Spinning Terms: Buying Processed Fibers

This is part of a sometime series that defines terms and ideas related to spinning. This one is about buying processed fibers.

Many spinners find that buying processed fibers is the easiest way to get fiber to spin with. After all, there are only a few ways you can get good fiber to spin with.  Either you start with the raw fiber and do it all yourself, or you send that marvelous raw fiber to a mill for processing, or you buy beautiful fibers already processed for spinners.

In any event, if you want to spin you need fiber, and the most common way, for most people, most of the time, is to buy fibers that have already been processed, and maybe even dyed, by someone other than themselves.

Buying Processed Fibers

buying processed fibersNow this is the fun part!

All those beautiful colors, and the crazy stuff they blend together!  This is what going to fiber festivals is all about! You can buy batts, top, or roving. There are single breed fibers, or lovely exotic fibers blended together. You can take it home and dye it, or find it dyed in a plethora of to-die-for colors.  Or buy a plethora of solid colors and take it home and blend it yourself!  The choices are quite literally endless.

But as in any other part of life there are things you need to be aware of, and things you need to be careful of when you buy processed fibers.


I hold a view (that may or may not be fair) that fiber people are the most honest, decent, loving, supporting, caring, and amazing people on earth.  There are always exceptions, but so far in my experience they are the EXCEPTION, and so trust for me is something I give freely, until I am proven wrong.  Other people have to earn my trust, fiber people have to do something to lose it.

But a little common sense comes in handy here.  If it’s a shop on Etsy selling fiber, and the picture is not clear, the fiber looks a bit messy, and there have been no sales…I admit I will be doubtful.  You have to find the level of trust you are comfortable with.

I often take cards from people at fiber festivals, or take pictures of cards of fiber I see in shops if I think the fiber feels good and looks good but I don’t actually buy at that moment.  That way I can feel more trust in them if/when I buy over the internet later.

Buying fiber is not like buying pencils.  A simple #2 lead pencil is very like a thousand other simple #2 lead pencils.  It’s unlikely that you will go wrong when buying one. But each sheep on each farm in each town has different fiber. So just because you love the breed doesn’t mean you will love THAT bag of fiber – but if you can trust who sells it then you have a better chance of being happy. Learn who you like, and learn how to tell why you like them and it will help with your trust of others.


buying processed fibers - CotswoldWhen buying fiber keep in mind: What You See Is What You Get.  If the fiber looks felted, or the colors look uneven, or there might be some kemp – it’s not going to suddenly get better when you bring it home.

If you think there might be problems, then there might be problems – and problems don’t usually magically disappear.  It’s not going to get less kempy if you wash it, and the colors will not even out if you spin it worsted instead of woolen.  If it’s a problem then it’s a problem.

What you see is what you get. Make decisions based on what you see rather than what you want to see. This is sometimes hard when you are overcome withe intoxicating “yarn fumes,” but do the best you can!  And remember, even our mistakes can teach us a lot! (Ha! Ask me how I know that!!)


When buying yarn for a sweater I always do my math to decide how many skeins I need.  Then I buy another one, just in case. This is common sense. Yarn is sold by dye lots, and not all dye lots are the same (no matter what Walmart might tell you!).  This is especially true of fiber!  So much fiber that we purchase online or at a festival comes from “indie” dyers – non-commercial independent dyers who dye in relatively smaller batches of wool. If you want to spin a sweater, and all you get is 4 ounces you will be extremely unsatisfied with your results.

You also can’t think that because the fiber is “undyed” or “natural” then that won’t be a problem.  Even if you process fleeces from the same sheep they will vary in color and hand (how the fiber feels) from year to year.  Don’t expect to buy more later. If you want a sweater’s worth get it all at once.  If you buy it undyed, buy and spin it over time and then dye the yarn you might be OK, but you will STILL have differences in hand. Maybe it won’t be enough for you to really worry about, but it might be enough to drive you crazy.  Just keep it in mind.


One really great reason to purchase commercially processed fibers is that the manufacturer probably has better access to exotic fibers than you do.  I know people who raise sheep and some who raise alpaca, but I don’t personally know anyone who raises angora, or yaks, or silkworms.

