Table of Contents


Brief History of Spinning

Handspinning - Why?

Wool and Other Fibres for Handspinners

Preparing Wool for Handspinning

Thoughts on Learning to Spin

Basic Rules for Spinning with a Flyer Wheel

Spinning Wheels

How Flyer Wheels Work

Choosing a Spinning Wheel

Buying a Spinning Wheel

Indian Book or Box Charkha


Introduction to Handspindles

Spindle Reviews

Tips and Tricks for Spindle Spinning

Building Your Own


Lazy Kate

Knitting Needles





Links - Handspinning on the Web



Life on the Farm


Address and legal information

Home / Accueil / Startseite > La Hottee - Contact Information > Handspinning > Introduction to Publications on Handspinning > Books on Handspinning

Books on Handspinning

Note: You can find reviews of German books on my German site. There's also a few reviews of French books on my French Site.

I will present the books in alphabetical order (by author):

Alden Amos: The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning


495 pages (including annotated bibliography and index), hardback, published in 2001 by Interweave Press, no photographs but probably (I haven't counted) hundreds of drawings

The book treats an incredible variety of subjects - from calculating the weight of raw wool under standard conditions to the advantages of top-whorl spindles, from preparing flax to yarn deconstruction, from the chemistry of washing wool to making ginger beer. Most of what you would want to know (and a lot of things you couldn't care less about) is in the book. However, it's presented in a way that is a bit - ahem - strange. There's not really a logical progression in the subject matter, Amos jumps from one subject to the next. Example: Chapter 5 deals with accuracy, length and weight measurements AND cultural requirements of cotton, silk, flax and wool. Chapter 6 begins with figuring wool's moisture content and ends with "How fast can a person spin?"

The index and very extensive table of contents help, but are not necessarily sufficient. I'd recommend to read the book through at least once (possibly skipping the mathematical parts) to get an idea of what is in there.

There is a chapter on building equipment, and the drawings in the rest of the book also may give ideas for doing so (like my charkha spindle lazy kate).

My Opinion

Alden Amos is a celebrity in the spinning wheel world. He's knowledgeable and opinionated and you will see both on every page in the book. I consider The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning like a series of chats and lectures with Alden Amos, informative and above all, FUN (Amos also has a nice sense of humour). The book is perfect to read while you await the arrival of your spinning wheel, or when you are suffering from tendonitis, can't actively spin but can't do without either.

It is NOT the best book for learning how to spin or getting the hard facts as quickly as possible.

And of course you don't have to agree with everything Amos says - if he hates double-treadle wheels, that's his problem ;-)

Rachel Brown: The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book


326 pages, large format, soft cover, second revised edition 1983, published by Alfred A. Knopf. 8 pages of color photos (the captions are in the back of the book) and lots of good drawings in the margins.

This is first and foremost a book about weaving: Card weaving, inkle loom, hopi belt loom, backstrap loom, navajo loom, treadle loom. Spinning has a chapter of 34 pages, dyeing one of 28 (plus 14 pages on design and color). There's an extensive glossary and a detailed index.

My Opinion

If you are not interested in weaving, don't get this book. If, however, you want to weave without spending a fortune, this is probably the best book to describe how to do "serious" weaving on primitive (i.e. home-made, low-cost) looms.

Connie Delaney: Spindle Spinning - from Novice to Expert


80 pages, paperback, black-and-white photos and drawings in the text, published 1998 by Kokovoko Press

After a brief discussion of wool (and an even briefer one of other fibres) Connie Delaney describes how to build spindles and how to spin on them: Top-Whorl spindle, bottom-whorl spindle, Navajo spindle, supported cotton spindle.

My Opinion

This is a small, inexpensive booklet (US $ 12 in 2006) which can enable you to learn spinning on your own. A very good "first book" for a beginner.

Anne Field: Spinning Wool - Beyond the Basics


145 pages, large format, soft cover, published in 1995 (reprinted 1997 and 2002) by Shoal Bay Press, New Zealand, photos (color and b/w) and drawings

The book has 4 parts:

Anne Field's basic idea is to "spin to the crimp", i. e. to put as many twists per inch into the yarn as the wool has crimps per inch. Yarn diameter then follows the tpi - a two-ply yarn should have twice as many wpi as there are crimps per inch of fleece wool.

