In Praise of Making Handspun Yarn by the Basketful

Devin Helmen sings the praises of making handspun yarn with a purpose—or what he jokingly refers to as “chore spinning.”

Devin Helmen Jan 2, 2019 - 4 min read

In Praise of Making Handspun Yarn by the Basketful Primary Image

Thirteen skeins of Devin Helmen’s handspun yarn, which was spun from Hog Island fleece. Photo by Zeus Carrete

In the Fall 2018 issue of Spin Off, Devin Helmen explains why he welcomes the long stretches of spending day-after-day at the wheel spinning a plain and useful yarn. Here’s an excerpt from Devin’s article, “In Praise of Useful Spinning.”

A pile of neat skeins or balls of yarn, ready for use and well suited for its purpose, takes as much intention and work as a skein of art yarn that captures an idea with artistic and creative skill. My preferred yarns are utilitarian and geared specifically to their use, and my aesthetic embraces the plain and simple. I feel that a utilitarian approach to spinning can bring the same amount of creative satisfaction and aesthetic pleasure for both the spinner and the viewer as does an art-yarn approach.

handspun yarn

Large spinning projects may take you many seasons to complete. Illustration by Ann Sabin Swanson

Our ancestors made awe-inspiring yarns and textiles (and people who participate in living textile traditions still do). Artisans have developed these skills because they spent the time making yarn in large quantities. We modern-day spinners-by-choice are lucky in that we no longer need to do this for survival; we can choose to spin when we want to and not because our children need blankets or we need to sell textiles to buy food.

Sitting down at the wheel or picking up the spindle day after day to make the same yarn gives my spinning life continuity and cohesiveness that I value immensely. The world today brings constant change, pleasant and unpleasant, and my spinning gives me a place of calm and a sense of creating and making in a world that seems increasingly focused on destroying and dividing.

handspun yarn

Devin spun a batch of gorgeous Horned Dorset top, which he knew would make a sturdy, hard-wearing woven fabric. He spun it with a short forward draw and made a two-ply yarn with plenty of plying twist. Then, Devin dyed the creamy yarn with indigo and walnut and wove a scarf that can stand up to his beard and keep him warm.

I encourage you to tackle a big spinning project, and I encourage you to spin some plain yarn. Even though art-yarn techniques and fantastic fibers are fun, I believe every spinner should take the time to spin consistent yarn for a large project. Nothing compares to the satisfaction of seeing a pile of yarn that you have made or using a sweater or blanket that you have made from scratch.

—Devin Helmen

Cubicle monkey by day, fiber fanatic by night, Devin Helmen has been feeding his fiber obsession since he taught himself to spin at age eight. He spins, knits, and weaves in beautiful Minnesota. He has a passion for spindles and everyday textiles and blogs, intermittently, at