Friday, June 27, 2014

Why handspun?

These days, there are machines that can make thread and yarn for us in no time at all, and for cheap.  When manufactured yarn is so easy to buy, why would anyone take the trouble to spin for themselves?  Why do people buy handspun yarn for their projects for so much more than they'd ever spend on something similar from the store?

Well, the reasons are as varied as the people who spin and buy handspun.  Here are a few.

1.  It's softer.  Fibers processed by machine are often broken by the rough handling, and the tension they are spun with takes out a lot of the spring in the wool.  If you think you don't like wool yarn because it's scratchy, you might like handspun.  I certainly can detect the difference.

2.  More variety.  If you are looking for commercial wool yarn, you're probably going to face the choice of merino, merino, merino, and ....... merino.  Or if you're really unlucky, some unlabeled thing that is way too scratchy to be merino and could be anything.  Handspun can be made of any kind of wool -- smooth, shiny Icelandic, crimpy, elastic blue-faced Leicester, or soft, lanolin-rich Rambouillet.  Or other fibers besides wool -- llama, alpaca, camel, angora, mohair, cashmere, linen, hemp, cotton ...... there is really no limit to the possibilities.  If you're more than a casual lover of fiber, you can try many different things and find out what you like best.

3.  More texture.  If you are making a fancy lace shawl, maybe you want a plain yarn.  But if you want to knit a simple scarf, you might want the yarn to be in the spotlight.  So you can make or buy art yarn with feathers or beads, thick-and-thin yarn full of slubs and bumps, corespun or boucle yarn with a fascinating texture.  It can turn plain knitting into something much more -- and you don't need to be a talented knitter, as I am not.

4.  More color.  The yarn at the store is limited in the colors available, and those colors will often be either stripes or heathered -- that's it.  But handspun yarn can be in any color or pattern you can imagine.  Each ply in a different color?  That's easy, and will give you a neat tweed effect.  But you could also have each ply making its own set of stripes.  You can have streaks of color twisting along your yarn, or a gradient from one end of the skein to another.  I'm still learning about color effects, but I already love getting to choose exactly the color and pattern I want in my yarn, and watching how it knits up or how it pools in a woven project.

5.  Supporting real people.  When you buy yarn or clothing at a store, your money goes to the store (a tiny fraction), a yarn corporation, and to the manufacturer -- which may be overseas.  When you buy from a person, all your money goes to them, and you don't have to wonder if you are supporting a clothing industry that isn't as ethical as it could be.  And of course handspinning is always carbon-neutral -- instead of burning coal and smogging up the sky, the spinner is burning calories and giving themselves a moment of enjoyment.  You can choose local yarn from sheep in your neighborhood, chemical-free yarn that's naturally dyed, or any other cause that interests you.  Why shouldn't your crafting projects support your values?

6.  It's just fun to work with.  I don't know if it's just the knowledge that something is handspun that makes you use it more intentionally, or if it's how incredibly beautiful it is, but it's a joy to watch handspun yarn on your knitting needles, your crochet hook, or your shuttle.  It's exciting to see the patterns coming out as you work, and it's a delight to feel the interesting and soft textures.  I'm afraid I've become spoiled -- I can't see using commercial yarn again unless I had to.  Even if it's a quality yarn and not some cheap acrylic stuff, it's just not as fun as handspun.

Did I miss anything?

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