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Review: The Intentional Spinner


First, the facts:

Title: The Intentional Spinner: A Holistic Approach to Making Yarn

Author: Judith MacKenzie McCuin

Published by: Interweave Press, 2009

Pages: 151

Type: Spinning.


The Nature of Fibers
1. Cellulose
2. Protein
3. Manufactured
4. Science of Fibers
Spinning Techniques
5. Drafting Methods
6. Plying, Cables, and Novelty Yarns
7. Yarn Design
8. Four Intermediate Spinning Projects


Pattern Size Range: N/A

The In-Depth Look:

Judith MacKenzie McCuin is practically a legend in spinning circles. As in, she spins circles around everyone else. Or, at least, that’s what the people who take her classes say. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone leave one of her classes without being impressed–they might not agree with everything, but they can’t help singing her praises.

Well, here is her second book. (Do you hear the angels singing?) (Her first book was Teach Yourself Visually: Handspinning, which I really plan on reviewing one of these days.)

The subtitle is “A Holistic Approach to Making Yarn.” Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in holistic anything, so I’m not entirely sure where that came from, but what I can tell you is that this is one of the most in-depth books on spinning I’ve seen in a long time.

Not Alden Amos-deep, but the kind of book that makes you stop often to say, “I didn’t know that!” In the first chapter alone, she talks about where different types of fibers come from, what their characteristics are, and even though I’ve read similar chapters in other books, there were still things here I did not know. Like, that the US Constitution was written on paper made from hemp, which is a relative of the cannabis family.

(Although, actually, I question this statement a little, because she says that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution on hemp paper, but of course, Jefferson didn’t write the Constitution. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. But, still. I’m guessing the fact-checker for the book isn’t a history buff. But, I don’t expect an expert in spinning to be an expert in U.S. history, and she is clearly a spinning expert.)

Not only do you get a thorough look at all the different fibers … Did you know that “cashmere” isn’t determined by the animal who grows it, but by the type of fiber? Did you know that the Angora goat–producer of Mohair–was recently officially renamed to avoid confusion with the Angora rabbit (producer of Angora)? Nope, neither did I. But Judith did!

She explains the science of fibers–why they act the way they do, how you can determine what kind of fiber you have in a mystery yarn. Her explanations of different drafting methods is wonderfully clear … and it’s not easy to explain a dynamic sequence of motions, like spinning. She carefully describes the way the fiber should be prepared for different spinning methods, what to do if you want a Woolen-type yarn as opposed to a Worsted-type yarn … because she also explains the purest version of each, but then discusses ways you can spin similar yarn types without needing to start with your own combs or cards.

The explanation of plying and how it works, why it works, and what you need to do to make it work is masterful. And she doesn’t stop with a basic, balanced yarn. Oh, no. She goes on to tell you how to do the FUN ones, too, like boucle or other novelty yarns. There’s no mention of Navaho (or chained) plying, though.

Then, after she’s covered everything you need to know to make yarn … she tells you what you need to know to make exactly the kind of yarn you WANT. How to plan the perfect yarn for whatever kind of project you have in mind. And she follows that with four intermediate level spinning project and knitting patterns … and throws in a chapter on how to store your fiber and yarn, just as a bonus.

Honestly, this book? It’s wonderful. I’ve only read it once but there is a lot of detail in here that I know I haven’t absorbed yet … and I WANT to absorb it. I like it even better than her first book.

Please note that this is not a book for absolute beginners–it assumes you already know what drafting is, and understand the concept of how to spin. You do not need to be an advanced spinner to appreciate and learn from this book, but you should have at least managed to spin your first skein of yarn, so that when she starts discussing plying, you won’t be left completely in the dark.

The illustrations are all good, with helpful numbers inserted into the text so you can identify the correct picture to go with whatever instruction she’s giving. Like with any spinning book, though, the photos aren’t perfect … unlike knitting, spinning is a dynamic thing and still photos can only cover a moment of  a series of actions, so while the “action” photos are about as good as they can be, they’re not perfect … but then, until they figure out how to embed video into a book, well…

This fantastic spinning book is available for less than $18 at amazon.com.

Want to see bigger pictures? Click here.

My Gush: If you spin even a little, run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore or library to take a look at this book.

This review copy was kindly donated by Interweave Press. Thank you!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • maria February 11, 2009, 10:20 pm

    She’s teaching classes around here, sometime near my birthday. I think I must make them a gift for myself.

    maria´s last blog post..Silent Poetry

  • Jessica February 12, 2009, 1:21 pm

    Nice review! I’ve been meaning to give this one a look.

    Incidentally, if I might make a small suggestion- It might be nice to include ISBN in your facts section. :)

    Jessica´s last blog post..The kindness of friends

  • Abby Franquemont February 18, 2009, 3:32 pm

    Omigod, is my face red. Why? Because I was the tech editor for the book… and I *am* a little bit of a US history buff, and I missed that one somehow, which surprises me, because I’m a big Jefferson fan. You can blame me for missing that one.

    Abby Franquemont´s last blog post..Dear Ed

  • --Deb February 18, 2009, 6:02 pm

    Well, Abby, no one is perfect! What do you bet that nobody else notices? (Because, I’m kind of a history buff, too, and the Revolutionary period is one of my favorites.) At least you know I READ the book, and, well, I had to find SOMETHING “wrong” somewhere…

  • Autumn February 27, 2009, 1:11 am

    That is a really nice Review. Thank You for taking the Time.
    I saw it at TNNA San Diego, but I am waiting on my copy.

    Autumn´s last blog post..Feb. Phat Fiber BOX

  • jacey boggs February 28, 2009, 9:51 pm

    wow! great review. I’ve been meaning to pick this book up and you just tipped the scale!

    jacey boggs´s last blog post..The Mens

  • Klara March 16, 2009, 11:01 am

    Well, what is REALLY embarrassing is that the final versions of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are on parchment, and Jefferson’s drafts were most probably not written on hemp paper either (see: http://wiki.monticello.org/mediawiki/index.php/Was_the_Declaration_written_on_hemp_paper). I’d forgive Judith for mixing up the documents (hey, it’s neither her history nor mine), but not for getting the fiber fact wrong!

  • --Deb March 16, 2009, 4:31 pm

    Naturally, I’d really like everything to be 100% accurate, but if she was going to pick one fiber fact to be wrong about, this is the one I’d pick … since, you know, I’m not planning on writing a new Constitution any time soon, or anything!

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