My Opinion

The chapter on wool analysis is the most extensive one I've seen so far, with close-up photos of wool staples (only New Zealand wools). I also like the description of the different spinning methods (short forward/backward draft, medium draft, long draw, spinning from the fold). There's beautiful photo series on hand carding, drum carding and working with mini combs. Anne Field even includes a short explanation of the genetics of colored sheep!

However, I don't agree with Anne Field's claim that you can only draft one inch per treadle (incidentally, that's the exact opposite of what Mable Ross demonstrates in her video) which means that your spinning wheel's ratios determine which type of yarn you can spin. And whereas I'm willing to believe that it's easier to spin fine, crimpy wool into fine threads, I think it's too limiting to ONLY spin wool with as many twists per inch as there are crimps.

If you can get hold of the book at reasonable (shipping) cost, you can certainly learn something from it. But I don't think it's necessary to pay enormous amounts of money for it - it's not THAT good.

Nola and Jane Fournier: In Sheep's Clothing - A Handspinner's Guide to Wool


223 pages, soft cover, published in 1995 by Interweave Press, b/w photos of wool staples and drawings of carding, combing, drafting processes

Approx. 140 pages are dedicated to presenting different breed's wools, each breed has one or two pages, generally with a photograph of a wool staple. At the beginning of each chapter (fine wools, longwools and crossbreed wools, down-type wools, other wools, black and colored wools) are tips for washing and preparing this type of wool. There is also a general chapter "About Wool" (5 pages), one on "Selecting, Storing and Sorting Fleece" (21 pages) and a chapter "Terms and Techniques" (26 pages) which describes wool preparation, spinning, plying, blocking and relaxation exercises.

My Opinion

If you are interested in details on the wool of different sheep breeds, this is the book to get (well, it's the only one of its kind). Unfortunately it is limited to sheep bred in English-speaking countries (i.e. there's nothing on French or German breeds). But in any case the book will make you aware of the many types of wool and that they want to be treated differently. And if you want to order from an English supplier and don't really know what to get, it is invaluable!

The general chapters are very informative and well worth reading, even if the section spinning is probably not enough to teach yourself to spin.

Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberst: High Whorling - A spinner's guide to an old world skill


135 pages, hardback, published 1998 by Nomad Press, lots of drawings


My Opinion

This is a lovingly made book that covers every aspect of the high-whorl spindle. If you like using a high-whorl spindle, you will certainly profit from it.

Judith MacKenzie McCuin: Teach Yourself Visually Handspinning


208 pages, soft cover, many color photographs, published in 2007 by Wiley Publishing

The book supposedly contains everything connected with hand spinning, the chapters being called

  1. Why Spin?
  2. Spinning Tools
  3. Spinning Fibres
  4. Start Spinning
  5. Types of Spinning
  6. Ply Your Yarn
  7. Make a Cabled Yarn
  8. Spin Novelty Yarns
  9. Spin Exotic Fibres
  10. Spin With Color
  11. Using Your Handspun

You can see the complete table of contents both on Amazon and on Wiley's web site.

My Opinion

This book had a lot of potential - great spinning teacher, big publisher, professional layout and photographer - but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The overall impression I had was that of a spinning class for beginners where the teacher says "Spinning is a great hobby, you can do this, and this, and this, and this, it's really great - well, sorry, I don't have the time to explain HOW to do it, but you'll figure it out". There's supposedly a little bit of everything, but for a beginner the explanations are just not detailed enough (and even for me, with some years of experience, the "rainbow pot" didn't work out). Now, that's just the general impression, but there's also a number of specific points to criticize.

First of all, the pictures are not very good. The "closeup" shots of yarn and fibre are not close enough and the pictures don't always go very well with the text: The different types of spinning wheel (bobbin-lead, scotch tension, double drive) are illustrated with full frontal shots of the wheels - you can see pedals and drivewheel, but not even guess how drive band and brake band are running - which is the only difference between the wheel types. The only picture (in this chapter) that does show the drive band/brake band arrangement is that of a scotch tension wheel right next to the headline "bobbin-driven wheels". Then, on page 77: "The hooks on most flyers are offset, which makes it easier to fill the bobbins evenly. You move the yarn from the hook on the right side to the hook on the left side, from one end of the flyer to the other" - for that to work the hooks need to be on opposite sides of the flyer arms (so that both rows of hooks are visible - or invisible - at the same time when the flyer is horizontal) and this is NOT the case on the wheel that's shown on this page. On page 140 we have a picture of a skein of angora yarn and the text says "Do you see how much bigger the yarn is now that it's fulled?" No, we don't - there's no "before" picture.

