If you’re a new or newer spinner looking for just the right spinning fibre to help you on your hand spinning journey, you’re in luck. Never have so many breeds and varieties of wool been available, and all can be ordered and delivered to your doorstep with the mere click of a button. And while this is indeed a tremendous development, such abundance can be overwhelming for anyone, and even more so for the new hand spinner.
Let me start by saying that there’s no one “best” spinning fibre for all new spinners. Rather, there are traits to look for that can make spinning with certain wool breeds and preparations easier for those who are learning. Wools with a moderate crimp and/or fineness (with an approximate staple length of 80–120 mm, or 3–5 inches), including but not limited to Corriedale, Targhee, Polwarth, BFL, Finn, and Cheviot, are among the repertoire I recommend for beginner spinners who are learning with combed top. These breeds all have a different hand, or feel, to them, but their staple lengths are in that ideal mid-range.
Crossbreeding fine-wooled sheep with strong-wooled breeds (in differing percentages for specific end results) led to the development of Corriedale, Targhee, and Polwarth, which means their characteristics are neither fully coarse nor fully soft.
Again, purchase options for commercially prepared fibres were once extremely limited, so suggested learning fibre is an ever-dynamic topic. Still… there are some tips a new student can incorporate with their choice in spinning fibre to help make the learning process go more smoothly:
Use top-quality wool from reputable suppliers and dyers
Invest in yourself and your sanity by purchasing high-quality fibre from reputable sources and dyers. This is no time for a matted mess and/or poorly handled fibre, as new spinners are less likely to spot the good from the bad. If you’ve heard that undyed fibre is easier to spin than hand-dyed stuff, technically, there is truth to that. The dyeing process changes the basic makeup of the strands themselves by leaving them more compressed (see below for a workaround!). If you’re worried, start with an undyed top, sourced from an online shop or storefront that markets to spinners.
Apply the “fluff and whip” for easy-peasy preparation
Whether you opt for undyed or hand-dyed commercial fibre, spinning is easiest when the strands themselves can slide past each other with ease. That’s why carded preparation is often recommended over combed top for new spinners, and why many spinning teachers advise their students to stay away from hand-dyed fibres. Fortunately, a little “fluff and whip” is all you need to turn almost any compressed top into a spinner’s dream.
First, gently tease open the strip of fibre, widthwise. You’ll be surprised by how wide your combed top really is! Work your way down the entire length (you may wish to tear the fibre into a couple of manageable sections first). After teasing the fibre open, “whip” some air into it by snapping the strip in a strong whipping motion—so strong that you may even hear an audible “snapping” sound. Turn the fibre around and whip the other end so that the sheaves of fibre within the strip release and puff open.
Keep going as needed. Now admire your fluffy fibre! You’ll see that this has loosened the stables enough to slide freely, making for easier spinning and fibre so fluffy that your carded batts will be jealous.
Take a gander at the staple length before you spin
Prior to starting a spin, it’s helpful to check the staple length of the fibre so you’ll know how far apart to hold your hands through the process. To do so, hold the fluffed length of fibre between your hands, keeping them several inches apart. Now gently pull the fibre until a staple length releases. If nothing happens, try moving your hands farther apart. Lay that staple length vertically on your thigh to act as a reminder of how far apart to keep your hands while spinning. (You’ll need to keep them farther apart than this length, or else the fibre won’t draft apart.)
Buy the most appealing to you
Finally—and this one could be most important of all—buy the fibres that appeal to you in colour, breed or blend. Try as many varieties as you can get your hands on. We are all different people with our own preferences and experiences, so don’t let hearsay ward you off spinning. This excitement keeps you coming back to the wheel—and that is how we learn to spin.
Want even more guidance on beginning spinning? Watch Felicia’s class, Spinning From Scratch!