I’m going to contradict myself more than once before the end of this article. This is one of those questions whose answer is “it depends.” I’ll start by quoting Abby Franquemont, one of my favorite fiber artists:
“Plenty of people throughout history, in areas where cotton grows and it’s hot and wool isn’t as useful or there aren’t wool-bearing animals, have spun cotton before wool. Remember, there is no One True Way — if you’ve got a hankering to spin some one particular thing, don’t let anybody tell you that you’ll find it too hard. ” – Abby Franquemont
She proposes that there’s no wrong place to start. This is my philosophy as well.
I encourage you to try whatever fiber strikes your fancy. Just remember, different fibers have different qualities and require a different set of skills to work with. Frustration is the enemy of education. If the fiber you are trying to learn on begins to push you into the frustration zone, it may be time to try a different fiber, a different preparation, or a different technique.
As a teacher, I do have my favorite fibers to use with beginners. I like to start beginners with medium wools and a medium to heavy drop spindle. Medium wools are still fairly soft, though not always next-to-skin soft. Most of them range from three to six inch staple length. Because they are not as soft as fine wools, they are incredibly forgiving to the beginner who hasn’t mastered drafting yet. They don’t slip past each other as easily and allow for more control than with slicker fibers. A heavier, larger spindle is going to spin slower, for a longer period of time, which gives the beginner time to learn and move at their own pace.
Corriedale is one of my personal favorite wools, outside of longwools. Corriedales produce heavy fleeces with an average staple length between three and six inches and a micron count of 25-30, a solid medium fleece. Corriedales are usually white, but can be found in shades of grey or brown as well. This breed is pretty readily available and it can be found in different preparations on the market.
Shetland is another personal favorite. Still considered a conservation breed, Shetland is fairly available to the handspinner. Shetland sheep produce the greatest variety in fleece color of any breed. Like Corriedale, Shetland is a medium wool, 25-35 microns with 3-4″ staple. The color and the texture of the fiber make this wool great for natural color play and for the tradition of the Shetland sweater.
Other good wools to consider when you start spinning include:
- Bluefaced Leichester (BFL)
Also remember, it isn’t just the type of wool you have to consider, but the preparation as well — trash in, trash out. If you have a terrible preparation, it is going to be more difficult to learn and a more frustrating experience for you!
Commercially prepared top, roving, or sliver are generally a good place to start. Looking for that pop of color? I’m going to recommend that you avoid indie dyed fiber for your first spin. Sorry! As gorgeous as those colors often are, the dye process sometimes compacts the fiber and makes it more difficult to spin. If you are purchasing fiber online, be doubly aware, what looks pretty in the picture, may be compacted or even felted. Buy with caution and find sellers whose products you trust.
That said, if that pop of color is going to motivate you, rock and roll! If cotton calls, try it out. If a fiber doesn’t bring you joy, don’t spin it. The only way you will know is by trying different fibers!