If you want to play with fibers that are processed from fibers that are exotic to you, then buying it pre-processed is the way to go!  I don’t have enough time to spin as it is, I certainly won’t have time to spin if I am trying to raise silkworms at home!!!


As with any fiber purchase you must be aware of the possibility that worms – evil wool eating worms – can infiltrate your innocent fiber and be transported into your safe and worm-free home.  It’s a very sad thing.  It’s a heartbreaking thing. But, it is nevertheless, a THING. And you MUST be aware and act accordingly.

I don’t care how much you love, honor, and trust the person you buy your fiber from you must treat it like an enemy combatant as soon as you get it home.  I coo over it at the fair, snuggle with it in the car, but as soon as I get it home it goes into the freezer.  It stays there for no less than three days, then it comes out and sits in the garage for a few days, then back into the freezer for a few days…or weeks.  Then it gets double bagged (with a dryer sheet in both bags and it placed in my storage area with lots of light, and frequent checks for stowaways.

There is nothing sadder than seeing the first sign of a cocoon or the flutter of wings against the plastic.  But the devastation of losing ONE bag of fiber is nothing to the horror and soul wrenching depression of knowing your whole stash is infected. It happened to me once. It generally happens at least once to most spinners.  After that you are so paranoid so it’s unlikely to happen again, but please, be ever vigilant.

Support Crafters

buying processed fibers - my booth at a fairSomething that I try to always think about when I buy fiber is where is it coming from.  If I have a choice between a large multinational company that also sells wheels, looms, and yarn and a small local farm that is raising their own flock of sheep and trying to sell fiber to support themselves, I will go with the local crafter every time.

Obviously, I don’t buy fiber from local peeps just cause they are local – the fiber has to be good quality and what I am looking for, first.

My point is that big companies sell fiber as an “also” but small independent dyers or farmers sell it cause that’s what they have to sell.  My small purchase means nothing to the larger company but might mean a HUGE amount to the farmer.

I like my purchases to mean as much to who sold it as it does to who bought it.  I have bought some really lovely fiber on Etsy from people I had never met, and some rather questionable stuff from people I see frequently – but I still prefer to support the little guys.

What do you buy?

Do you buy the fleece, and deal with it from there or buy the fiber and get right to the wheel?  What are some tips you have for buying from fiber fairs or online? Share your wisdom!!


Horizontal Kate or Vertical Kate?

Spinning is the soccer of the fiber world.

If you want to play football, baseball, even basketball you have to have stuff.  You need pads, or hoops, or bats…more than just a simple ball.  But soccer is simple; you need a bunch of people, one ball and something as simple as stones or sticks or scuff marks to mark the goals.  You don’t need a special community space to play it in, you don’t need an official ball; in Asia they often weave them out of bamboo filled with grass.  They don’t last long, but they work!  There are no fiscal or cultural bars to it’s enjoyment; because of this simplicity soccer is played world wide. 
So, I say again, spinning is the soccer of the fiber world.  You don’t need much to do it.  You can spin with just fiber, no spindle or wheel, by rubbing it along your thigh.  I have done it, I did TEN YARDS of it, actually, for a class I took.  I didn’t find it a great deal of fun, but it’s do-able.  You can upgrade, as ancient people did, to a forked stick, then to a stone on a string and so on.  All the way up to a $1,250 Majicraft Aura. (And why, yes, thank you for asking, I would take one of those if it was offered to me as a gift!)  My point being, that while you can purchase many kinds of very fancy equipment, spinning can be done, has been done, is being done, with almost nothing but the fiber.  My Margaret is my own best personal example.  You CAN spend a bazillion dollars, but you don’t have to.
Thanks to Sherry for the picture!

One of the nice additions to any spinner’s world is a Lazy Kate. I have a few.  The first is one I made myself out of scrap cedar wood I had lying around after some home renovations about 8 years ago.  It was created to work with my Ashford Kiwi and has places for two bobbins.  It has fallen apart a couple of times, and I just glue it back together.  It has no tension-ing, as I have never felt the need.  I guess I must ply differently than other people  as I don’t have much trouble with my singles getting tangled when I ply, as I have heard others complain of. I don’t know what I am doing differently, but I am thankful!!  This is a great little Kate, I have to say.

