For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb
Psalm 139:13

Tuesday 15 March 2016

spinning and dyeing yarn for newbies

I've known maker and lovely creative lady Marina for a little while. She's a fearless textile lover who can turn her hand to anything. Since we don't live in the same city any more, I've spent a lot of time gawping at her Instagram feed where she shares what she's been making (she's just bought a spinning wheel – living the dream!).  Basically there's a lot of gorgeous yarn and colourful fibres (swoon!). I'd been meaning to pick her brains about how she got into spinning and dyeing yarn and then thought why not share it here?

Hi Marina! I know you've been a knitter for some time, but what inspired you to take the plunge and get into dyeing and spinning?
I started both spinning and dyeing around the same time. I had always assumed you needed a spinning wheel to make yarn, so never really looked into it. Then I found out that drop spindles exist, and are an inexpensive, easy way to start spinning - I went to a local yarn shop the next day, picked up a spindle kit and got started! Once I was thinking creatively about the yarn itself, rather than simply looking for existing yarn for my projects, I knew that I wanted to play with colour. I happened to have some pure undyed wool in my stash, and some dyes from some tie-dye attempts a couple of years ago. As with the spinning, I decided I would give it a go, then spent all of the next day dyeing yarn and was immediately hooked!

Do you have any advice for newbies who'd like to give spinning or dyeing a go?
Don’t be scared! Both things can be intimidating, but are really good fun. Spinning can require a fair bit of practice to get the hang of it, but is then a really relaxing process. I’m still working on my spinning technique, and have just bought a spinning wheel, so am constantly improving. Dyeing is very different and makes me feel like a crazy chemist sometimes! I like to mix my own colours from primary colours, rather than buying pre-mixed colours. Working from primaries (usually yellow, magenta, and blue) is a good way to get into it if you are confident in your colour mixing and want to try out a wide range of colours without buying lots of different dyes.

Have you had any spinning or dyeing disasters?
Of course! My first handspun yarn was genuinely comical. It was neon yellow, chunky and lumpy, and so thick it would have been the width of my thumb if I’d bothered to ply it. I called it a practice run and carried on! Each successive spin was then a bit better, looking a bit more like ‘real’ yarn, and more consistent. As for dyeing, sometimes results can be a bit unexpected. The closest I’ve had to a disaster was when I started trying out a new type of dye. I was going for a nice teal and warm brown combo - it came out turquoise and pink and black and all sorts of colours! I realised I needed to make a lot of tweaks to my technique to make that type of dye give the colours I want. 

What bits of kit do you swear by?
Because I want to spend as much time possible doing the creative, fun bits, I ended up resenting the amount of time I was spending ‘reformatting’ yarn. The two things that have been lifesavers are a ball winder, which just clamps onto the edge of a table or surface, and winds a lovely cake of yarn so quickly. The other is a niddy noddy, which I mostly wanted because it’s the best, most made-up sounding name for anything I’ve ever come across. I had previously been winding skeins either between my hand and elbow, or round chair backs, both of which work, but neither is ideal. The niddy noddy makes such short work of making a skein that I barely notice I’ve started winding by the time it’s all done!

What's your favourite thing that you've made?
A couple of months ago I knitted a chunky grey and orange brioche cowl; it was the first thing I made completely from my hand spun, hand dyed yarn. I loved the colour combination and the fact that I’d taken it from colourless fluff to a unique, beautiful, wearable item. I have made other things from my handmade yarn since then, but am still so proud of that one. 

What can you tell us about your favourite fibres and techniques?
I really love Shetland wool to spin and knit; it’s so lovely and soft, and pleasant to work with, and I love the range of natural colours it comes in. Brioche is currently my favourite knitting technique (and I don't think I’m alone in that!) as it’s a relatively easy way to create textured contrast between two yarns. I’m going to try out some more complex variations soon, and am excited for that! 

Your colour combinations are amazing! Where do you find inspiration?
Thank you; I love colour! There are certain combinations that I love; any mix of brown and blue will win me over. I like to have a specific image in mind when creating colour ways; sometimes a scene from nature, or the feeling of a particular day. It can get a bit abstract! I have a Pinterest board that I use to pin any photos I find with interesting colours, which I can use as inspiration if I’m a bit stuck for my next dye lot. Usually my plan changes between looking at the screen and mixing the dyes, but it’s a starting point.

Who are your favourite yarn crafters and where can we find you online?
Stephen West is a huge inspiration in looking at knitwear design from a totally new, unique perspective, and Meghan Shimek’s beautiful weavings make me want to roll around in soft wool all day. I’m on Instagram @marinaskua, where you can see the behind-the-scenes work as I create and continue to learn, and my online shop is


  1. such a great interview! Love that plied handspun.

  2. I love this post! Im a real newbie here and I have a lot to learn!!


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