Felicia's Notebook, Spinning

Zero Pain, All Gain (Sessions with Judith MacKenzie and Sara Lamb)

This is a day of workshops I’ve needed and waited for all my spinning life, but I know it’s coming right now at the right time. Sure, I learned and practiced the techniques in each class, but amazingly, both classes ended up teaching me more than I had expected and exactly what I needed to know — ergonomics of spinning.

This morning was spent in Judith MacKenzie’s class on diameter control (spinning the yarn you want). We used Ashland Bay’s fine merino top to spin our regular, default yarn and then made adjustments to the tension alone in order to change the size of the yarn. Basically, increasing the tension (without changing the pulley) causes the yarn to increase in diameter. This totally concurs with what we learned in Margaret Stove’s class, which was to spin superfine singles, you need to reduce the tension to nearly nothing. We practiced adding tension and moving up in pulley size to make larger yarns and then reducing tension and trying to spin finer and finer yarns. Then we switched to a pure tussah silk and then a luscious blend of merino, cashmere and silk, spinning a set of each. Finally, we each got a small bump of pure cashmere to enjoy at the end of class.

Diameter Control, Judith's samples
Judith’s diameter control samples
Diameter Control, my handspun samples
My handspun samples… unfortunately not as wide a range of sizes

Judith’s class focused on making these small adjustments to the wheel and letting it do much of the work. We also practiced both worsted spinning as well as woolen (for the cashmere blends). but somehow our class migrated away from discussion about wheels to ergonomics and that’s when I felt like I learned the most.

For some time now, I’ve avoided spinning frequently or for too long because I developed some tendonitis or swelling in my right thumb where I would pinch fibre forward. Unfortunately, it’s a result of me being silly and stressed, pinching too hard or spinning with old fibre that I bought somewhere that doesn’t draft well but being too cheap to throw it out. Any amount of short forward drafting would cause my thumb to hurt and I’d get disappointed and just stop spinning. And this year, I’ve started to wake up with numbness in my arms… apparently a sign of potential frozen shoulder… something I want to avoid at all costs, of course.

Judith teaching us to stretch for spinning
Judith teaching us how to stretch for spinning

But today, Judith confirmed for us that we should not be “pinching” the fibre at all and that the thumb should merely be touching the singles lightly in order to feed it forward. She also led us through a series of stretches and exercises to do to relax our arm muscles and shoulders and also taught us how to sit diagonal to the wheel, treadling with one foot, in order to keep the right shoulder from rolling forward. She talked about frozen shoulder and all those things that happen when you’re no longer a spring chicken (she humbly referred to herself as a “winter chicken” as she chuckled).

Sara Lamb teaching silk spinning
Sara Lamb teaching her method of silk spinning for her handwoven silk pieces.
Handspun 100% Bombyx Silk 2-ply
My tendencies to “perfect, even, and fine” make me love this kind of spinning. This is the sample of 2-ply bombyx silk yarn I spun in class.

Similarly in Sara Lamb’s Spinning with Silk class, she taught us to use a “point of contact” type of spinning that requires no pinching or thumb involvement at all. She kept saying, the forward hand is left open and simply retards the twist from entering the drafting triangle. She uses a sort of spin from the fold method for spinning silk and never spins from the tip end (only causes slubs and bumps). We spun fine and treadled as hard as we could to get more twist into the singles and then plied hard as well. The finished 2-ply silk yarn would be perfect for her warp-faced weaving projects.

Sara Lamb's Silk Scarf
Sara says she’s not a knitter, but this is some lovely silk lace scarf.
Sara Lamb's Silk Scarf
This is what I think of when I think of Sara. Incredible colour. Beautiful warp-faced silk weaving.

Again, I absolutely love this idea that we never need to pinch or close the forward hand. It means I can continue to spin without pain. Both superfine merino (as in Margaret’s class) and fine spun silk (as in Sara’s class) with different diameters (as per Judith’s class)… I can incorporate some spinning and warming up and continue to spin for much longer periods of time now. Part of me wishes that I had received this instruction earlier, but I know that even if I had, it wouldn’t have set in my brain the same way as it has now. Unfortunately it takes some pain to get motivated to find ways to avoid that pain.


About Felicia Lo

founder + creative director of SweetGeorgia // designer + dreamer // wife + mama // dyer, knitter, spinner, weaver, youtuber + author // been writing this blog about colour and craft since 2004 // see what I am making @lomeetsloom and @sweetgeorgia.

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3 thoughts on “Zero Pain, All Gain (Sessions with Judith MacKenzie and Sara Lamb)

  1. Damselfly says:

    Thanks for giving me a vicarious tour of SOAR! So wonderful that you got to go. We need to talk about your numbness. Not good, hon’. Have you been to a physio yet?

    1. SweetGeorgia says:

      Thanks Louisa! I’m sure you would have loved SOAR… maybe next time!

      Yeah, about the numb arms, I have terrible posture at the computer and while knitting… it comes and goes. I have a physio friend who told me what it’s called, but I’ve forgotten! In any case, I just have to stretch more :)

  2. Joan says:

    Thanks for writing about SOAR. I was theer and took Judith’s class too. Wish I had taken better notes at the time. There was so much to take in and learn. Your notes here are helping me to remember. I’m going to try to pass along some of what I learned to my spinning guild in a couple of weeks and your comments will help.

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