My weaving work begins with yarn. Usually it is commercially made yarn, sometimes from small mills in my area. But there is another possibility.
If you cut pieces of commercially spun yarn from any two parts of it, odds are they will look identical. That consistency is great for mass production, but it hasn’t got much personality.
Handspun yarn is made with a spinning wheel by talented hand-spinners. Every handwoven cloth is unique and has variations not found in mass produced cloth. The same is true of handspun yarn. Some parts will be more loosely spun than other parts. It will be thicker in one part and thinner in another. Different colours and kinds of fiber may be blended together, like the merino and silk combination pictured below. You can see how colours vary in different parts of the yarn
According to Wikipedia, spinning wheels were probably first made in the islamic world about a thousand years ago. Today’s spinning wheels work much the same as those ancient ones, and like handweavers, handspinners are carrying on an ancient tradition.
When wool is shorn from a sheep it is full of natural grease called lanolin. That’s what makes the wool in this photograph so yellow.
It must be washed very carefully in order to remove the lanolin without felting the fibre. Felted fibre cannot be spun.
Next the fiber is either combed or teased apart and carded. In the video below my wife Nicole is using wool combs. I am careful not to annoy her when she is holding these!
In the following video Nicole is using a drum carder to blend different colours of Alpaca fibre.
And then finally the fibre is spun into yarn.
Yarn can also be hand-dyed. Sometimes it will be all one colour, sometimes it will be a combination of colours that pool together in interesting ways when the yarn is woven.
The kind of yarn I want to use for a particular project may not be available in the colours I want, but a skilled hand dyer can make almost any colour I can imagine!
It takes even longer to hand-spin yarn than it takes to weave it. The result is truly something special!