When I first started learning to spin, and subsequently to dye and card, I spent many long hours pouring over Ashley Martineau's "Spinning and Dyeing Yarn". It was an amazing resource for me as a beginning fiber artist - practical, clear, simple, but also imaginative and full of inspiration. It made me feel like I could do anything.
So, in the summer of 2015, when Ashley put out a call for fiber support for her next endeavor, a series of video masterclasses for spinners of all levels, I jumped at the opportunity: to support someone who I had already learned so much from, and to be a part of what I was certain would be another fantastic resource. I'm so glad I did, and positively thrilled to be featured alongside so many other amazing and inspiring fiber artists, and today I'd pleased to share my review of the SINGLE Masterclass from How To Spin Yarn.
One small disclaimer before we begin - I'll use the phrase "art yarn" in this review, but I want to acknowledge that it can be a loaded term. There are lots of other phrases we could try to use, like "textured spinning", "concept yarn", "creative" or "nontraditional spinning", but all of these fall short as well. Some of the techniques in this series, such as ANGLED, can in fact produce very smooth yarns, so "textured" isn't necessarily the best word. Spinning feathers and other objects into yarn is in fact not a new idea (ancient ceremonial textiles have been found with feathers spun into them), so "nontraditional" doesn't fit, and there's nothing UNartistic or UNcreative about smooth, worsted-spun, evenly plied yarns. "Art yarn" is commonly used and understandable for most, so that's what I'll stick to, but please understand that ALL of spinning can be considered an art form ♥
What is SINGLE?
- 20 individual techniques for spinning singles yarns
- Mobile-friendly, downloadable HD videos are included for each technique, plus descriptions and beautiful photographs
- Each video is around 20 minutes long: that's over 6.5 hours of instruction
- Unscripted - Each technique video is filmed off-the-cuff and gives you the opportunity to learn along with Ashley as you try each new technique.
- Beginner-friendly, but this is not an intro to spinning course. The basics of spinning mechanics using a wheel are assumed, but Ashley gives tons of great advice for how to adjust your wheel to handle the different techniques as she goes through each one, so only a very basic set of skills is needed to get started. If you've spun anything on a wheel before, you're ready to start (and, spindlers take notice, spindle-based art yarn courses are coming soon.)
- No restrictions - you may sell yarns spun from these techniques, and even teach them yourself if you wish.
- Available for purchase as a complete package, or individual techniques may be purchased individually through the How To Spin Yarn Etsy shop.
There are many books and online spinning videos available now. What makes SINGLE different? In fact, it is QUITE different from any of the other online spinning videos I've encountered, and in a good way!
The problem with highly-scripted teaching
Most spinning class videos are highly-scripted, produced in a studio, and fairly short. A number of techniques will be covered, but there's a lot of talking, show and tell, and often relatively little time at the wheel. What spinning there is is often quick - you get a few minutes with each technique, and are then told to try it yourself, and come back and rewatch that section until you've nailed it.
This is all well and good, but it can have two potential issues:
1) Depending on the teacher, that style of instruction can be intimidating and cause us to focus on getting it down 'perfectly' - we study the spinner's hands, and try to replicate their movements, attempting to exactly reproduce what they have shown on screen. We may encounter problems along the way that weren't covered in the short instruction. Some learning platforms may allow us a way to interact with the instructor later, but that takes time and it can be hard to get the right answer. In the end, we may achieve success, but we may have just copied rather than really learnt something. It's a start, but there is further to go.
2) The pace of that kind of video makes it hard to practice while watching, since you have to keep stopping and rewinding. It can actually take a long time to learn a technique that is shown in 5 minutes because you watch it over and over, start and stop, and move between the wheel and the screen. This can be really frustrating, and I know in my case has often led me to watch the whole class as if it were a movie, and then try the technique later from memory. Sometimes that works, but not always.
SINGLE is fresh and unscripted
The SINGLE videos are completely unscripted and in many cases Ashley actually tries things she has not done before on screen. We get to watch serendipitous successes and even some failures - and this is SO VALUABLE. By showing things that don't work, troubleshooting the method or how the wheel is set up, explaining what's going on all the while, Ashley provides a double lesson all at once - how to execute a technique, and how to troubleshoot and recover when things go wrong. It's very rare in an instructional video that the teacher will do anything on camera that doesn't work. Teaching students how to learn from failure without becoming discouraged is so, so important.
When it comes to art yarn spinning, or any spinning at all for that matter, I firmly believe that the most important thing for anyone learning the craft is to experiment. Try things out! Yes, there are some physical rules for how solid yarns can be created - fiber must have enough twist to hold together, for example - but since we are spinning for the fun of it there is so much variation in how different effects can be achieved. Ashley's teaching style is incredibly encouraging, and I love that she chose to experiment on camera. You can hear the joy in her voice when a new idea turns out to be amazing, and the excitement is contagious. She will walk you through the technique multiple times, throughout an entire skein, and shows so many variations that you can't help but be inspired to try something too. You can settle in and spin along with her and learn together. I recommend doing exactly that. Set up your wheel, watch the introduction, and start spinning right away. Don't focus on 'perfection' - experiment, play, and see what you can create. Learn from what doesn't work. Play!
