Learning by teaching

At the moment I am teaching a course series in supported spindle spinning. I get so proud when I see the progress my students are making – from the initial wobbliness, through understanding what is going to happen to actually managing to control the spindle and in a relaxed motion. It is a journey I have the privilege of being a part of and I feel so lucky to be able to be learning by teaching and seeing their development first hand.

If you are curious about my spinning courses, have a look at my course page where I have both online courses and face-to-face courses (in Sweden).

A table with spindles, spindle bowls and wool processing tools.
All is set for spinning class. I want the students to feel like they are in a candy store for spinners. The spindles and bowls in the front are made by Björn Peck.

Learning by teaching

The thing is, I learn as much as they do. I learn about different learning styles, how to get a message through and how to live up to the students’ expectations. Most of all I learn through the communication with my students.

Learning styles

Every time I interact with a student I need to understand how this individual learns things best. This is a bit difficult in shorter courses, but when I teach the same people for a longer time, like I am in the current course, I get the chance to really understand how to structure my content in a way that makes the most sense to each and every one of them.

Their progress is my reward. When I see improvement from start to present I know that the message has gone through and that I have been able to coach them into finding a way that works for them.

Two persons spinning on supported spindles.
Students making progress!

For every wobbling spindle, uneven rolag or breaking yarn I see I try to understand where the missing link is and how this particular student can understand why something is happening and how they can get past the problem.

Teaching spinning direction

I teach about spinning direction. I make my students learn how to spin with both hands as spindle hand and fiber hand. If you have followed my blog for a while you know I am an advocate of pulling the spindle towards the hand rather than pushing it (if you haven’t, you can read this post about spinning direction and ergonomics or watch this webinar). So for my students to be able to both spin and ply or spin in both directions they need to learn how to do it with both hands, pulling the spindle.

A person spinning on a supported spindle. The spindle is in the left hand and the fiber in the right. Spindles and wool processing tools in the background.
I make all my students learn how to use both hands as spindle hand and fiber hand. Their reward is a better sense of both tasks for both hands. Mine is their understanding and progress.

Not only do they learn how to flick the spindle with both hands, they also learn how to handle the fiber with both hands. Today one of the students was amazed at how much more sensitive her right hand was when handling the fiber. Epiphanies like this make my heart sing – moments when my students understand something and can make progress.

New tool for skilled spinners

Most of the spinners I teach have been spinning for a while. I never direct my courses to beginners (that takes more teaching skills than I have). Occasionally, though, new spinners take my courses. I love the level I can discuss fibers and spinning techniques with my students. It is so rewarding to talk spinning with people who are really good at it. They know how to spin, just not with this particular tool.

However, being a beginner in a field you are normally skilled in can be very frustrating. I need to remind my students to be kind to themselves. Sometimes I need to tell them not to expect to succeed after having tried a new technique for a few minutes.

A person spinning on a supported spindle
This student was a very skilled suspended spindle spinner before my course and is now just as skilled at supported spindle spinning.

Sometimes they get so focused on this new technique that they forget that they know other skills like drafting and holding the fiber. We have talked about the baby bird: how to hold the fiber as if it were a baby bird – firmly enough not to let it escape and loosely enough not to crush it. To emphasize the importance of the light grip of the fiber I even asked them to name their bird. Am I being cruel?

You’ve prepared your wool now spin it

I believe in preparing your own fiber. It may take longer to prepare your fiber in the classroom and you may get less meterage spun but the reward is a deeper understanding of the fiber and how it behaves in the drafting.

Clowe-up of a person carding wool. A counter-clockwise arrow is drawn on the left hand and a clockwise arrow on the right hand.
In the spinning class we prepare our own fiber. Note the arrows on this student’s hands – counter-clockwise on the left hand and clockwise on the right for ergonomic supported spindle spinning.

I know how much fiber processing has helped me understand how fiber behaves. How could I not teach wool processing with this knowledge? It also helps the students understand the importance of wool processing when they spin. An uneven top or rolag will make a difference in the yarn.

In the beginning I taught supported spindle spinning with combed top or carded batts. Since I have started teaching carding and combing and letting the students process their own fiber in the classroom I see a deeper understanding of the processing itself and the importance of good processing for a good spinning result. All of them could show me a row of rolags with the first one uneven and loose and the last even and well defined. And they could make a clear connection between the quality of the processing, the spinning experience and the resulting yarn.

Piles of raw fleece
There’s fleece in the candy store!

Common challenges

Every time I understand the reason for a problem in the classroom I make a new deposit to my experience bank that I can use in future classes. I get to understand common problems, why they occur and how I can change my teaching to make the learning smoother. Problems will occur and to a large extent the same ones. But if I understand what is causing them and how I can coach different students in how to get past them I will become a better teacher. For every time I understand a common challenge I can add it to my curriculum to the benefit of future students in face-to-face and online courses.

Questions help me understand

Whenever a student asks a question I need to find their perspective in my reply. Knowing is one thing, explaining to someone requires you to structure and verbalize that knowledge. This helps me explain something from my own perspective – I have acquired skills from my experience and I explain and show these to my students. But when they ask questions it isn’t my perspective anymore and I need to restructure my knowledge. It is like I look at a vase on a glass table. I can describe the vase from when I stand. However, to describe the vase to someone standing on the other side of the table I may need to move or even crawl under the table to understand how they see the vase – and how they don’t see it. Even if crawling under the table may seem uncomfortable I realize that I learn so much more about the vase when I have seen it from another person’s perspective.


Thank you C, N, N and P. You and all my past and future students make me a better teacher.

Homework this week is to spin singles, both clockwise and counter-clockwise and of course with both hands.

Gotta go. Today I’m teaching how to ply on the fly.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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2 Replies to “Learning by teaching”

  1. So interesting to see how the different spinners are managing their spindle — one with a deep bowl, another with a small pillow to anchor the support. It makes me want to race over and join in the class just to watch! The spindles made by Björn Peck are truly beautiful.

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