Pine Ledge Fiber Studio
Handspinning, Handweaving and Hand Dyeing in Vermont
 by Joanne Littler

Contact by phone: 802-849-2876




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Twisting fibers together to make one long continuous strand.
  My first and favorite wheel:
The Ashford Traditional

For specific information about fibers or yarns for sale or custom spinning, see:  Spinning Fibers, Handspun Yarn


Whenever I'm demonstrating at fairs or shows people will stop, watch, ask a few questions and then someone will inevitably say: "It looks like magic".  And I have to admit that even after all this time, it still feels like it.

The discovery made by early humans - that twisting fibers together could produce one long continuous thread - is, in my opinion, almost as significant as the discovery of fire.  That having been said, it was also really, really, really great for people (women in particular) when machinery was invented to do the job faster. 

Once  factories (textile mills) started cranking out huge amounts of yarn and fabric at low cost,  people could buy what they needed, instead of having to make it all by hand.

Of course at the same time it was also really, really, really bad - because along with the availability of cheap goods came some pretty horrific social issues: low wages, child labor, nasty working and living conditions, etc.   While industry was being revolutionized, people were being exploited - but that's another story.

In general, throughout history, handspinning has not been an activity one did except as necessity. Slaves seem to have made up a large share of the work force engaged in producing fabric - in all parts of the world.   

Pharaohs, emperors, kings, plantation owners, and well-to-do business owners have never been particularly 'into' spinning their own yarn.  Having someone else do the work was a luxury they could afford. 

Not so for the average person.  The tasks involved in making cloth are so labor intensive that when it became reasonable (thanks to mass production) for working class people to purchase yarn and fabric, handspinning and weaving one's own was gladly given up in favor of 'store-bought'.  

Spinning wheels and looms were chucked into ravines, used for firewood, or tucked away in attics to turn into valuable antiques. Some well-loved spinning wheels also apparently ended up 'in the parlor'.  (I know this because there is a song about it and elderly gentlemen often feel inspired to sing me a verse when they see me demonstrating my craft/art - which perks up my day immeasurably-  Imagine being serenaded by passersby who feel caught up in the romance of a spinning wheel!)

So, while handspinning seems to be a thing of the past, the idea of it is cherished - for the role it's played in both myth and history.  Those of us who engage in the activity today can be grateful that we are doing it for reasons other than needing to clothe our families and supply linens for beds and tables. 

We do it because we want to not because we have to.

The 'magical' qualities people observe (Rumplelstiltskin notwithstanding) - are part of the appeal. 

And who can't use a little extra magic in their lives?







Why Use Handspun Yarn?

Because it's different, unusual, unique, and one-of-a-kind. 

 I'm sure you've heard that before.   But as a hand spinner, I know that the qualities I impart to my yarn transform this basic ingredient of a woven or knitted piece into something that is peculiarly 'mine'. 

The way I prepare the fiber (getting it ready to spin); the colors I choose; how I hold the fiber in my hands; whether my hands move toward or away from the wheel; the number of times I treadle before allowing the yarn to wind onto the bobbin; whether I decide to ply the yarn or intend to use it as 'singles'; and the amount of twist I insert - all are things that I get to decide about how I want to make a yarn. 

The choices become very personal decisions having to do with technique and design, and elevate handspun yarn to a category that goes far beyond mass produced mill-spun yarn. 

The 'art' of handspinning has  been successfully updated in ways that make it enormously appealing as a hobby/craft.  In the 1960's and '70's the so called back-to-earth movement created a renewed interest and passion for the craft. 

 Until that point, handspinning was being kept alive by textile enthusiasts, museum displays and people involved with living history.  When I first started spinning, the guild in my community was very strictly limited to the members of the DAR. It was also pretty hard to find someone raising sheep who was willing to sell a fleece, much less one that was suitable for handspinning.

 In the mid to late 80's things began to change. More companies were offering products specifically aimed towards the needs of hand spinners. And the availability of ready-to-spin fibers (washed, carded or combed, and dyed) - was transforming the way we approached making yarn.  

Today, there are so many fibers available, in such a wide variety of colors and blends, it seems like a veritable smorgasbord of fiber art supplies at our fingertips.!

 As hand spinners, we have an unique opportunity to explore, combine and manipulate this wide array of fibers in ways that are often impractical for commercially mass-produced yarns.

Our use of natural and man-made fibers is not bound by the requirements of mass production.  Angora, Alpaca, Cashmere, Cotton, Bamboo, Hemp, Llama, Nylon, Silk, Soy, Ramie, Tencel™, Rayon, Milk  - and an incredibly wide range of sheep's wool (depending on breed and breed type) are all fair game. 

We can use all of these fibers in ways that may not be feasible for industry, but make perfect sense when designing an heirloom quality shawl or creating a piece of Textile/Fiber Art.

Length, diameter, luster, fineness, softness, strength, resilience, and elasticity are just some of the words used to describe the inherent characteristics of fibers - whether plant, animal or man-made. 

Yarns that take advantage of these characteristics are recognized and appreciated not only for the way they look and feel, but for the way they perform in the finished work.

Rather than striving for uniformity, hand spinners can maintain evenness and consistency while creating yarns that demonstrate and enhance particular fiber characteristics.   

We get to choose what we want to make based on our own personal criteria: Soft?; Shiny?; Warm? Absorbent?; Luxurious?; Fluffy?; Hardwearing?; Lightweight? - how about all of the above?  We can try it and see.   

These days, people learning to spin are as likely to be expert, highly skilled hand knitters, eager to create and use their own designer yarns, as they once were motivated by an interest in historical traditions or 'crunchy' pursuits.

Weaving and knitting with well-made handspun yarn makes a difference that can be seen and felt. Whether you use my yarn,  yarn made by another spinner, or ultimately decide you would like to learn to make your own - using handspun yarn sets the work apart and changes it from ordinary into extraordinary. 




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