Then I bought a Lendrum from a friend.  I LOVE the Lendrum, it has a lot more bells and whistles than the Kiwi did and is perfect for the higher level spinning I am trying to doing now.  But, I was sad to find that the bobbins for the Lendrum where just a bit too big to fit in my cedar lazy Kate   I was sad, but not too sad, because the new wheel came with it’s own Kate!!  But once I used it I found that I really didn’t like the Lendrum Kate at all.  First of all, it only has room for two bobbins.  Of course, most of the spinning I do is two ply, but why limit me to ONLY two? It irked me. I figured a “proper” one, a non-hand-made one should come with more options. The second, and far more vexing problem was that the bobbins lie vertically rather than horizontally.  With my homemade Kate I had always placed it at my feet, behind my feet actually, on the floor under my chair.  The plies had always come up between my knees, to my hands so there was no straining or pulling.  But I found with this new Kate that the singles did not really like coming up (from the vertical shaft of the bobbin).  It often got hung up if the singles had been wound on unevenly (which they almost always are) and then when I gave it a little tug, the bobbin would fly off the post and roll across the floor. This meant that I had to place the Kate far (like five feet!!) away from me so that the singles woudl continually come out horizontally but then the Kate would move across the floor. I had to place something heavy on the floor in front of it (between me and the Kate) to anchor it.  And by having it at the side of me, rather than under me, I always felt like the plies weren’t going together evenly.  I couldn’t really see any difference in the final yarn, but it felt harder to do, somehow, and much more awkward.

 My unhappiness with the Lendrum Kate came to a head while I was in Maine. I had determined to make my first three ply, my old Kate wouldn’t allow the bobbins (and I had lent it to a student anyway) and my Lendrum Kate was simply not up for the job, no matter how many bobbins.  As a result of my frustration, I tried something that I had heard about but had not honestly believed would work. I made a Kate using a shoe box and some knitting needles.  It worked much, much better than I had thought it would.  This type of Lazy Kate has so much going for it!

  • It is cheap, if not free, which is a major attraction to any spinner who wants to spend more money on FIBER!
  • You can get them any color you want to match your decor   You will notice that mine ended up being orange. Let’s not go there, it was the only shoe box on offer.
  • It’s a great way to use up those unpaired straight needles that you never use because its partner needle got badly bent in a sad sofa incident some years ago.
  • You could always make it tension-ed if you needed to…
  • If the shoe box falls apart you can get a new one without breaking the bank. Especially if you have friends who buy shoes a lot.
  • If you are in the market to buy a Lazy Kate but you aren’t sure which one you want, this gives you an opportunity to still spin, without HAVING to buy one immediately.
  • And last, but most importantly to me, it’s horizontal.
As you can see by the pictures of the 3-ply, I put it behind my heels, under my chair.   That way all three bobbins pulled at an even rate, in the same direction and DIRECTLY up into my hand, where I wanted them.  No coming-from-the-side nonsense, so I didn’t have to tug to get the ply to let go of the bobbin – it all worked as I think it should.
As I am trying to be fair and open about all the different kind of Kates I have to admit that there are TONS out there that I have never had a chance to try. They come arched or in towers like these on Susan’s Fiber Shop’s website (look near the bottom of the page at accessories) and it seems to me that these would work well.  Although, I think I would lean more toward the arched one, as the tall one looks like it might fall over, and it would NEVER fit under my chair. I have also seen Kate’s that sit at an angle (so neither horizontal or vertical), leaned back at an angle, and heck, I totally forgot, my newest acquisition, the Louet wheel I just got, has it’s Lazy Kate BUILT INTO THE WHEEL!  It’s made so that it can be removed if you don’t need it, or are traveling, and it places the bobbins at a lovely mid-range slant, so the plies come up easily but the bobbins don’t stick out so far you will hurt yourself if you get up and walk around.  And there is space for FOUR bobbins.  Also, the Louet has a WooLee Winder so I do almost all my plying on it  so this Kate is bound to become my favorite!!
My last word on Lazy Kates would be this:  try before you buy.  There are so many out there: so many price points, so many shapes and arrangements, so many bells and whistles that you are sure to find one that works perfectly for you.  Why end up with one that makes you unhappy?  I would strongly recommend using more than one type of Kate before you buy, or at least what someone else use it and ask some questions.  Just check out how many I found when I Googled “Lazy Kate” images! What fun!

