Well, hallelujah! A wonderful, inspiring new introductory overview of spinning is now available. While many titles on handspinning have recently been published (that’s very good . . . and, as a long-time spinner and the former editor of Spin-Off magazine [1988–early 2000], I enjoy checking them out), few have been as remarkable as Maggie Casey’s Start Spinning: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Yarn. This treasure, just published by Interweave Press, will get new spinners set up solidly and will give more experienced spinners a chance to say, "YES!"
While you’ll still want to take a class or workshop with Maggie if
she’s within your traveling distance, the book manages to transmit a
nice portion of Maggie’s calm, focused wisdom in printed form. (Maggie is teaching in person at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in late April/early May and at the Estes Park Wool Market in mid-June; she’s also a co-owner and instructor at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado.)
In Start Spinning, Maggie covers all the necessary points, with just the right details—not too many, but not too few, either. Information, organization, and tone are all just right: A two-page section on troubleshooting for wheel spinning begins, "If you feel like you’re fighting with your wheel instead of working in partnership with it, keep this in mind. . . . It is always the wheel." (Page 52.)
The book’s major emphasis is on wool, which for contemporary spinners in North America (and lots of other places) is the default fiber . . . and it’s a great and logical place to start, even though in some locations and times other fibers have been the beginner material.
(Like, for example, cotton. . . . Some folks may find this difficult to believe, but historically many spinners have learned with cotton. With the right preparation, tools, and expectations, there’s no reason not to start with what you’ve got.)
The photography and book design enhance the material. The photos are simple and show what they need to with grace and clarity. One of the things I noticed immediately is that the photos feature beginner, proficient-spinner, and novelty yarns of many
fibers and constructions, often within the same picture.
This is, in my
mind, a huge plus. A number of the recent spinning books show only
thick-and-thin yarns (or fun but structurally questionable novelties . . . not all novelties are structurally questionable, of course). Many older books and spinning periodicals
show only extremely even, fine yarns. The first situation, while appealing in the textural and "you can do this!" dimensions, doesn’t
encourage spinners to increase their skills so they can spin any yarn
they want . . . and thick-and-thin or funky-novelty yarns are fun some of the time, but
not all of the time. They’re often not very versatile to work with when you want to actually make something. The second situation, of showing only the most masterfully spun yarns, can be completely
intimidating. I think that irregular yarns can be beautiful, and that
evenly spun yarns can be exquisite. It’s nice to see yarns of a broad range of types
nestled happily together. You might call this "yarn diversity" in action . . . and all of the yarns shown look like they’d be nice on the needles or hook or shuttle as well as in the skein or ball.
In the body of the book, Maggie talks about both spindles and wheels. She demonstrates spinning from the prepared fibers that most beginning spinners today will start with, but there’s a lovely appendix that gives framework for understanding wool types along with information on choosing and preparing a fleece. She pinpoints the reason spinners choose to start with raw material: it’s "the difference between a meal prepared at home and dorm food."
Quibbles, all the size of grains of salt: A few copyediting glitches got through, mostly relating to the placement of punctuation; no one but another copyeditor is likely to notice (and Elizabeth Zimmermann’s last name has only one N on page 92 . . . this is possibly the most common typo in knitting-related books and magazines). As I recall (I’m writing at the library), all the wheels in the photos are double-treadle; there are a lot of single-treadle wheels around as well. Due to production vagaries, the driveband is partly invisible in a photo that’s used more than once (first on page 29). The description of how to start a wheel, "Start with the footman in the one o’clock position," shown with a Lendrum, may be a bit confusing to a total neophyte, who may not know that the part of the footman that’s supposed to be in that position is its upper attachment point, and the idea might be even more difficult to understand for someone who has a double-footman Saxony-style wheel (like the one shown in that lefthand photo on page 29 . . . actually, for any Saxony-style wheel it’s hard to figure out where "one o’clock" is). Changing drive bands is mentioned as a possible necessity on page 53, but the cross-reference page, 38, doesn’t tell how . . . the information does appear in the back of the book. Maggie apparently sometimes walks on the wild side with her skeins by using two ties with small amounts of yarn, although she generally recommends four. I never use less than three . . . especially with small amounts of yarn, which in my experience are even more likely to get messed up than large skeins. "Bird’s nest" needs to be in the index (it’s on page 14, and the mention on page 81 is the reason it needs to be indexed). Overall, the index could have been more thorough; however, the book is small and well-written enough that I suggest just sidestepping the index issue by reading the whole thing through and flagging items of personal interest with sticky notes.
In sum: This is a FANTASTIC book. If you have been thinking about learning to spin, this is a superb place to start. If you’ve already been spinning for a while, connect with it to fill in any gaps in your foundation. Maggie and I have different carding techniques . . . they both work . . . and otherwise I read through the entire text thinking, "Yes, exactly. That’s what I think, too. Oh, good! She presented that the way I’d want to if I were doing this. . . ."
It’s sort of weird to find that another spinner, whom I’ve known for a number of years but with whom I’ve never had the opportunity to actually sit and spin or talk about spinning, has developed an approach to spinning, and to teaching beginners to spin, that is so similar to mine. Of course, Maggie’s actually teaching classes . . . and I’ve mostly been involved with publishing instead of teaching since I moved to Colorado from Massachusetts, where I did teach spinning on a regular basis. So I haven’t been of much use as a direct instructor for a lot of years. My energy’s been channeled into putting information into print. Although the desired end results are similar, the activities for getting there are extremely different: like the difference between getting some place on a bike versus on a train (sometimes I think teaching is the bike and publishing is the train, sometimes vice versa; it doesn’t matter which corresponds to which).
I am so glad Maggie has written this book, which gets exceptionally close to putting three dimensions into two. She made me miss teaching (although I think I need to stick with the publishing), and also made me wish I’d been able to take her classes when I discovered yarn-making. My introductory spinning was trial-and-error, largely guided by Elsie Davenport’s Your Handspinning (a great book that would not compete effectively in today’s market) and with a bunch of fellow learners as support. In many ways, it was a fine way to learn to spin, but I wasted a lot of time (years, actually) discovering the hard way things that Maggie explains beautifully in a few pages.
And so, in two words, Start here!
NOTE: There’s a picture up there! This post is not about computers! PCConnection is wonderful!
PCConnection got me the exchange computer about two weeks faster than
I expected to receive it, and it arrived with the extra RAM not only installed
(I’d said I could do that, easily) but also checked out. I want to be sure
to acknowledge all this before I rocket right back into publishing
and spinning and knitting, all of which has been in computer-failure-enforced slow motion for weeks.
I haven’t got all the software loaded onto the new machine, but the big stuff I couldn’t get to work on the other computers (the one that glitched and the first replacement machine) has been installed and a few of my documents are in place. It takes the better part of a day to download and install updates for the Microsoft software, and just over half a day to install, update, and the spend time on the phone activating the Adobe suite, so I’m glad to be through those passages (again).
Ah, the first computer has also arrived back, two days after the second PCConnection shipment arrived, and will be moved to my daughter’s office area to handle image processing for the next book. Which is now more than a month behind, because of my computer problems.
Over the past several weeks, I have begun to wonder whether something in my personal aura (or magnetic field, or whatever) was toxic to computers. Fortunately, that does not appear to be the case. The new/exchange machine is doing just fine. And an e-mail I received yesterday indicates that the tech folks at PCConnection are also experiencing some odd behavior with the returned unit. This seems to further suggest that it wasn’t just me. Whew.