Wool spinning for beginners. 3 Things you need to know before you start spinning wool.

by Pinky Wittingslow June 12, 2018

Wool spinning for beginners. 3 Things you need to know before you start spinning wool.

Learning to spin with fibre is easy with the right ingredients....

Are you confused about which equipment you need to buy to start spinning? Not sure which fibre to choose?

Did a beloved relative leave you a spinning wheel or have you been wondering about processing fibre from your own animals? Perhaps you are a weaver and want something with more texture for your work?

Wherever your passion to learn comes from, we have 3 things you should know before you start your spinning journey.

#1: What to spin first

There is such an amazing selection of fibres and fibre preparations available to us as spinners it can be hard to know where to start.

Wool from sheep is the easiest place to start. Sheep wool has a natural crimp, microscopic scales along the fibres that help them lock together. These properties help stabilise your yarn so that is is less likely to break as you are learning how much twist to put in your yarn.

The length of your popular beginner spinner wool fibre is also just right for leaning; no too short and not too long. Merino and Corriedale, both popular sheep breeds, are fantastic for beginner spinners.

example of crimp in a staple of merino

Now you know what fibre to start with you also need to know in what form it should be. You can take fleece straight from the sheering shed and start to spin, or you can prepare it in various ways to make it cleaner or easier to spin and create different effects. Below we have raw merino that has been washed and nothing else, merino sliver cleaned and carded in the mill and a merino rolag made from raw fleece at home which has been cleaned, hand carded and then rolled into a tube.

image of raw merino wool fleece, merino sliver and merino rolag

So you can focus first on just learning to spin, we recommend a Merino or Corriedale Sliver. It is fibre that has been cleaned and processed into a continuous length with fibres aligned. This allows you to practice drawing out your fibre without trying to smooth out bumps and to concentrate on the amount of spin you need.

merino slivers

You can also take your sliver, pull out a length and then divide it down the middle which helps reduce a lot of the drafting work.

divinding a piece of merino sliver for easier drafting when learning to spin

Progression of Spinning Fibre difficulty:

Very Easy

Cross breeds

Longer rare sheep fibres and locks

yak down
pet hair
Slippery cellulose fibres such as tercel, rose and nettle fibres

Very hard

#2: What equipment to start with

Learning  how to draw out your fibre is the very first hurdle of spinning, how much spin to put in the drafted fibre.  This is where your hands are busy working, then add in a foot or two used to control the spinning wheel and you can feel like you are trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time.

Starting on a Drop Spindle removes the need to try and treadle (using your foot or feet to turn the spinning wheel) while you learn to draft with your hands. It’s also the most affordable way to start and is portable - a great asset when learning so you can get in lots of practice even on the go.

Student drop spindle

The easiest type of drop spindle to learn on is the Student Drop Spindle. You will know if you have enough twist as it will drop if you don’t!  There are other sizes and designs of drop spindles which you can progress to after you have worked out your drawing technique and played with the amount of twist you put into your yarn and also having a little go at making your yarn thick or thin.

Do not stress about how your first yarn looks. Bumpy lump, thick and thin and over-spun… every section of handspun yarn is beautiful and you will improve with practice. You may find that you first attempted will be rather thick and lumpy. As you keep spinning you will create thinner smoother yarn without thinking and even giggle that you have trouble getting back to that lovely textured yarn you first spun.

Beginner's first yarn on a drop spindle and plyed, and her first ball of single yarn made on an ashford traditional spinning wheel

When you are ready to progress form a Drop Spindle, or perhaps learn straight from the wheel, a lot of spinners start on an Ashford Traditional Wheel. It is affordable, simple to adjust, sometimes available second hand.  We sell lots of parts either to replace pieces on second hand wheels or upgrade when you know what type of yarn you want to spin, for example, our Jumbo flyers. However, you can of course start on any wheel.

Ashford Tradition wheel with a maintenance kit and spare parts

If you decide to buy a new wheel from us everything you need to get started will come with it, just add fibre.

If you buy a second hand wheel you need to make sure it has all of it's parts. This can be tricky but here is a checklist you can use:


1: Does the wheel turn without wobbling when you treadle?

2: Is there anything missing? this is a big pitfall with second hand

  • Adjustment or tension knobs
  • Mother of all
  • Bearings
  • Flyer
  • Drive Band
  • 3 bobbins

3: Does the flyer spin smoothly?

4: What needs replacing? Rust hooks on the flyer or a missing drive band for example.

5: Can you inspect the wheel before you buy it?

We sell maintenance and repair kits as well as spare parts for our wheels if things are missing. Drive Bands, tension set-up  bobbins and flyers can all be fixed with little effort. What is not good is if the wheel doesn't spin smoothly. There is not much you can do to fix the actual wheel if it is damaged.

#3 Where to find help

If you are not ready to buy a wheel straight away or if you have one handed down to you, consider seeking out your local Spinners and Weavers guild. There is one in most areas of Australia. They have a collection of wisdom from their members and most have experience with multiple types of wheels and can show you how to get started. You may also be able to try different wheels at your guild or spinning group so that you can figure out what you really want to spin and which wheel you need for the job. Community really is invaluable!

If getting to a group is difficult in your situation we have lots of resources available for you to teach yourself at home.  Ashford has an extensive range of videos to show you all the different spinning techniques which will also help you decide what sort of yarn you like to spin and the best wheel to upgrade to when you are ready.

We also have a fantastic ‘How to spin’ book available which is an invaluable resource and goes into spinning techniques as well as different fibre types, how to process raw fleece and even has knitting patterns in the back.

Ashford book of spinning available form www dot aunt jenny dot com
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Love from Aunt Jenny xo
Pinky Wittingslow
Pinky Wittingslow

Pinky is a serial crafter who has devoted her life to making and teaching all things textiles because she truly believes we can craft ourselves to better health and a better world.

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