Review of book: Spinning in the Old Way

I read Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts from front to back in two days. I might have finished it in one day if it hadn’t arrived in the late afternoon.

From Spinning

This book is filled with information on spinning tools, fiber types, fiber preparation, spinning techniques, drawing, drafting, woolen yarn, worsted yarn, plying, storage, etc. The parts I found the most helpful to me were the chapters on plying and drawing. Most spinning books quickly mention plying and then move on to other topics. Gibson-Roberts took the time to explain how to ply the yarn and, more importantly, how to make a balanced yarn from two singles that had been resting for a considerable amount of time (since I’m not the fastest spinner in town). The advice was so simple: base the amount of desired twist in the singles and the amount of required ply on a freshly spun length of fiber.

With regards to my anxiety over drawing, the bit of wobbling that I experience in the spindle is normal. All this time, I thought I was doing something wrong on both accounts.

Thus, I happily recommend this book for beginner and new spindle spinners. I wouldn’t presume to tell an experience spinner what s/he may or may not need.

My only qualm about the book – and I knew this before I purchased the book – is that Gibson-Roberts is biased about top whorls. She firmly believes that a top whorl is the Rolls Royce of spindles. She objectively compares the top whorl against the bottom whorl, listing the positives and negatives of each. Then, she quickly and emphatically dismisses the bottom whorl as inferior. Based upon the two designs she lists in the book, I must agree with her assessment. However, she completely ignores and doesn’t even mention my favorite spindle: a Turkish spindle.

Gibson-Roberts’s list of negatives for the bottom whorl:
1. Slower speed, since you are required to flick the shaft rather than roll the shaft up/down your thigh
2. Yarn must be double secured no matter the design: No Hook Design: once underneath the whorl and again with a half-hitch knot at the top of the shaft or Hook Design: once by barber-poling the yarn up the shaft and again by pulling the yarn through the loop on top

The Turkish spindle eliminates problem #2 unless you made the mistake of buying a Turkish spindle with a hook. There’s no need to be ashamed. My first Turkish spindle was from Ashford and came with a hook. It was my first ‘real’ spindle (the cheap bottom whorl spindle I received in a learn-to-spin kit and promptly threw out doesn’t count). As is often the way with new things, I was excited to spin on it and didn’t mind the extra effort that was required. The yarn had to be barber-poled up the shaft before I could pull it through the hook. I didn’t mind the extra work at all; it was so pretty to see the newly spun yarn wrapping its way up the shaft.

From Spinning

By the 10th time, I was starting to get annoyed. So, I tried omitting the barber-pole technique and just pulling the yarn through the hook. Countless number of times I watched the spindle fall onto the floor, unwinding all my pretty yarn. Stubbornly, I muddled through, but eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and retired the spindle to the task of plying-only.

If you should ever make the same mistake and buy a Turkish spindle with a hook, carefully take the spindle apart. Extract only the shaft and walk it down to your tool bench. Using a saw, cut that silly hook off. Of course, you could always do what I did. Hand the shaft to your husband and ask him to cut the silly hook off. Dan recommends using a good hack saw. It will cut through both the wood and the hook, leaving the majority of the shaft unmarred. Afterwords, you might want to sand the edges with a fine-grade sandpaper.

From Spinning

With the hook gone, all you have to do is pull the yarn up from where it was wound on, make a half hitch knot at the top of the shaft, and continue spinning the fiber. There is no need for barber-poling, wrapping the yarn around the back of the hook, and/or locating any notches.

As far as Problem #1 goes, I don’t see it as a problem at all. I prefer a slow, steady spin rather than a fast spin.

I mentioned this matter to Dan before I purchased the book and again afterwards. Ever the enabler, he encouraged me to buy a top whorl just to see if it didn’t spin any better than my Jenkins.

How could I say no?

I didn’t buy just any top whorl. I didn’t even buy the beloved top whorl: Golding. Thanks to my hatred of hooks, I searched high and low to find a top whorl spindle without a hook. I’m pleased to say I found it.

From Spinning

Dragoncraft sent some lovely roving with my purchase.

From Spinning

Q. Does the top whorl spin any better than my Jenkins?
A. The jury is still out. I haven’t spun anything in the past week. My wrist was so sore from playing the recorder, which I’ve retired and replaced with the pretty tin whistle Dan bought me for my birthday. The soreness is finally gone and I hope to start a new project tonight. I’ll report back with my very unscientific findings.