When I teach spinning on different types of spindles I always urge my students to learn to spin with both hands. Mainly this is for ergonomic reasons, but there are other valuable benefits in changing hands as well.
Pushing and pulling
A few years ago I learned how to spin on an in-hand style, or grasped, spindle. I experienced pain in the ball of my thumb and asked a physiotherapist why. As a leftie, I was spinning with my left hand as a spindle hand. I wanted to spin a clockwise (Z) single and thus spun clockwise with my left hand. The fingers then push the spindle shaft outward. The physiotherapist told me that we have twice as many muscle governing muscles pulling things toward the body compared to muscles pushing things away. One example of this is rowing. When the oars are in the heavy water you pull them against you and when they are in the light air you push them away.
When I was spinning clockwise with my left hand I was pushing the spindle shaft away from my hand and straining the base of my thumb.
You can read more about these ideas in this post and watch and listen to this webinar. With a focus on supported spindle spinning I have written an article about flicking with direction and ergonomics in mind in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine.
Spinning ergonomically with different spindle types
- I usually set a suspended spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up my thigh. To spin clockwise I pull the shaft up my right thigh with my right hand. To spin counter-clockwise I I pull the shaft up my left thigh with my left hand.
- On an in-hand spindle the pushing and pulling has the most impact. This is where I originally strained the base of my thumb. I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
- For a supported spindle I do the same as with the in-hand spindle – I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
- When I spin on a floor supported Navajo style spindle I roll the shaft up my right thigh for clockwise spinning and I roll the shaft up my left thigh for counter-clockwise spinning.
When I understood the concept of pushing and pulling I decided to relearn – to spin clockwise only with my right hand and counter-clockwise with my left hand. It took me a while to learn to spin with my right hand, but with daily practice it worked. Relearning like this gave me a huge aha moment – in my wobbly attempts at ballet dancing the supported spindle in what had thus far been my “wrong” hand I recognized the struggle my students went through in learning the fine motor skills needed for supported spindle spinning. It was a valuable lesson that I don’t want to be without. Learning through your mistakes is a very powerful and valuable gift.
I also decided to teach my students to learn to spin with both hands as spindle hands and, more importantly, why. As a teacher I think it is my responsibility to teach my students to listen to their bodies and make adjustments to spin as comfortably as possible. Changing hands when changing spinning direction is an important part of this.
Most of my students have muttered initially, but most of them have welcomed the idea of changing hands and seen the benefits of it.
Sooner or later they will want to ply their yarn or spin in the other direction for a special purpose. Then they will have no trouble changing hands and directions and spin the yarn they desire. Without strain.
A quick survey
I asked four of my former students if they still practice what I taught them about spinning direction. All of them practice my ideas of pushing and pulling and thus spin clockwise with their right hand and counter-clockwise with their left hand. Two of them fully on all spindle types and two of them mainly on supported spindles. “That way I can spin for a longer time”, one of them said. And that is what we all want, isn’t it?
Practice what I preach
I have practiced the idea of changing hands for supported, suspended and in-hand style spinning since I learned about the concept of muscles for pushing and pulling. When it comes to floor supported Navajo style spinning I haven’t taken the opportunity to relearn, though. All the yarns I have spun with my floor supported spindle have been clockwise, with my right hand (as it is the way I learned originally). I have spun them as single weft yarns in weaving and haven’t had a project where I needed a counter-clockwise spun yarn. Until now.
I am spinning for a project where I want to knit with two contrasting colour singles – one clockwise spun and one counter-clockwise spun. And I realized that it was time for me to practice what I preach in this spinning technique too.
A wobbly start
It is fascinating how odd it feels to change hands. Even though both hands have important tasks – of managing yarn and of managing fiber – it feels peculiarly odd to change. At the same time, rolling the shaft outwards on my thigh would feel even more odd.
So I started the adventure of learning to spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. Setting the shaft in motion on a floor supported spindle is easy. Just a flat hand held lightly against the shaft that is leaning against your thigh, and pull the hand inwards. It was the wobbliest flat hand I have ever seen! And with my dominant hand! I couldn’t pull my flat hand properly against my thigh. In the other end, my right hand didn’t know what to do with the rolag.
A new understanding
When I sat there with these seemingly easy tasks I started wondering what was really happening. I am an intermediate to advanced spinner and I know what the hands do. I believe in the concept of pushing and pulling and teach the concept of changing hands for a reason.
What I realized was that my hands know what to do, but without necessarily telling each other what was going on and without telling my brain what they were doing. Since I wanted to spin two identical yarns, however in different directions, I needed to understand the steps I was taking in the clockwise yarn and translate that into the counter-clockwise yarn. The right hand had to tell the left hand how to roll the shaft. The left hand had to tell the right hand how to make the draft and handle the fiber. I had never done that before. I needed to translate and transfer the knowledge of my hands to each other and to my brain.
Things I noticed:
- When building up the twist in the fiber, I wasn’t giving the shaft the same thigh-rolling force with my left hand. This resulted in less twist and a thinner and/or weaker yarn.
- I didn’t trust the fibers to do their thing with the counter-clockwise yarn. Instead I made the draw shorter than with my clockwise spun yarn and fiddled a lot with thick and thin spots.
- My fiber hand in the counter-clockwise yarn didn’t understand what to do with the semi-spun yarn that I usually store in the fiber hand until I have finished the whole stretch of yarn.
Studying and comparing what my hands were doing in the clockwise spun yarn and what they did in the counter-clockwise spun yarn taught me a lot about the spinning process. The hands need to listen to the wool, but also to each other. When the hands were new to a task they didn’t have the capacity to listen. They were far too busy to learn the basic technique.
With the knowledge of what the hands know, but not necessarily tell each other or the brain, I believe even more in teaching both hands to work as both spinning hand and fiber hand. That way I give the brain a chance to understand a task with the sensory input from both hands. If I add to that an analysis of what it is the hands are actually doing I believe I can understand the spinning process more fully. By learning I will understand better how to teach.
Changing hands when spinning is a valuable gift you can give yourself. Not only to spin with ergonomics in mind, but also to better understand what it is that the spinning hand and fiber hand are actually doing. I am a firm believer that the knowledge of both tasks in both hands will lead to a deeper understanding of the spinning process on a higher level. With the knowledge of both tasks in both hands I trust that 1+1=3.
Does this sound reasonable to you? Do you want to start practicing changing hands? Here are a few challenges you can treat yourself to as a start:
- Change hands and spinning direction. Practice a little every day.
- Try to find out what it is you actually do with your usual hand, as spinning hand and as fiber hand. Teach your other hand to do the same.
- Spin two yarns, one with each hand (and in each direction). Try to spin them as similar to each other as you can.
- Create a project where you need yarns spun in both directions. Either spinning and plying or with two singles in different directions.
You can do this with a spinning wheel too. Just practice changing your front (orifice) hand and your back (fiber) hand. It can be quite tricky too.
You can find me in several social media:
- This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
- My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
- I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
- I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
- On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
- Follow me on Instagram. I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
- Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
- In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
- I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.