What is the most economical way to get into spinning yarn?
May 30, 2016 7:32 AM   Subscribe

I really want to spin yarn as a hobby. I have a spinning wheel and I've spun up my first skein of (super bulky, bumpy) wool yarn. I really want to do more of this! However, is there a cheaper way?

My dad recently made me a spinning wheel. I've only been spinning for about a week, but I think I'm in love! It's so fun to start with fluff and end with a scarf.

However, at my local yarn and knitting supply shop four ounces of roving cost $20. I figured that was not a bad price, sort of comparable to four ounces of good quality wool yarn. However, I do wonder if there's a cheaper way to get roving. Is undyed roving cheaper? Can I buy raw wool and process it myself? Should I make friends with someone who has a sheep?

If you spin regularly, what tips or tricks do you have to spin economically? Or is paying $5/oz just the accepted going rate?
posted by christinetheslp to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Not a spinner myself, but a web dood for a craft store. It looks like you can definitely get fiber for under $5 an ounce. Check here: https://www.fancytigercrafts.com/products?sort=field_product_commerce_price_amount_decimal_asc&order=asc&f[0]=field_product_category%3A7759
posted by rachelpapers at 7:59 AM on May 30, 2016

You have discovered the dirty little secret for knitting - yarn is more expensive than you think. That said - the online store Knitpicks has very wallet-friendly pricing, and they have roving. Depending on the quality of the wool, you can get it for as little as $5 for THREE ounces.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the easiest way to make spinning cheaper, as measured per hour of spinning, is to spin the same weight of roving finer. You can spin for an hour or three to get 50 yards of bulky single-ply, or you can spin for twelve hours and use the same weight of roving to make a finer three-ply yarn.

Just on price, WEBS sells some nice stuff for less than the $5/oz price point. If there are any fiber festivals in your area, those can also be a fun way to find nice roving for cheaper than you might at a LYS. Sometimes you get to meet the people who dyed it.

The equipment for prepping raw fiber is $$ and it's tedious, so I never bothered. It is an option if you like spinning a LOT of yarn, though.
posted by pie ninja at 8:09 AM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure whether you're interested in plying yarn or just spinning, but - if you hit it lucky - you can find at the thrift store sweaters made of cashmere or alpaca or whatever other luxury yarn. They need to be "froggable", and if they are, you can (carefully, tediously) unpick them until you get very fine strands of yarn. These generally then need to be plied together (maybe 4-10 of them together) to get a normal strand of yarn. It's really an art because you can combine colors however you want to get incredible depth. I've never actually done this myself but I've looked into it because cashmere yarn for knitting is incredibly expensive but you can get a whole sweater at the thrift store for under $5.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:16 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make friends with sheep-farmers.

Many farmers burn their fleeces because they are not able to sell them without making a loss. Get a greasy, smelly fleece for next to nothing, then scour it, card it and get spinning. Depending on the breed you can get anything from one sweater to eight sweaters' worth of yarn out of one fleece.

Clara Parkes & Deb Robson are two authors' names to look out for if you venture down this route.
posted by kariebookish at 9:22 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Searching for "mill ends roving" can get you some high quality stuff for very cheap, though the selection will be limited.
Here is a site with some for $18/pound- just over $1/oz.
Mill ends are the bits that come from a commercial spinning factory and were the end of the batch of roving- not worth spinning on a huge commercial scale, but great for hand spinning. I've spun with Brown Sheep mill ends and been very happy with it, though their website seems to be down right now.
posted by Adridne at 9:23 AM on May 30, 2016

I've known 2 spinners in my life, this is why one went & bought land & started breeding colored sheep & another one now breeds & shows angora rabbits. They started out trying to find cheaper alternatives & fell down the rabbit hole (so to speak) but you don't have to go that far.

