In the early summer my friend Cecilia and I took a course in wild basketry. The teacher, Sanna had been following my Instagram for a while and wanted to learn how to spin, so we made a course exchange.
We call the course exchange Pinn mot spinn, translating roughly to Sticks for spinning. Last weekend we had the second part of the course exchange, when I taught her and her sister-in-law Maria how to spin on a suspended spindle.
Both Maria and Sanna are complete beginners when it comes to wool handling and spinning. However, both are active in related areas – Maria is deeply down the knitting rabbit hole and Sanna in basket making with different fiber plants.
All of my courses are outlined with the intermediate to advanced spinner in mind. I love getting access to all the spinning and wool knowledge my students bring to the classroom. Their previous knowledge also makes a common vocabulary possible – we can talk about wool in terms that are reasonably defined and that we understand. I can bring up spinning topics that the students relate to. However, on almost every course I teach there has been at least one complete beginner.
The beginner teacher
I find it much more difficult to teach beginners – especially in a mixed class – and I get the jitters when I realize that one of the students is a beginner. We lack that common spinning vocabulary, I find it hard to find methods to teach from a more general perspective – I am a true nerd and want to go deep. So I was a bit nervous about this one-day spinning course with beginners. With Maria and Sanna, however, I learned that we do have a common ground. It just doesn’t necessarily have to be in wool or spinning.
A common ground
Every student has a reason for coming to the course – they don’t just trip over it. Perhaps there is a general interest in crafting, reenactment, mindfulness or downshifting to name a few examples. And it is that reason I need to find out and use as our common ground.
Maria is a dedicated knitter. She knows what she wants in a yarn and a garment and what properties lie in different fibers. I can talk knitting with her – how she can play with wool preparation and spinning techniques to spin a yarn that suits different knitting projects.
Sanna has her passion in basket making and all plants weaveable. She is also a professional gardener and grows 32 kinds of willow. With her I could find a common ground in the crafting bubble and the importance of getting to know the material through all stages from harvest to finished product. She also wants to learn how to spin nettle and flax fiber. I could talk to her about the differences between protein and cellulose fibers as spinning material. A lovely bonus was that she could name the herb in the wool that I referred to as vegetable matter.
An advantage of having beginner students on the other hand is that they have little or no preconceptions about spinning. With open eyes they took in what I taught them and were truly amazed by what they could achieve.
One day for beginners is not much. I wanted them to feel that they could achieve something real and to be able to continue reasonably independently on their own once they got home. Therefore I tried to give them a few simple guidelines.
- Teasing is what opens up the fibers to make them spinnable. This should be done before carding, which to me is about arranging the fibers in a certain distribution and direction.
- We talked about spinning mechanics and the body being a part of spindle spinning in a way it is not in wheel spinning. This way they got an understanding of how they can control the spinning with their body as opposed to having the tool control them.
- Opening up the twist was a central concept in making yarn from fiber. In the spectrum between hard twist (where the fibers can’t move) and untwisted fibers (where the fibers come apart once you separate them) there is a point I call the point of twist engagement, where the fibers glide past each other without coming apart. This is where spinning happens!
- We also talked about spindle ergonomics and spinning with the hand that is best suited for the chosen spinning direction.
These simple but powerful guidelines made it easier for me to derive where any struggling came from and for them to understand how they could make progress.
As in all my courses we began with wool knowledge and wool preparation. It’s difficult to cover this to beginners in just one day while still having time left for the spinning part, but we talked about fiber types and how we can transform the bundled staples into spinnable preparations.
For a knitter who mostly sees wool in commercial yarns a raw fleece can be both thrilling and daunting. For someone who works mainly with cellulose fibers protein fibers can be truly fascinating to handle.
After a short wool intro they started teasing and carding. Observing their progress was a true joy – from the first wobbly strokes with the cards to some really lovely round and even rolags.
By parking and drafting they got the chance to control the spindle without feeling rushed by the moving tool. After having started to trust the wool and trust their knowledge they made lovely long draws.
Since I had only the two students I could observe their progress and guide them individually on their personal spinning journeys. Learning a craft is both a cognitive and physical activity, governed by every student own learning process. Through this learning a craft becomes very personal. Some students feel bad about not being able to achieve what they hoped to achieve, some don’t think their work is good enough, some have trouble focusing in a learning setting. Being able to give individual feedback and guidance is vital for their experience of the course and confidence in their crafting. It also gives me more time to learn and enjoy how each student learns.
At the end of the day they both had a tiny ball of their very first handspun yarn. They were both glowing with pride of what they had achieved. So was I.
Thank you Sanna and Maria for allowing me to explore and expand my teaching skills in my part of the course exchange. It was a privilege for me to teach you, especially since I had the luxury of focusing on only two students. I learned a lot! I hope you did too. Use this post to refresh your memories of our spinning day.
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.
- You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
- 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.