Deadbeat Dyer & Why Handspun costs what it does

I know, 2 weeks again, but it was finals, I swear. But have a look at this lovely that I’m going to turn into a hat. Oh yes. It’s alpaca, merino & silk & it’s from It’s a Colorful Life. She sent me 2 delicious batts, the second of which I have yet to spin, but I’m sure it’ll be just as delightful as the first. The colors are falling a bit flat in this photo, but trust me, they’re delicious and lovely and if I have my way, I will find a pattern that I can wear for at least 6 months out of the year.

But onto another matter, which I’ve been meaning to address for some time. The issue of the cost of handspun. I get a lot of funny looks and questions about what I do, and why it’s more expensive than say Red Heart.

So here are the questions I’m aiming to answer with this post: Why does it cost what it does? Why buy handspun when there’s commercial yarn at AC Moore? It’s not practical, it’s not uniform, etc.

First off: Why does handspun cost more than commercial yarn?
This is not a short or simple answer, so if you just want to look at purty things, go play in my flickr. For those of you still following along at home, I’ll give you the simple answer first– because it’s worth more. Yep, I said it. It’s not humble, it’s not polite by some standards, but there you have it.
Now, here’s the long answer:
It starts with processed fiber. I don’t have the space or time to process my own fleeces, so I purchase fiber (from local farms when I can) that’ve already been washed and the fibers aligned so it’s ready to spin. This most often called combed top (though there’s also roving, rolags & batts, which are all different fiber preparations). So I purchase this, and pay for shipping. Then I measure it, and braid it so that it’s ready to dye. Then I spend several hours dyeing several pounds of fiber in my little kitchen. I soak the fibers to prep them to receive the dye (this is what makes it colorfast), I mix my dyes & start applying them to my fibers. I then babysit my dyebaths to ensure that the fibers are taking in the dye, and that the fibers aren’t felting. Then, I gently rinse my fibers, hang them to dry on my chandelier. Yep, I’m classy. Then, once dry, I fluff, rebraid, weigh & price them. Or I then spin them. If I choose to ply, I then essentially spin them 3 times. In other words, while this is a wonderfully fun and delightful process, it’s work, and it’s time, and it’s my business. I am endeavoring to live my dream, and feed myself & my four legged lovelies from my work. So am I the cheapest thing out there? Nope. Not by a longshot. But, when you buy my stuff, you’re supporting a someone, an actual person. A person who values craftsmanship, human life (pursuing a degree in healthcare), animal life (both my own, and through donation to the WWF & SPCA) and who in turn, makes an effort to support other local businesses and etsy artists.

Before moving on, I want to bribe you to continue reading by showing you one of my critters.

This is Banshee, who is appropriately demented given that his Momma's a dog...

Now, onto the question of commercial vs handspun: Why buy handspun when there’s commercial yarn at AC Moore? It’s not practical, it’s not uniform, etc.
Handspun has many purposes, and more and more patterns are being made by killer designers to highlight the deliciousness, the loftiness, the zaniness of handspun. That said, not all patterns suit handspun fibers, that’s just the way of it. And if you’re making a sweater that uses sock weight yarn & requires 2500 yards, handspun might not be the most economical or practical option (though many spinners dye & spin for their own sweaters). However, knitting, crocheting, felting, weaving with handspun provides a particular thrill, it’s the unexpected, the unknown! It’s the casting off of what’s expected or deliberate.
It’s a thrill. And it’s made even more so by the fact that you’re working with a product that has been worked on, worked over, and loved dearly by another human. That, at least to me, means something. I mean, how lucky are we that we don’t have to spin thread to make fabric? That we can buy wacky, creative, cocoon- art- bouble- corespun- beehive- yarns for our projects from other people all around the world? And how cool is it that so many of us are able to spin, that this craft hasn’t died, or been lost? There’s so much history, and care, and thought into what handspinners put into what we do, and I love that.  I can’t get that feeling, and that thrill from shopping at a chain store, and I find that even in my LYS, I gravitate toward the handdyed stuffs, cos I like the unpredictability of it, among other things. I can’t help it, that’s just how I’m wired. Meanwhile, I’m aware that not everyone feels that way, and that’s completely fair and valid. This is just one fiber junkie’s opinion.

Ady Bee


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