If you’ve always been curious on how to spin your own yarn, there’s no better book than “Spin to Knit” by Shannon Okey (aka Knitgrrl) to introduce you to this new world. Shannon breaks things down and explains the basics such as fibers 101, all the equipment (drop spindle or spinning wheel), and the steps to achieve the best looking yarn. There are great features on other yarn spinners as well as a bevy of patterns for you to knit from your self-spun yarn. She also helps you take your yarn to the next level going over color and embellishments such as beads, thread, and more. Overall this is a fantastic book that will jump start you into the amazing world of yarn spinning.
In honor of National Spinning and Weaving Week, we talked to Shannon about her new book, tips on spinning, and her new projects for fall.
Nat: You are known as Knitgrrl and we love all your Knitgrrl books. How did you get interested in spinning yarn?
Shannon: On a dare. No, really. If you dig back into the Knitty.com archives, you’ll see that I wrote their first two spinning-related articles (here and here). Take a look at this one. You’ll see my friend Lee wearing the sweater featured in Spin to Knit’s introduction. He’d just sold his house and was about to take a year-long trip around the world. He asked me how long it would take to knit him a sweater…a year? two? I laughed and said I could probably spin and knit one in less time than that… and the game was on. (It took a little under a month, by the way). But the joke was on me — when I sent it to him, somewhere off the coast of Scotland, he had a massive allergic reaction and had to send it back. That photo caused at least a few day’s worth of itching! So it’s mine now.
Fun fact: something else I learned as a result of a dare was DOS. But I think spinning’s more practical these days!
Nat: Tell us more about your book Spin to Knit and why you decided to write this book? Which patterns are your favorites?
Shannon: I was talking to Interweave Press about writing a book based on my alt-fibers class (the same one I taught last year at Maker Faire!) when they brought it up. From the first email asking if I’d like to write it to me sending them a proposal and outline: 45 minutes! So I guess you could say I was interested…
Shannon: My favorite patterns? Come on, that’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I love them all equally but in different ways. However, if pressed, I think I’d say the Laurabelle Swedish Heart shrug. It’s named after my (Swedish) grandmother and it looks like a paper Swedish heart. (Learn how to make the paper version here!) I can’t wait to have a some down time, because I think the next one I knit is going to be from much, much lighter-weight yarn. I suspect it will be even more beautiful, but I didn’t have time to knit two when we were doing the book.
Nat: What are the essentials I need for yarn spinning to start right away?
Shannon: You can spin with a cotton ball and your hands, if you want to be really low-tech! But to produce enough yarn to actually knit something, you need either a spindle or a wheel and some fiber. I recommend starting with wool because it’s very forgiving. Your spindle or wheel doesn’t have to be fancy — there are lots of different price options. As long as it helps you twist the fiber, you’re good.
Nat: Do you have a special tip with spinning you can share?
Shannon: Stock up on all the little bits that fall on the floor as you spin. You can re-card them together and make some really wild multicolor yarns later on!
Nat: I know you also love spinning natural fibers such as those from plants and pet hair. When did you realize you could spin these kinds of elements?
Shannon: My best friend is vegetarian (she used to be vegan), and allergic to more things than I can count. When I heard about soysilk, I immediately ordered some fiber to make her a holiday gift. That was my first exposure to plant fiber spinning. The first time I spun dog hair for an actual project was on an episode of Knitty Gritty (it hasn’t aired yet, so keep your TiVos peeled). We made some very meta dog outfits with it. But the actual first time I spun dog hair was in 2003 — you can read about it here. Double-ply Pekinese! Look for the swatch in the spring issue of CRAFT, I wrote an article on unusual spinning fibers and dog hair’s only one of them.
Nat: What kind of knitting or craft projects are you working on now for fall?
Shannon: Lots of different stuff — a national chain asked me to work on some kits for them, I’m finishing up the final photos for AlterNation, (it’s a sewing book I wrote with my friend Alexandra Underhill), a few knitting and felting projects for friends’ books, getting ready to launch Crochet Style and Felt Frenzy (which come out in late winter/early spring), and knitting lots and lots of swatches for my next book. I also need to start making things for Bazaar Bizarre, because I’ll be at both the Boston and Cleveland shows, and work on my project for Seamless. It never slows down at Knitgrrl HQ!
Some photos of Shannon’s work:
Fiber I dyed, and Natasha Fialkov of luxefibre.com overdyed.
Felted shibori project i’m working on (’cause knittin’ and spinnin’ just isn’t enough).