s Silk Spindle. I can’t get the hang of this spindle. It’s made for very lightweight spinning, so I’ll probably have to order a silk hankie or two and give it a try.
Lee Raven’s guide Hands-On Handspinning, originally published in 1987 by Interweave Press, often comes up in the knitting forums as a valuable and relevant resource. Plenty of photos accompany Lee’s step-by-step instructions on how to spin with a spinning wheel. She details the mechanics of the wheel and identifies the various parts. She explains everything from Z-twist and S-twist, worsted and woolen drafting, and fiber preparation. A more recent edition is still available on Interweave’s online store but it’s listed as discontinued. What can I say? Newer editions notwithstanding, I have a soft spot for vintage.
We as handspinners are absolutely spoiled for choice these days, with so many classic books being reissued, and new authors such as Abby Franquemont and Amy King covering spindles and wheels, respectively. (Interweave is mainly responsible for this, being virtually the only publisher dedicated to handspinning. Thanks, Interweave!) I was finishing up college when Lee Raven’s book came out; there’s a part of me that wishes I’d stuck with knitting when I was taught as a little girl. I also wish I’d learned to spin at a younger age, too. But the interest wasn’t there, and traditional handcrafts just weren’t on my radar at that age. Oh well. With age comes experience, and…wisdom.
The More You Know…a small spinning bibliography
In addition to the vintage books detailed above, here are some of my favorite spinning books, in no particular order:
- The Alden Amos Big Book Of Handspinning by Alden Amos
- Respect The Spindle by Abby Franquemont
- Spin Control by Amy King
- Color In Spinning by Deb Menz
- Spinning The Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts
- The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook by Lynne Vogel
- Homespun Handknit by Amy Clarke Moore