On Teaching Spinning

Spent more time this week spinning Dottie singles on Elsa.

a darker shade of Dottie

And it’s gotten me thinking about the upcoming WSU Country Living Expo, and the classes I’ll be teaching. Particularly the spinning class.

It’s a two-hour class. In the first hour we generally go over the wheels that students have brought to class and make sure that they are set up to spin (drive bands, brake bands, yarn leaders, tension adjustments, alignment issues, lubrication). We also go over general wheel mechanics, and the basics of yarn structure.

In the second hour we get hands (and feet) on the wheels and start playing with wool. It’s always a bit daunting for folks, so usually we start with treadling, making sure that everything is moving smoothly, and that they are able to find a comfortable rhythm that they can sustain without taking up much of their focus.

Then we move on to the hands. For beginners, I find that the hardest part is getting the hands to keep us with the feet. There is a tendency to want to hold on tightly to the wool and not let it draft. So in past years I’ve introduced an exercise that I think is helpful to get a feel for how the hands need to move to keep up with the feet.

I give everyone a substantial length of sacrificial yarn to “spin” onto their bobbin, permitting them to sense how quickly the spin is entering the fiber, and how strong the take-up is.

When they think they are ready, we move on to drafting from carded batts (probably Esther, and easy-spinning girl with nice long staple length)

getting Esther cleaned up for the Expo!

This is always a major leap. Drafting is really the meat of the subject, but it’s something that only really comes together with practice, and familiarity with the fiber. And there’s only so much of that you can squeeze into a two-hours class.

So, I’d like to ask those of you who are spinners- what was most helpful to you when you were first learning to spin? I’d really appreciate any hints or strategies that you think might be helpful getting newbies started and building their confidence.

Thanks in advance for you input, and have a great week! 🙂


  1. Michelle

    I learned in fits and starts on a wheel; didn’t even know what a spindle was for at least a year! But since then I’ve taught several people to spin on a spindle, and think that is a much easier way to start. No feet required, so no coordination between hands and feet required. Park-and-draft makes it easier to learn about drafting and fiber twist, too.

    • denisemor

      that’s true- learning on a spindle is probably more straightforward, and less groundwork to lay in terms of wheel mechanics, and all that. But sadly I am not spindle-proficient 🙁

  2. Donna Schoonover

    I learned to spin about 20 years ago so do not remember it well. But what I do remember struggling with was drafting thin enough to spin it. I kept trying to spin clumps of fiber and making a mess.

    • denisemor

      yep. drafting is always the trickiest part. and it’s something that really only comes with practice. It’s hard for me to remember how it felt to be a beginner as well!


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