Go to 4H fairs & "Ag" days if you live in an area that has them. Lots of people breed alpacas, sheep etc & you can find them having stalls at these events. Talk to them. A lot of them sell the fleeces, if you want to have a go at preparing it yourself, some also sell roving. Downside you often have to buy a whole fleece, but sometimes they sell in smaller lots to spinners. You can also google for farms near you, in this day & age a lot of them sell fleece & roving directly to the public that way, hobby farmers are great for this. A quick google search finds 2 places near me selling dyed roving for as low as $4 for 2 oz & merino for 6.95 for 2 oz. If you are up for the work you can often buy whole fleeces too.
posted by wwax at 9:24 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buying (or being gifted!) raw fleece from sheep and alpaca is the most economical way, yes. It's a lot of work and you'll want to do a lot of research so you don't accidentally felt it in the scouring but it's doable and there is a TON of free information out there. If you're not already on Ravelry, sign up. Here's some basic info to get you started.
posted by kattyann at 9:28 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a fun and cute little wheel! Congrats on getting bitten by the spinning bug!

$5 per ounce is kind of a high price for just general workhorse roving, though maybe more reasonable for a braid of high end hand-dyed top of a luxury fiber blend like alpaca/silk/cashmere, etc. For stuff to start out on, you should be able to find prices closer to $2/oz, and sometimes even lower, when it's on sale at places like WEBS, Paradise Fibers, the Woolery. I think I bought 5lbs of fiber all at once when I was starting out spinning -- 5 different 1lb bags of a variety of breeds (shetland, corriedale, bfl, romney, jacob) and preps (top vs roving, dyed vs undyed). Since I had so much, this allowed me to try out a bunch of techniques without worrying that my wool was too precious that I couldn't fuck it up and waste a bit if what I was trying didn't work out.

Feel free to message me with any more questions. I love to talk spinning.
posted by fancyoats at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Off the wall suggestion, but Google "chiengora." Do you have any friends with huskies or similar dogs? My mutt has an entire layer of husky-like hair (albeit shorter fibers) and I have literally spun yarn from it using my fingers and a pencil for winding, with zero previous knowledge of how to make yarn. It is so soft and fluffy and ridiculous and it NEVER STOPS when she is blowing her coat 4x/year omg. People apparently pay good money to have spinners spin (washed) dog hair from their fluffy ill begotten animals, which I guess is one way to make dog hair less detectable on your winter sweaters. Apparently the longer the dog hair, the easier it is to do, but I was reasonably successful making lumpy yarn with my fingers and 1.5" dog hair before I decided I had no actual compatible hobbies or motivation to be That Dog Wool Woman.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:35 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding fancyoats' suggestion to buy undyed top and roving of assorted breeds at online retailers like Paradise Fibers. It's economical and educational. I buy top by the pound and dye it myself to save money. For a beginner, I recommend buying 8 oz or so each of a bunch of different breeds and preparations so you have plenty to practice with and don't feel like it's so precious that you can't use it.

Spinning all that white or otherwise naturally-colored fiber does get boring though, and dyeing without ruining the fiber is tricky at first.

I also buy and process raw fleeces, but unless you think any time spent with hands on fiber is worth the money, I can't really recommend it. It's time-consuming and more expensive than you'd think if you buy quality fiber and process it with efficient tools. Yes, you can buy a super cheap fleece on Etsy or from the meat sheep breeder down the road and card it with dog brushes, but it's not my personal idea of a good time.

My last fleece was small and still cost about $100 with shipping, then I had to put an huge amount of time into washing it and preparing it for carding (I had to individually flick card each lock because the tips were weak and sticky), and I still have yet to feed it through my expensive drum carder before it'll be ready to spin. I could card it on more inexpensive hand carders, but that would take even more time (although some spinners dispute the idea that hand cards are slower, I know they're slower for me).

Good luck! Spinning is tons of fun. I second the invitation to join Ravelry and find the Beginning Spinning group -- lots of helpful people there. The Fiber Prep group is also great if you decide you do want to get in to raw fleece preparation.
posted by liet at 4:03 PM on May 30, 2016

Seconding Knitpicks, and for lots of undyed wool at bulk prices, here.
posted by pearshaped at 7:05 PM on May 30, 2016

I got a huge bag of fleece from a random farm on the outskirts of town for about $10. I prepared it by combing each lock with a dog comb, spun it unwashed, and then washed the spun yarn. It took a long time, but I ended up with lovely cream (lumpy) yarn. Maybe I got lucky, and the wool suited this prep method.
posted by kjs4 at 6:23 AM on May 31, 2016

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