Actually, considering how many sites I found on Google with instructions on how to make your own, I am not sure I will EVER buy one again.
Homemade #1
Homemade #2 
Homemade #3

What kind of Kate do you have? Do you love it? Why?  Have you made your own? What does it look like? I really want to know!!

The Margaret Spindle

One of the topics we worked on during my Master Spinner course was drop spinning with cotton.

Now, any one who knows about drop spindles knows that they range from simple unadorned pieces of wood to fancy-shmancy works of art. But about the cheapest you are going to be able to find (that actually work!) is about $70.

Now, anyone who knows about ME knows that I am about the thriftiest person you are going to find within a long days march from here.

With which result, when the list of things to bring to class suggested that I buy a brand new (read expensive) spindle of a type specific to spinning cotton, I balked. Actually, I more than balked, I refused.

I had one drop spindle, and I thought that should be enough. Yes, I know the ones you use to spin cotton on are lighter, and smaller, but…WHATEVER, I would figure something out. Besides, I am not really into drop spinning.  (This was long before I became addicted to drop spindles – now I can’t imagine only owning ONE!!)

MargaretTurns out I didn’t have to figure anything out, the lovely lady sitting next to me in class (it’s a week long class, and we all sat with our spinning wheels around in a big circle) is someone who I would not classify as “cheap” so much as CLEVER!

Instead of rushing out and buying a rosewood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold spindle (for a tidy sum approaching $100) she went to Michael’s to solve her drop spinning need.

She purchases some cooking skewers, some wooden toy wheels, and a bag of rubber bands. (OK, she probably already had the rubber bands.)

And of the utmost importance to ME, when I admired her quietly efficient spindle, she nonchalantly reached into her bag and handed me some of the extra pieces she had brought! I put mine together in about a nanosecond.

I was gobsmacked! Why hadn’t I thought of this? How simple and elegant! There was no need to spend money on an expensive one, this would work fine. And, of course, it was only a stop gap measure, perfect for use during the course, and I wouldn’t need it after that.

The Margaret Spindle

I really thought that was the end of it, I had my Margaret Spindle (named after the creator, of course) for class work, and later would go back to my adored Lendrum wheel because honestly I don’t have time to mess with stuff that is so fine you have to spin it by hand.

For beginners like me, spinning cobweb thick yarn on a wheel was a distant and dimly viewed dream. And drop spinning takes a LONG time.

LaceBut then I started knitting with Lace Yarn.

Now, I had knit lacy things before, or course. But this wasn’t “lacy stuff” this was L-A-C-E. And it was lovely. It made me feel lovely, and smart, and talented, and special.

And, of course, like anything addictive it became irresistible.

Then, a few months after I started knitting with lace yarn, like this perfect storm of knit/spin kismet I found some alpaca/Marino (70/30) mix in a milk chocolate laced with a minuscule hint of lavender/pink that I had purchased at the spinning course and totally forgotten about.

And beside it, empty, and looking somehow sweetly innocent was the Margaret.

I, fell into to their clutches like any fiber crazed fool, stuffed them in a lovely new spinning bag and started dragging them around with me like knitting.

Spindle Spinning

And here I am, weeks later, snared like a big old fly in their gossamer web of addiction.

Not only do I love my Margaret, and wouldn’t trade her for a $200 spindle, but I don’t WANT to do this on the Lendrum. I want to take a long time to spin this by hand, and then ply it and knit LACE with it.

There is a moderate to good chance that I will ply it on the wheel. I am not TOTALLY crazy!

Now do you see why this really is the kind of life I need to pursue? No, don’t answer now, I have to get back to spinning, we can talk later…

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