Monday, June 9, 2014

Learning to spin: Icelandic top

I learned to spin with a kit from Etsy -- a simple top-whorl spindle, an instruction sheet, and four ounces of Icelandic top.

Icelandic sheep have a double coat -- a long, lustrous outer coat and a softer, fuzzy inner coat.  "Top" is combed fiber that contains only the long fibers.  The hank of fiber I got was pure white, smooth, and glossy, with a staple length (length of each hair) of about 8 inches.

A long, smooth fiber like this is good for spinning worsted, which is handy because worsted is (in my opinion) much easier to do on a drop spindle.  Most beginning spindle videos will show you how to spin this way.  It results in smooth, flat, strong yarn -- not fluffy, soft, lofty yarn.  We all love fluff, but worsted yarn is really the best choice when you want your color or stitches to stand out, or when you want something that's harder-wearing.  I generally prefer to spin long-stapled, coarser wool in a worsted style, and short, soft fibers get spun woolen - the fluffy way.   But there are no rules in spinning, so you can do whatever you want and see what gets you the results you like.

It was so easy to learn to spin with Icelandic that I'd recommend it to anyone.  I've spun a number of things since, and that top was the very easiest I've ever done.  It took me about a week to get the hang of it -- and spin up every little bit of that gorgeous fiber.  I spun it fine -- about 25 wraps per inch -- and plied it.  I was very sad to be done.  Spinning is addictive.  I should have bought a whole pound to start with!

I must say, though, I probably would have had a much more difficult time if I had been relying on a single page of photocopied instructions.  But I had already read Abby Franquemont's book Respect the Spindle, as well as watched a lot of good YouTube videos.

Awhile later I handpainted it in sunset colors.  It took the dye very well and looked gorgeous.  Some of it ended up in a hacky sack for my brother, and the rest became the edging of a baby hat for a friend's newborn.

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