Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Elephant No. 2: Spinning Yarn


This morning I drove out into the countryside to learn how to spin yarn. This is something I have never remotely attempted before. After being generously invited to try it a few weeks ago while chatting with a pro spinner, I figured it was worth a try. Beth made it look easy, so I had visions of coming away from this morning's session with a perhaps-not-perfect, but at least acceptable ball of yarn.

"Perhaps-not-perfect" is being kind. The people trying to show me how to use the ratchafratcha spinning wheel were also being kind when they said (for the two seconds that I had the hang of it) that I was a "natural".

My yarn, as you can see, is ridiculously curly and twists many times around itself. Kay, one of my very pleasant and patient instructors, said I should keep my little skein of pink yarn as a memento, because I'll never be able to achieve this effect again. One can only hope.

My ineptitude has nothing to do with the people teaching me. I think it was mostly that I made the spinning wheel go too fast, held onto my yarn too long, and basically lacked any kind of hand-foot-eye coordination. This is why I don't play sports. That being said, I was kind of hooked, and will definitely try to master spinning on a wheel. I guess I have to, because I need to spin a skein of single-ply yarn to bring to the session next month.

I also tried the drop spindle, which is a technique that has been used in all cultures for millennia. Women and girls often spin even while walking or riding animals. This is something at which I am a little more adept (the spindle part, not the walking and riding animals part), probably because there are no moving parts to contend with. This does not mean that I am actually good at it — I just suck a little less. From what I can gather, most people who use spinning wheels don't really like drop spindles, and vice-versa.

Although Kay, our host, no longer has sheep, there were sheep at the farm next door. Sheep farmers around here sell the raw fleece to a number of small local mills, where the fleece is washed, carded and sold either as carded batts or roving, or spun into yarn.

I wanted to photograph the sheep, but the resident guard llama did not take kindly to me. As soon as he saw my car stop on the opposite side of the road, he ran over and made himself as big and threatening as he could. Since I didn't go away immediately, the nearby guard donkey decided to take over, chasing off the guard llama and staring me down until I got back in my car and went away. I don't think I look or smell like a coyote (the main sheep menace in these parts), but maybe the llama and donkey just don't like anything new.

Speaking of sheep, I recently read about a Merino sheep in New Zealand called Shrek, who managed to evade capture at shearing time for six years. When he was finally caught and sheared in 2004, his fleece weighed about sixty pounds (27 kilograms) — enough wool to make twenty men's suits. A normal Merino fleece weighs about ten pounds (4.5 kilograms).

And now for today's elephant. As I mentioned above, I was expecting to come away with yarn that was at least more or less a straight line, and thought I might "draw" an elephant with it. But since I'm stuck with this curly stuff, it's a little more blobby and a little less elegant than I envisioned. Essentially all I've done is arrange the yarn I spun on white card stock. I didn't want to cut, crochet, knit or knot it, so it's just laid flat — well, as flat as it would lie, anyway. Nothing is pinned or glued, and it had an irritating tendency to sproing and uncoil while I was trying to photograph it.

If I ever manage to make yarn that actually looks like yarn, you'll be the first to know.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants are technically considered hairless, they actually have hair over their entire bodies. Baby elephants are covered in a pelt of fine, downy hair, which is largely shed before birth. Adult elephant hair is coarse and wiry, making it useless for spinning, although it is sometimes used to make bracelets.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society


  1. Love the initiative! It's like "one million giraffes" only personal! :-)

  2. Thanks, Dave! I have to look up "One Million Giraffes". No WAY am I doing a million elephants... ;-)