Nov 29, 2008

Interview: Spinning yarn as art (Rachel)

This is a historical moment! It is time for The Living Naturally in Louisiana blog's first interview. In this interview series we will talk to people who live in Louisiana and who attempt to live a more natural life, who make things themselves or who teach others to do things more naturally. The first person we are going to interview is Rachel, 24, from Quitman, Louisiana. She is not just any woman. She spins yarn. By hand.

Photo: Crystal Garcia

Sirpa: Where did you get the idea of spinning yarn? How did it all start?
Rachel: I saw a spinning demonstration years ago and thought it looked fun. After I learned how to knit, I wanted unique yarn to work with, so I decided to learn how to spin.
Sirpa: Wasn't it difficult to learn to spin? Did someone teach you?
Rachel: It took patience, but it wasn't too hard. I learned on a handspindle first. I looked it up on books and online to figure it out, and the ladies that I bought fiber from gave me advice when I got stuck. I didn't know anyone in the area who knew how to spin though, so a lot of it was trial and error.

Photo: Crystal Garcia

Sirpa: Where did you get the spinning wheel from?
Rachel: I got the wheel last Christmas from my mom. It's an antique, probably handmade in Europe. Many wheels of this style were made in Lithuania and Russia.
Sirpa: It looks a lot like the old spinning wheels in Finland too. I think my great grandmother used to spin yarn. Where do you get the wool from?
Rachel: I think it is very cool that your great grandmother spun! I spin fiber from farms where the animals are treated well. They aren't overcrowded, they have plenty of food and fresh water, and the farmers raise animals because they love them, and not just to make money. Most of my fiber comes from a farm where they don't breed their sheep. They adopt sheep that need homes. For more info, go to
Sirpa: I think that is great that you use wool from animal-friendly farms. The wool business can be quite harsh for the sheep. What kind of wool or other materials do you use for your yarn?
Rachel: Most of my yarn is a blend of fiber, depending on what I have on hand. I've spun wool, alpaca, llama, camel, mohair, angora, recycled sari silk, bamboo and soy silk.
Sirpa: I like that recycled material aspect a lot. What do you like about spinning yarn?
Rachel: Everything! I like the process of turning a pile of fiber into yarn. I like how the colors and textures blend, making each skein unique. Before I learned how to spin, I thought yarn was simply a material one uses to make things. Now that I spin, I know that yarn is art. Handspun yarn is limited only by your creativity.

Sirpa: Please describe the process of spinning yarn briefly!
Rachel: First the fiber has to be prepared for spinning. If you're started with raw fiber this means it will have to be washed, dyed (if desired) and carded. The carding process basically combs the tangles out of the fiber so that it will spin more easily. When you have fiber ready to spin you attach it to the "leader yarn" on the bobbin and start turning the wheel. As the wheel spins, the fiber is twisted and the spun yarn is collected on the bobbin.
Sirpa: That is amazing. Sounds like a lot of work! How long does it take for you to spin a skein of yarn?
Rachel: Not very long. My wheel has small bobbins and they won't hold very big amounts of yarn, so it probably takes me 30 minutes or less if I'm using prepared fiber. If I'm carding the fiber as I go it takes longer since I have to stop to card fiber as I need it.
Sirpa: Do you make something out of your yarn or the wool?
Rachel: I use my yarn for most everything that I knit, I've made purses, scarves, etc. I spin a lot more than I knit though.
Sirpa: I think it is great that you have learnt this old skill that not many people master anymore! It is important that we preserve this kind of valuable folklore and art. Thank you, Rachel.

Anyone wanting to ask Rachel more questions, please feel free to comment on this post or e-mail directly to her to woolgypsy @

Also, if you know someone who you think should be interviewed for this series (or if you think YOU should be!), send e-mail to livingnaturallyinla @

3 comments: said...

Thank you so much for interviewing Rachel--she is a wonderful person! And also, thank you for including us in the interview--the sheep love Rachel too!! The Ryans

Sirpa said...

She IS a wonderful person! I love her yarn, too. I made a mobile pouch out of some of it to my mom in Finland, she loves it. So the wool got to travel too! Best wishes to you and the sheep, Sirpa

Anonymous said...

Love the interview with Rachel. I agree that she is a wonderful person. Since she is my grand, I wish I had known the skill...and I could have helped her. However, she has done a great job without me. We love her.