12 days of Christmas, Day 12, How to Spin on a Bliss spinning wheel

This blogpost deals with starting to spin on the Bliss spinning wheel from Woolmakers.  Videos to follow. (at weekend hopefully, in order to get good light and to have DS do camera work)

What you need to start:
A spinning wheel, it can be a Bliss, if you have one, or a Louet which is sort of similar, or any wheel really;
some acrylic yarn;
some fleece to spin (Corriedale, or BFL or Jacobs or Shetland work well for beginners, it might be best not to start with Merino, angora, alpaca or silk);
a crochet hook, or a paper clip bent into a hook type shape;
little bottle of sewing machine oil, with long nozzle.
Patience, resilience, fortitude (not to worry if you don't have these, the wheel will teach you them!)

Take off the bobbin from the flyer and put a drop of sewing machine oil onto the metal axle of the flyer. The flyer is the U-shaped piece with hooks.

(Older wheels without sealed ball bearings could also do with a drop of oil at the centre of the drive wheel and where the crank of the footman is. Check the manual for your wheel if in doubt, or check online.)
Step 1: start by getting used to using your feet, ie treadling, starting the wheel going clockwise and practising keeping it going. To get the wheel to spin clockwise, you need to have the top of the footman at what I refer to as 1am on the clock, so slightly to the right of the central crank.

When the footman is here, the treadle is at one of its highest points and when you push down with your foot, the wheel will spin clockwise.
You might find that you treadle very fast at first, however, I am going to ask you to slow that pace down, so that you are treadling slower, but still getting the wheel to go around clockwise and not stop/reverse direction.

Then practise stopping treadling and re- starting in the clockwise direction just using your feet and a little push with your hand if needed. Remember the importance of the 1am position for the top of the footman. There is no fleece involved at all at this stage.
Repeat this step but now go in the anticlockwise direction. See if you can figure out where you need to have the wheel positioned to get the anticlockwise spin when you press down with your foot. (Did you figure it out? It is when the top of the footman is pointing to 11 on the clock.)

Step 2: Tie on a leader. Get a 80cm long length of acrylic knitting yarn and tie one end of it securely to the axle of the bobbin on the wheel. This is your leader.

 Thread it on the hooks and through the orifice (hole) at the front. Hold it and treadle clockwise as above. See if you can feel the twist come up through the yarn. Look closely and you will see the actual twist in the yarn, coming up along the leader . Let the leader go and the twist will go out of the leader.
You can now tie a small loop in the free end of the leader.(below)

Step 3: Now we will practise spinning with commercial yarn:  take two x 40cm long lengths of acrylic knitting yarn, different colours, and attach these two together with a knot at one end. Slip one strand through the loop in the leader and draw it out so the knot is in the loop of the leader and you have both ends of the threads in your hand.

Next you are going to spin and make ‘barberpole ‘ yarn, by inserting twist into the acrylic yarn. With your left hand, hold/pinch the threads firmly together about 3 inches from the orifice, start treadling clockwise, and begin to feel the twist come up the leader to your left hand. You will see the yarns twist around each other. Keep your left hand pinching in place here to contain the twist.
 With your right hand, hold the two untwisted strands back about 4 or 5 inches from the left hand. When twist has built up in front of the left hand, release the left hand pinch, let the twist run into the strands as far as your  right hand and you will see them twist around each other.  At this point also, you can let your arms and hands move closer to the orifice and offer the spun yarn to the wheel. Ideally, the wheel will 'take up' the yarn.

If the yarn is not winding on, then tighten up the tension knob just a tiny bit ( the circular knob under the flyer. ). Check also that the yarn is not caught or snagged on a rough hook, or twisted around a hook. 
You can do this exercise a few times, by pulling the twisted yarn back off the bobbin, letting it hang and untwist and catch it again and spin again, just for getting the feel of twist, pinching and releasing, and feeling the wheel draw in the newly spun yarn from your hands.

Next step: Real spinning! Discard the two acrylic strands. Get some wool to spin.(Which wool, I hear you cry??That is a whole other blogpost! However, I do find that combed top of Shetland, Jacob, Corriedale or BFL work well)
Pull off a short fat sausage of fiber, and draft it into a longer thinner sausage, by placing your hands about 3inches apart and pulling gently to thin out the the fiber. Later when you are more experienced, you will be drafting as you spin.

Draw out a wispy tail from the piece of fleece, insert about 3cm of the tail into the loop in the leader.

Fold the tail back on the rest of the fleece. Draw it back a little and pinch here with your left hand.

The pinch is very important, it stops the twist running up into fleece that you have not yet drafted. If you let the pinch go, the twist you have generated will run straight up into the undrafted fibers, jumping the thick parts and twisting the thinner parts , creating clumps of semi- twisted fiber which is impossible to draft as is. If that happens, just pinch again with your left hand near the orifice and with a rolling anticlockwise action of your right hand and wrist, untwist the twist out of the fiber until you can see the fibers are looser again and can be drafted.

Start to treadle and spin clockwise.  The twist will run up the leader and begin to spin the fleece into yarn. Keep your left hand in the same place , pinched.
Now you need to draft back the fleece behind the tail to make it a bit thinner. To do this place your right hand about 4 or 5 cm back from your left and draw gently back. Your aim is to thin out the fibers.
When you have drafted back a good bit, but not too much, then pinch at that point with your right hand, let go your left hand pinch , let the twist run up into drafted fleece, and you have created your first handspun yarn!
Don't Stop Now! You change your pinch, so that the left hand is now pinching where the right hand was, you move your hands closer to the wheel, the wheel takes up the newly spun yarn, your right hand is simultaneously drafting back the next section of fleece, and when twist has built up again, you release the left hand, let twist into the unspun fibers to spin it into yarn and pinch further up with your left hand , let the wheel take up the yarn, etc.....

So, how do you spin - in a (largish) nutshell,  you start to treadle clockwise while pinching the fiber at the front with your left hand, draft back with the right, release left hand pinch, let the twist move up the fiber, let the newly drafted yarn wind on to the bobbin. Meantime keep treadling!!
Phew …..that is spinning.

There are many small factors that could affect spinning, so do not be upset if it does not work first time out. It can take a bit of adjusting for human and wheel!
I am hoping to put up some clear photos or even a video at the weekend. In the meantime, if there are any queries, do not hesitate to ask!