In order to give a more thorough review of the masterclass, I set out to spin several of the yarns that are taught in the course. They were all so fun to create! The instruction for each technique was clear and thorough, and I didn't encounter any difficulties that Ashley didn't explain and troubleshoot. The camera angle throughout each one was perfect to show exactly what is going on. I really enjoyed learning from each video and I'm so thrilled with each and every skein I've spun from these techniques. I know I'll come back again and again to all of them as I continue to grow into my own style of art yarn spinning.
UNCARDED and FEATHERED
UNCARDED was one of my favorite techniques to learn. It is a method for creating batt-like effects without actually carding the fibers beforehand, but it's much more than just a 'fluff all the fibers together and spin from that' technique. Ashley sets one rule - always be drafting two different fiber types together at once - and guides you through an excercise that is brilliant for the mind and hands. I found it made me much more dextrous to practice this technique, and made a lot of other art yarn techniques I had tried in the past easier to execute. I highly recommend starting with this lesson before any of the others, as it really does stretch you and prepare you for more complicated methods. For this skein, I included uncarded Rambouillet locks, various wool combed tops, silk, firestar, and angelina in colors that echoed the shades in the feathers I wanted to include. The results are everything I imagined. I've come to rely on this technique when I want awesome texture in my yarns - another example can be found here, where I spun an art yarn based on clouds.
To incorporate the feathers, I used the FEATHERED technique from the masterclass. I couldn't believe how clever this technique is - this is a true singles yarn, no core or plying thread or anything, and the feathers are super secure. You can in fact give them a good hard tug and they won't come out! It's magical, and while it does require some dexterity, it's definitely masterable with practice.
It is really hard to choose a favorite skein but I'm absolutely in love with this little gem. This technique teaches you how to spin a solid, structurally sound, beautiful skein from a collection of mixed, uncarded locks. Similar to the UNCARDED technique, the goal is to hold at least two different locks together as you spin.
I chose white border leicester lamb and leicester longwool, plus black alpaca, chocolate brown Rambouillet, and multicolored cotswold locks for my skein (I have some packs of this assortment in the shop if you need some supplies). It is positively adorable, curly, fluffy, and surprisingly light as air. My favorite sections are where the border leicester curls and the slinky black alpaca met - surprising, and gorgeous. Like lace on black velvet.
Again, this technique was very good for improving my dexterity, and I highly recommend giving it a try!
Finally, I will share my Sparkle Puff yarn, spun using the KNOTTED technique (note that PUFFED is a prerequisite), which I spiral plied afterwards to create this glorious skein:
This technique was just plain fun to learn. I love that the additions are secure - I have since woven this skein into a wrap, and it has held up to weaving AND wearing incredibly well. The sparkle puffs are created from pure angelina and they glitter and shine with every move. I kept them fairly small, as I had a vision in mind of stars against a night sky and wanted to make it somewhat subtle. But, let's be honest, there is nothing subtle about this skein. It's an attention-seeker for sure!
I've also tried the LASHED technique, which is another show-stopper, and you can see one of my progress photos here. Unfortunately, that technique does not hold up well to washing (it ends up looking a bit bedraggled after it gets wet), and I washed the skein before getting any pictures of it dry. It is a lot of fun though and would be great for anything you won't need to wash. And, it was an experiment - I learned from it!
SINGLE is an amazing resource for the beginning and veteran spinner alike. I'm honored to have been able to support the creation of it by providing rolags, and I would recommend it to any spinner looking to learn more.
SINGLE is for you if:
- You want to learn to be more creative in your spinning
- You want to learn to troubleshoot and recover when things don't work out as planned
- You don't want to have to stop and rewind 5 minute clips over and over again
- You could use a push to be more experimental and break out of what you've always been spinning
- You want to make a true investment in your spinning education
- You enjoy laid-back, personal teaching styles (or are at least open to trying)
- You want to become better at 'traditional' spinning by learning how to intentionally create art yarns
- You want to learn a LOT
SINGLE may not be for you if:
- You are bothered by laid-back teaching and don't want to watch longer videos
- You want a lot of rules and to be told what to do
- You don't want to experiment, you want to see a yarn and create exactly that
- You only want to learn one technique (If that's the case, you can indeed purchase individual techniques on Etsy right here)
I hope this review has answered any questions you may have about this masterclass series, and encouraged you to take a look and expand your horizons. You can learn more about SINGLE, watch a video preview of the techniques, and purchase the masterclass here.