So, don't buy the book for the pictures. Well, normally I wouldn't anyway - but the title is "Teach yourself visually..." - and the motto "Read less - learn more". Which implies that you are supposed to learn from the pictures...

Textwise, the technical information on spinning wheels is unclear, incomplete or just plain wrong. Examples: Page 15: "A bobbin-driven wheel is the fastest of the wheel types, but it doesn't offer you much control" - what's that supposed to mean? Spinning wheel speed is a function of the transmission ratio between drive wheel and whorl (a concept that's never mentioned anywhere), and incidentally the bobbin-driven wheels I know are all on the slow side. Page 16: "You have more control on a double-drive wheel than you do on a bobbin-driven wheel, but less speed" and finally the flyer-driven wheel is "the slowest of the three types". What is that supposed to mean?

Then, what are we supposed to learn from sentences like this one: "If you have the wheel-maker's instructions, it should tell you how to replace the bobbin. If you do not have the instructions, every wheel should have some way to take the flyer off so that you can replace the bobbin" (page 70). By the way, nowhere is mentioned that the whorl on the double-drive wheel usually unscrews clockwise - that might have been a piece of useful information. Regarding information that's just plain wrong, here's one example: "Remember to put the drive band on the big end of the bobbin if you are using a scotch brake and on the small end if you are using a double drive" (page 71) - wrong! for scotch brake operation you put the drive band on the FLYER whorl and the brake band on the bobbin whorl! And, by the way, whether you run one loop of the double drive band over the big bobbin whorl or the small one (if there's a whorl at both ends as in the case of Kromski bobbins) depends on the flyer whorl you are using and the twist and take-up ratio you want to achieve - it's not automatically the small whorl!

Another peeve: Judith McKenzie McCuin mostly avoids traditional spinning terminology and anything that might make spinning seem technical. Instead of "drafting" she uses mostly "stretching", instead of "S- and Z-twist" "left and right twist (and I like her explanation with the thumb - but would it really have hurt to mention that other sources use S and Z?), there's no mention of spinning wheel ratios, twists per inch or wraps per inch...

In sum, don't bother buying this book unless you want to learn something about how to (not) write books about crafting. For learning about spinning, nearly any other book will be better. However, you will need to get several different books to cover the same area as Judith MacKenzie McCuin - but at least then the subjects will be treated more comprehensively.

Deb Menz: Color in Spinning


240 pages, large format, soft cover, many b/w and color photographs, published in 1998 and 2005 by Interweave Press

The book deals with

Deb Menz gives very precise dye recipes - but only for one family of dyes: Sabraset and Sabracron F

My Opinion

This book is absolutely NOT for a beginner. Deb Menz demands a degree of precision that takes the fun right out of dyeing. On the other hand, safety precautions are given exactly two paragraphs (!). If you want to go professional and need to reproduce your results, THEN it's time for buying this book - if you still think you need it.

I find this book highly overrated. It's not a complete book on dyeing because Menz only ever works with one single type of dye. The book is also rather pricy (US $ 26.95) for information that is not all that hard to find elsewhere. If you just need some basic information about synthetic dyes, you might look at Diane Varney's book or at Rachel Brown's. Or get another book altogether, but I can't help you there, sorry.

Mabel Ross: The essentials of handspinning


40 pages, many drawings, soft cover, first published in 1979 (revised in 1984, reprinted almost till 2003) by Ruth Gough of Wingham Wool Work (GB)

The inexpensive (GB 4.90) booklet gives a very concise introduction to fibre preparation, spindle spinning and wheel spinning.

My Opinion

The information is there - but reading it is not very pleasurable (example: "There has now been described three quite different styles of preparation and spinning and it is time to give some idea of when each would be appropriate") and the book has a distinctly "home-made" (and not in a good way) feel to it. If you live in the British Isles (and can get hold of the book cheaply) you can buy it if you don't want to fork out more money for a better-made book. Otherwise I'm tempted to say it's just not worth it - except: "The essentials of Yarn Design for handspinners" often refers back to this book. So if you want to be sure that you really understand the second book, you'll need the first one.

Mabel Ross: The essentials of Yarn Design for handspinners


126 pages, soft cover, spiral-bound, published in 1983 by Ruth Gough of Wingham Wool Work (GB), removable cards for measuring yarn thickness and twist angle.

