“I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head,” I said with conviction, back in 2011. The expression was in homage to my always-blunt Romanian grandmother, whom I can thank for my love of working with yarn. The conversation itself took place with a knitting-turned-close friend, and it focused on the theme of my learning to spin.
What I was actually thinking was, “That’s going to be expensive, and I simply can’t afford it.” A hole existed, alright — and it was in my bank account, if not in my head. But I couldn’t get the thought of learning to spin out of my mind, and I found myself wondering … How could a person with absolutely no wiggle room in her budget manage to gather the gear she’d need in order to learn to spin?
Enter the same good and generous friend, who loaned me two fateful drop spindles and a bit of Shetland wool. One of those spindles would go on to take me through more than a year and a half of non-stop spinning, right up until I was able to buy my own spindle(s) and then eventually, barter for my first wheel. Thanks to her, my initial costs were nothing but the price of fibre, and I fell deeply in love with hand spinning, from the ground up.
It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything as it made me the spinner I am.
While you might not care to go the route of such intense minimalism, I’m here to tell anyone with a similar desire and living within even the strictest of budgets, that learning to spin need not be cost prohibitive. The key is knowing what’s essential (must have) and non-essential (nice to have) in terms of basic, beginner-friendly spinning gear — a tall order when you’re new to any hobby.
That’s why I’m going to break it all down, below:
must have tools
Look for one of good quality but moderate price (as low as $20 and up to $40, US). The whorl’s diameter doesn’t so much matter, but its weight certainly does. Stay just under, or barely over, one ounce. Call me old-fashioned, but opt for a wooden, notched whorl on your first spindle. As you’re able, branch out and try spindles from other makers. While only one spindle is essential to making perfectly beautiful, intentional yarn, it’s indeed easier and faster when you have a two or more.
Initially, most people find the fine to medium breeds to be readily available and easy to spin. BFL (Bluefaced Leicester), Merino, Targhee, Shetland, Corriedale, etc., they’re all good to use, whether they’re sold as combed top or carded into batts or roving. Believe it or not, one 4 oz bump of fibre can cost as much as your spindle, at anywhere from $20-$30 US. Don’t skimp on quality here, as the dyer’s product and experience in handling fibre can make or break your spinning success.
Yes, hank-winding hacks abound, but why bother with those when scoring an inexpensive, PVC niddy noddy is as easy as going online to Etsy (cost: $15-$20 US) and so much simpler.
I learned to spin by reading through issues of Spin Off magazine and some of the more classic and well-known, spinning-themed books. I also watched videos and DVDs — which are rapidly becoming, if they are not already, a thing of the past. Today, membership sites (including the School of SweetGeorgia) provide endless trustworthy, streamed content from qualified spinning instructors ($10-$25/month US).
nice to have tools
Bracelet or ring distaff
This keeps your fibre supply neatly out of the way so it doesn’t accidentally get pulled into your drafting zone and/or ensnared in your spinning.
Once you are invested in your spindling — and only if you can afford it — you may want to research top-tiered spindle makers and spend a little more money ($50-$100). Having even one of these spindles can pay for itself in terms of the meditative spinning experience it provides.
No doubt, you’re going to want to get a wheel, even if you do fall in love with spindling. So, which one to get? And how much should you spend on it?
The best beginner’s spinning wheel for you is the one you can afford. It’s really that simple. Whether you find a well-cared-for, used wheel for a couple hundred dollars or you buy yourself a new one, bear in mind that this is a learning tool and may very well not be the wheel you’ll be keeping for life. Think of it as a baseline for learning more about your likes and dislikes as a budding spinner. If it does that for you, then you will have gotten your money’s worth from the purchase.
Still, spinning wheels are, by their nature, expensive. Even a mid-range wheel from a reputable wheel maker, a good starting point for most of us, costs several hundred dollars (prices range dramatically depending on the maker and the function(s) of the wheel, but count on anywhere from $450-$850 — and that’s usually for your basic wheel and standard 3 bobbins). Fortunately, most proven brands do tend to hold their value and are easy to de-stash to the next eager spinner.
must have accessories
Other must haves, along with your wheel (excluding the items already suggested to go along with the spindle, above):
You’ll need a lazy kate to hold your bobbins/keep them freely rotating while you’re plying. Due to their closeness to the fly wheel itself, onboard kates are better for bobbin storage than they are for helping with plying, since all that twist energy is awkward to manage, especially when you’re learning. You can make a DIY kate for pennies or even for free out of items you likely have at home. (I still use my own, which I made from a plastic storage basket and 3 knitting needles.)
Orifice hook (if not included with your wheel)
You may be able to guide your yarn through the orifice using a small crochet hook or even an unbent paperclip, but these hooks are inexpensive and range in price depending on their materials ($10-$20 US).
Spinning wheel oil (as recommended by the manufacturer)
Do a little sleuthing to find the best price and shipping rates. You don’t want to pay more to get the item than its value ($10-$15 US).
nice to have accessories
- Extra bobbins
- Specialty flyer(s) and related bobbins, if available
- Whorls in varying sizes (where available)
- Maintenance kit containing extra drive band(s) and brake bands (where used)
Since no two people live the same lives nor share the same experiences, it’s possible that you’d like to learn to spin and that your own ability to spend is far greater. What then?
In that case, I would honestly recommend that you follow the very same advice. It’s just unrealistic to think that, starting out, you already know the destination of your hand spinning journey.
Learning to spin can be frustrating. It is rarely instantaneous. It is also magical and healing, and seeing its many obstacles through to fruition can illuminate a side of yourself that you may never have otherwise known existed within you.
As my friend used to say to me, beaming with pride, as we spun next to one another, “It’s not the wheel that makes the handspun; it’s the spinner behind it.”
Go forth and learn.