Wool pulled over our eyes?

I’ve been learning a few techniques from friends and veteran spinners recently – one that has really opened up making more different types of yarn to me is learning to blend and card my own fibres. I started out by buying a set of hand cards – like a pair of very scary hairbrushes fitted with metal spikes – and two bags of lovely Corriedale fibre. Brushing the fibres without tangling them and rolling them to form airy tubes of fluff makes ‘rolags’. These are totally lovely in their own right (my nine year old likes to make them to just play with colour) but they aren’t really much use until you spin them…

Three bags full

Three bags full


I’ve been spinning this as I knit it – I’m making a rustic, Shetland-style shawl (which is going really well – pictures to follow!) And I’m really noticing something.

This hand-spun yarn is an absolute delight to knit. And the resulting knitted item has a unique softness and bounce to it that I’ve not quite experienced before…

In the last few years I’ve knitted over eighty items of various sizes and types, including fair-isle, entrelac, lace, socks, sweaters, you name it. That doesn’t quite make me an expert, but I’ve handled a lot of yarn – most of it commercially spun.

And yet as a relatively inexperienced spinner, here I am making something into which I would invest the necessary hours of labour (you are looking at about 12-15 hours of work in those four skeins there) out of a preference for using my own yarn. It’s just an absolute joy to use…

all spun up

all spun up

All of this has had me really thinking about ideas of ‘progress,’ and also the concept of hand-made or artisan items. Things that in the past everyone – including and especially the poor – would have had to make themselves just to clothe and feed themselves, went very much out of fashion last century. When I was a child I was fortunate to be surrounded by many hand-made and hand-grown things, yet I still very much picked up on the prevailing culture (starting in the late 197os) that something store-bought was somehow better, posher, smarter, etc. Those who could afford to do so, would buy something ready made for convenience – I noticed that in literature, when a character showed up in something ‘homespun’ that this was often a device to signal thrift, humility, backwardness or poverty.

Hand-knitting and spinning are back now, but it has been re-invented as something of a luxury hobby or pastime – purchasing enough good-quality yarn to make a sweater is beyond many people’s budgets, although of course options such as unpicking/recycling used garments are usually available. I don’t mean to criticise anyone who uses commercial yarn – I LOVE yarn shops. I’m just curious about the perceived quality and my own choices about when it’s appropriate to make something myself, versus when to buy it.

Have we had the wool pulled over our eyes?

What do you feel about hand-made and ‘homespun’ items – are they something to take time over and treasure, or something out of step and incompatible with modern lifestyles and needs?

Am I living in the past, or gathering important post-apocalyptic life skills for the future 😉 …?

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