Because S is for something else, too… “spin”.
I’ve agreed to be the first stop on Shannon Okey’s blog tour for her new book, Spin to Knit, on Sunday, October 1. You’ve probably seen the format before: author drops into blog, author answers questions/guest posts/posts an excerpt from book, either triggering an avalanche of comments or a single spam comment weeks later. We’ll be going for the author-answers-questions format, except I promise that I will not ask “what’s your favourite [noun]” or “how did you learn to spin” or “what projects does the future hold” questions. When I want to read interviews like that, I turn to Tiger Beat, thank you very much. (Is there a textile arts equivalent? If so, please don’t tell me.) Furthermore, the answers to two-thirds of those questions were already answered in the printed matter supplied with my complimentary copy of the book, which I received on Wednesday.
I suppose I’m in a unique position to review Shannon’s book, because I have never touched a spindle — drop or otherwise. I have never touched a spinning wheel. I have never made yarn or thread. I touched a silk hankie once, but that’s it. And it seems to me that the ideal acid test for any introductory book on spinning would be a total newbie attempting to spin yarn based only on the directions provided in the book…
… although I have never had any inclination to spin my own yarn. Ha! I always figured I would learn to weave before spinning because I’m more keen on creating fabric than… the stuff that gets turned into fabric. So I never turned my mind to it. (Turn! Get it?) And it’s just a bunch of rotational mechanics, right? The physics degree has to be good for something, so I also always figured that if I really needed to spin, it would come naturally to me. Except possibly for the not being clumsy part. (This also explains why I have not yet taken up needle felting.)
Oh, right, obligatory product shot, and then a preliminary review after the jump:
Having read through the book a couple of times, I’ll say that the book appears to address what I would need to know if I were to shut myself up in a well-appointed garret (with washtub and running hot water) with a spinning wheel or drop spindle and an unscoured fleece. The instructions focus on the creation of twisted singles, of course, with side trips into plying, dyeing (using the dishwasher, like the Surreal Gourmet, but not involving fish), and composing “art” yarns by adding stray bits of yarn, fleece, beads, and so on. The book also includes brief features on some American spinners of note.
Since I cannot dish without savouring the bad, here it is: upon reading, I felt that perhaps there was some information lacking, or rather, required inference on the part of the reader. There are some facts that should be self-evident to the spinner that are not necessarily obvious to a non-mechanically-minded neophyte. The steps involved in using both a drop spindle and a “traditional” spinning wheel were clearly photographed, and the parts of the tradish spinning wheel were also labeled. However, the mechanics of the spinning wheel were not detailed enough for my liking. If there is a flyer, it rotates around the bobbin, right? The reader could infer this from the brief description of different types of wheels (bobbin-led, etc.), I suppose, but the function of the flyer was not clear to me. However, I didn’t have a wheel in front of me, and for the purpose of getting a knitter to just get started making yarn, extra mechanical details are probably unnecessary. Also, if you consulted the book to answer the question, “how do I make DK weight singles versus laceweight, or how do I go about making thick-and-thin yarn?” you would not find a direct answer — I mean, duh, the rate at which you draw out fiber to be spun will affect the final thickness of the singles, but I suppose that if I could think of that question, there would be people who’d actually ask it. I’m also perplexed as to why one would want to spin from the fold; the technique is described and photographed, so I feel confident that I could try it out, but… why, exactly? Is this because you can avoid some other preparatory step?
Finally, while the book explains how to scour fleece and prepare it for spinning, I could have used more overt explanation about quantities required to make enough yarn for a project: is it normal to predraft all of the fleece needed to make yarn for a particular project, or only what is about to be spun during a single session? How much usable fleece can be obtained from a sheep — a sweater’s worth? More? Obviously, if a project requires 300 grams of worsted weight yarn, then you will need more than 300 grams of fleece to begin with; but I have no idea how much extra to allow for contingencies. I assume that in the patterns provided in the book, the quantities of fleece specified are post-skirting and scouring, and include enough extra to account for occasional flaws.
I’m not certain these criticisms are justified — I simply read the book a couple of times, and since I was lacking equipment I didn’t try to practice the instructions, but only took them… literally. And the answers to these questions would be provided by doing and by practising common sense, rather than by merely reading. This is like criticising a knitting book that fails to mention that you stick the point of the needle, rather than the head, through a loop to make a stitch. The fact remains that I feel confident that with Shannon’s book I could turn to a working spinning wheel and I could make yarn. Good yarn that I would be happy to knit with. The only truly justifiable criticism to make is that the term “Fair Isle” is taken in vain. Badly. But just once.
I’m pleased to see that the patterns, as a whole, focus on what I consider to be “usable” yarn, rather than “art” yarn, and in a range of weights; there is some yarn that I consider outlandish in the book, but it is used strictly as an accent. There are patterns for both clothing and accessories, and while they’re not difficult, they’re not dumbed down, either. Some patterns provide for the use of purchased yarn with handspun (for example, Noro in the inaccurately named “Faux Fair Isle” sweater — it’s not only not Fair Isle, it’s not even faux Fair Isle), and that’s okay. One pattern even includes the spinner’s thought process as she decided what kind of yarn to produce from the fleece, which I really appreciated. And, I have to say, that Shannon’s words made me respect the garter stitch scarf just a little more — a major accomplishment.
Anyhow, I suspect that on Sunday I’m going to be forced to attempt to make yarn, if all my time isn’t taken up transcribing the essay answers I’m demanding for my interview questions. Perhaps there will be carnage and poking people’s eyes out. One can only hope.