A sore thumb

This week a journal entry, writer’s block, migraine and a sore thumb led me to bold decisions, new perspectives and beautiful insights.

A sore thumb

I have been spinning my Icelandic fleece quite frequently lately. The other day I felt some soreness in my left thumb. Minuscule, really. A flap of skin was loose on my finger print and I realized that to keep spinning that wool – in the grease, I might add – while the skin was sore and reddened wouldn’t be the best idea. I got a bit sad. After all, I had worked out a process for this wool that worked very well and I had reached a soft flow in my spinning. A migraine restricted most other activities than slow and mindful crafting for the next few days.

Writer’s block

At the same time I was looking for something to write for this week’s blog post. I usually work with a blog post during most days of the week. On Saturday morning I finally publish it. A void crystallizes itself and on some level I miss what I have just written, just as I miss a spinning project when the basket is empty. The process I have been working on and growing in suddenly becomes a product with the press of a button.

Sans a lot

My hands and my mind still need to write, but it does take some effort and recharging to come up with an idea for a new post. So, I was sans spinning and sans blog idea. Also sans capacity to do much else than activities that didn’t require moving my head.

Morning journaling is a treasured moment for me.

I do free write every morning in my dawn journal and exercise my writing muscles daily. The other day I was scribbling away as the day broke, about crafting and creativity. I reflected over how creativity creates more creativity as I am in the moment, calming bouncy ideas that want my attention, making them less elusive and more mellow. How I am in the creating and the creating is in me.

Enter: Idea (with tart tone)

Half an hour or so later an idea knocked gingerly on the inside of my skull, hoping to get out in the air. It said (with a slightly tart tone, I might add): “Why don’t you change hands? Like you always tell your students to do? That way you get to spin without making the sore thumb worse and you will have something to blog about.” Well, that’s a thought. It will also enable me to spin through the migraine and experience what I torment my students with when I ask them to change hands. The idea was just the kind of idea that I had been writing about that same morning, an idea that had matured in my mind through spinning.

This is actually my favourite kind of blog writing process. I spin a bit, get an idea during the spinning process and write it down. As the idea gets clad in linguistic splendour – preferably with sparkles – I understand more and try my new baby reflection at the wheel or spindle. I realize more and need to put that into writing too. The process of theory and practice in spinning is something I treasure.

Changing hands for ergonomics

When it comes to spindles – supported, suspended, floor supported and in-hand – I have no problem changing hands. I always choose the hand that is most effective for the spinning direction I have chosen (read about spinning direction and ergonomics here and watch a free webinar in spindle spinning here). Ever since I realized its implications for spinning I have practiced this and feel rich with the opportunities it gives me.

This summer I practiced changing hands when I spun flax on my spinning wheel with a makeshift parasol stand floor distaff that I placed alternately to the left and right of me for a more ergonomic and balanced working position. All this has been first and foremost to work with my body and avoid strain in hands, arms and shoulders. I have also raved to my students about the benefits of understanding the work of both hands through both hands. But when it comes to my own default wheel spinning I have never seen any ergonomic benefit of changing hands and therefore never practiced it. Until now.

Hand habits

So what do the hands really do? Well, the two hands have two primary tasks in spinning:

  • One hand, the spindle hand or spinning hand in spindle spinning or the front hand or spinning hand in wheel spinning, controls the spinning. This hand is closest to the drafting triangle and the point of twist insertion, where fibers become yarn. This hand is at the center of the action, where the actual spinning occurs.
  • The other hand, the fiber hand in spindle spinning or back hand or fiber hand in wheel spinning, controls the fiber. This hand holds the fiber and makes sure the right amount of fiber feeds along to the spinning hand without holding the fiber too loosely or too tightly.

In my experience most focus is on the spinning hand, the hand that controls the fiber. The fiber hand just follows along and is in my experience not often debated. It is when we change hands that we realize that the fiber hand has an equally important task. So, to a student who says they are verrry right or left handed and couldn’t possibly change hands I say: Deal with it. Or something a lot nicer. My point is, both hands have important tasks that require fine motor movements. Hand dominance has nothing to do with it.

A rocky boat

In changing hands I will rock the boat and sail out on deep waters. But in the end I will get to the other shore. As I fumblingly place the fiber in the left hand and prepare my right hand for spinning for the first time it feels awkward and clumsy. And, frankly, quite intimidating.

My brain knows what should happen, but sort of doesn’t. Come to think of it, it’s like a migraine aura. I have my field of view in front of me but I can’t make out what it is I see. When I get the blurred vision in an aura I try to move my head around to get access to the whole field of view, at least enough to be able to email my boss and call in sick. I find a new perspective, or, rather, perspectives, that allow me to understand the world from my current reality. I need to find clues in my new perspective to understand what my hands need to do with their new roles.