Table of Contents (the number is the page number)

The basic idea behind this book is the following: Yarn that has the same twist angle has the same "hand" (feel) - no matter whether it's thick or thin. Thin yarn needs more twists per inch to have the same twist angle as thick yarn. If you know your wheel's ratio, you can control the twists per inch of your yarn (and thus its twist angle and its hand) by feeding in more or less yarn per threadle, i.e. drafting faster or slower.

My Opinion

The book is a classic and its basic idea, as summarized above, is certainly an essential one for every handspinner (if they have a wheel! For spindle spinning the book is useless). Unfortunately the book isn't any nicer to read than "Essentials of Handspinning". The other question is whether you want to be constantly counting while spinning - Mabel Ross spins wearing an apron with 1/2 inch and 1 inch stripes to better see how much yarn she drafts.

If you spin by "feel" and to have "fun" this is probably not the book to get. If you want to know what you are doing and why, if you are aiming for a Certificate of Excellence in Handspinning, then it may well be essential reading. In which case you might also need Mabel's first book, because she often refers back to it.

If you live in Europe, do not buy the book from an American supplier as its publisher is in England.

Lee Raven: Hands-On Spinning


120 pages, large format, soft cover, published in 1987 by Interweave Press, color and b/w photos as well as drawings

Table of Contents (page numbers in brackets):

A number of projects are in the book as well - with the necessary yarn size drawn rather realistically (i. e. irregular).

My Opinion

This book seems much less impressing than it should because of its magazine format - in a more traditional book format it would have some 240 pages. Almost everything the absolute beginner needs is there, starting from using a hooked stick (a piece of coat hanger wire bent at one end) to understand drafting and ending with a discussion of different fibres. Navajo plying is missing, as is any reference to twists per inch. And wheel ratios are only mentioned in the appendix. For absolute beginners this book is probably the best value for money. However, if you already are capable of producing a regular yarn, you probably don't need it.

Paula Simmons: Spinning and Weaving with Wool


221 pages, soft cover, landscape format, b/w photos and drawings, published 1977 (reprints 1978 and 1980) by Pacific Search Press

Contents:(page numbers in brackets):

My Opinion

This is one of the most complete, all-around books I know. Its only drawbacks are that some of the information is outdated - the chapter on available spinning wheels is only of historic interest - and that it is difficult to get hold of. If you find it in a second-hand bookshop at a reasonable price, snatch it up. But I wouldn't pay hundreds of dollars for it on E-Bay - this book won't make you a better spinner, either.

Spin-Off: A Handspindle Treasury


94 pages, large format, soft cover, published in 2000 by Interweave Press, b/w and color photos and drawings

This book (? or magazine?) contains articles from 20 years of Spin-Off Magazine.


Each chapter contains 3 to 6 articles (each about 2 pages long) from different authors.

My Opinion

This is the most varied look at spindle spinning you can buy on paper. Of course, due to the format there is no logical progression from chapter to chapter, and there's no claim to completeness either. And if you already have the editions of Spin-Off, there's no need to buy the Handspindle Treasury. Otherwise, if you are interested in handspindle spinning, this is a very good book to buy.

Peter Teal: Hand Woolcombing and Spinning


184 pages, hardbound, mainly b/w photos (a few color ones in the chapter on dyeing), drawings, written in 1976, reprinted 1993 and 2004 by Robin and Russ Handweavers

Contents (page numbers in brackets):

My Opinion

Peter Teal is a fanatic of the worsted spun yarn. Anything else he considers inferior and says so constantly. If you don't agree, you just have to ignore that (after all, the man is entitled to his opinion). Otherwise this is the most complete (and the only) book on woolcombing one could wish for. If you want to teach yourself spinning a true worsted yarn, you will need it.

Diane Varney: Spinning Designer Yarns


96 pages, soft cover, published in 1987 and 2003 by Interweave Press, color photos and drawings

The book deals with the basics of yarn design (spinning for a project and sampling, plying), dyeing (general instructions for synthetic dyes), fibre and color blends, and novelty yarns.

My Opinion

This is a small book, not impressive at all, but chock full of valuable content. The information on dyeing is perfectly adequate for starting out and the section on yarn design in general has greatly influenced my spinning. There's just two things to consider: The book has been written for a wheel spinner - with a spindle you will find it difficult to reproduce some of the yarns. And secondly, I found it difficult to follow the descriptions for spinning novelty yarns. Seeing them made (in Patsy Z's video) made things much clearer for me.

Continue to DVD reviews.

Page updated: 29 February 2008