Spinzilla 2015

October 16, 2015

I participated in Spinzilla last week for the first time. Spinzilla is a week long, international competition organised by the National NeedleArts Association, a US industry group which promotes knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving and various kinds of needlework. For one week, as part of a team (usually a fibre shop or publishing group) or by yourself (spinning ‘rogue’), you spin as much as you can, tally your yardage and submit your results. You can win prizes for most spun and your entry fee, a modest $10 USD goes to the NeedleArts Mentoring Program educating young children in needlecraft skills. This year 1754 spinners participated.

IMG_1600I don’t normally join things like this. I don’t normally join things…period. I did my first KAL (knit along) only last year and only when I was specifically invited and led gently by the hand. Thanks to that single invitation from MySister’sKnitter, I have got braver and more participatory. I have tried a number of KALs now and am currently part of FiberTrek’s Shackleton CAL and the Knit British Swatch-Along. In fact, it was being part of the Shackleton CAL that prompted my Spinzilla venture. Shackleton is all about embarking on an epic feat of fibre related endurance and my feat is conquering my fear of the woollen long draw, spinning up all the fleeces I currently have and turning them into something useful and beautiful.

IMG_1607The emphasis of Spinzilla is on mileage and that is quite freeing when learning a new technique. Learning by doing and doing alot is so useful when you are trying to train your fingers to do other than what they are used to. Kim Werker also took part this year. In her book Make it Mighty Ugly she recommends shifting your ideas of beauty and perfection to make room for creativity and learning. This was also her approach to participating in Spinzilla as someone new to spinning. She wrote,

There’s no sense trying to learn how to do something new, or trying to get better at doing something you already know how to do, if you’re simultaneously trying to nail it on the first go. On paper that’s a no-brainer, but in practice it can be a hard walk to walk. Spinzilla is a gift of dedicated time. It’s just one week, so it’s not a stressful gift. But it’s long enough that daily practice can make a serious impression.

So I’m here to champion the mess. I’ll go so far as to encourage you to make as big a mess as you can. Like the fifty pounds of clay people, let’s go for the learning and productivity that come with a focus on quantity over perfection.

This is not quantity over quality, but practice over perfection. So with this in mind, armed with a shed-load of prepared fibre and chanelling a fair few woollen spinning youtube vids, I spun my little heart out. Well, actually I spun my heart out in the very limited time available to me between kid bedtime and my bedtime. The time did seem limited but a week of dedicated spinning activity added up to 2007 yards/ 1835 metres of spinning. I found this very heartening.

And that is perhaps the other lesson of participating in Spinzilla…just concentrating on spinning, not preparing, not knitting, just spinning. By preparing all my fibre ahead of time, carding rolag upon rolag in the weeks leading up to Spinzilla, I could just spin for a week, concentrating on getting that technique of the long draw really working.

IMG_1603At the end of the week I had spun up 25 grams of silver Romney from a sample batt from Romney Ridge Farm in Maine, USA; 125 g of white Finnsheep from Fairfield Finns and a bobbin’s worth of dark grey Polwarth from Tarndie.com, both local Victorian farms. The Finnsheep was the first fleece I bought I think and I have been using bits of it for the last 7 years. It is now all spun up. The Polwarth is almost as old but I have barely made a dint in it. More spinning required!

IMG_1611Other things I learned:

  • A good fleece is even more important in woollen spinning than worsted. Flicking and combing remove second cuts, noils and vegetation in a way that carding does not. Unless you want to be stopping very often to pick out bits in your singles, start with a good clean fleece and pick your locks carefully.
  • It is easier to spin a scoured fleece woollen than in the grease. The Finnsheep fleece was washed but unscoured, the grease made the fibres stick together and clump. The Polwarth had been scoured but not very well (it was my first go at scouring) and I noticed how easily the spinning went when the rolag was free of grease, like a fluffy cloud. The Romney was scoured and almost spun itself, despite being my first go at the long draw.
  • I need to move a little faster in drafting my singles. Looking at the washed and scoured skeins now, I can see that the singles are slightly over spun.
  • The woollen preparation and spinning is remarkably different to the worsted style. This is springy and airy and a lot less lustrous than the worsted style using the same fibres. Of course, I know this to be the case intellectually but to see and feel the difference in hand spinning is quite a remarkable insight.

Did anyone else do Spinzilla this year or previous years? What did you think worthwhile from participating? What are your thoughts on the bulk preparation, single focused production approach to getting through a big project?