My hands have no clue what to do but sort of do. The knowledge is there, but integrated in the wrong hand. A link is missing and I need to take leadership of the search party. The new roles for my hands is uncomfortable, but that’s ok. Sometimes we need discomfort to understand the comfort. And an understanding of other people in discomfort for that matter.


So, despite the discomfort I stick to my plan and move on. My movements are fumbly and my hands unused to the motions and decisions of their new roles. This is where I start doubting myself. How do I not know this? How come my hands feel absolutely outlandish?

This feeling is something I deal a lot with with my students. Most of them are experienced students that get very frustrated at not knowing what to do when presented with a new tool. Experiencing this sensation myself is truly valuable and I’m grateful for the opportunity. And a bit frustrated. Or possibly a lot.


As I practice I understand my hands’ new roles better and better. Placing my left hand role in the right hand forces me to have a conversation between my hands via my brain. I need to analyze the motions and challenges of the right hand through my left hand and digest it in my head.

  • The fibers are stuck in the preparation or coming completely loose. How would my regular hand hold and manage the fiber?
  • I’m clenching my fiber hand in my lap. How does it feel with my regular hand?
  • I’m pinching the thumb of my new front hand. What do I need to change to loosen the grip, and without loosing the technique?
  • The yarn gets too bulky or too fine. How do I find that “just right” sensation I always have in my regular hand?
I’m making progress and have finished a dozen skeins of which half are spun with my awkward hands. But they are not so awkward anymore and I can’t tell the difference between the skeins.

Asking questions like these sharpens my senses and my interpretation of the components in the spinning process. I get to discover the spinning again and listen to the wool, through fresh hands. First-hand (pun vert much intended) I get to see how a new drafting hand and a new fiber hand develop, learn and flourish. Though my wobbly hands I get to understand the spinning process more fully, from a wider perspective. I feel very grateful for the experience.

Choosing the challenge

During this whole week I have worked with my fresh hands. My sore thumb has healed. I can go back to my regular hands if I want to. However, I also have the opportunity to change hands whenever I want, work with and through the discomfort. I can choose to keep challenging myself by keeping this new skill alive, feeding my fresh and sharp perspective of spinning and a humble view of the tasks of spinning hand and fiber hand.

A lopi yarn swatch is finished and I can’t wait to start knitting.

Have you tried changing hands with any spinning tool? And have you stayed with it, exercising both hands in both roles? You are welcome to share in the comments.

Happy spinning!

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7 Replies to “A sore thumb”

  1. I did a three day workshop recently with a teacher that told me I was not spinning with my dominate hand. I was holding the fiber with my right hand and using my left hand for my spinning hand. This totally threw me. But, I did change hands during the class and enjoyed the process. I too am a teacher! I had not thought of asking my students to change hands in my Intermediate class. Thank you Josefin for the this wonderful, insightful blog post. I did go back to my comfortable form of spinning only because I’m trying to finish my course work at Olds College, but I will be done in February and one of my goals for the next few months is to change hands! Thanks for the reminder! I love learning new things!

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! It’s really fascinating to, with fresh hands, note all the things you had automated in the regular hands. So many new insights to reflect over and explore.

  2. Hej!
    Tack för en superfin blogg! Jag är nybörjare och har spunnit sen ett halvår tillbaka, har lärt mig mycket från dina texter och råd. Gillar hur du skrivit om att lyssna in vad ullen vill. Jag undrar om du har tips på litteratur, essäer om handspinning? Inte så mycket how to-böcker utan mer allmänt reflekterande om handspinning, historia osv. Har kollat runt en del men inte hittat så mycket, dock har jag satt upp “Gathering Moss” på läslistan!
    Allt gott 🙂

    1. Hej Linn!
      Och tack för fina ord, härligt att du har nytta av det jag skriver. Hmmm, jag ser också mest how-to- och uppslagsböcker när jag letar. Mina tips är på en bredare nivå. En intressant historisk bok är Women’s work the first 20000 years av Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Secrets of spinning weaving and knitting in the Peruvian highlands av Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez är fin också, liksom Abby Franquemonts Respect the spindle.

      The golden thread: How fabric changed history av Kassa St Clair har jag inte läst, men den står på min lista. Andra på listan är Fibershed: Growing a movement of farmers, fashion, activists and makers for a new textile economy, Counting sheep: Reflections and observations of a Swedish shepherd av Axel Lindén, Raw material av Stephany Wilkes.

      Gathering moss har inget alls med spånad att göra (men det kanske du förstod), däremot har den ett fantastiskt fint förhållningssätt till naturen, ett förhållningssätt som tilltalar mig och som jag använder när jag spinner. Kolla även in Robin Wall Kimmerers andra bok, Braiding Sweetgrass. Tjockare men oändligt vacker.

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