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The Intentional Spinner

A Holistic Approach to Making Yarn
by Judith MacKenzie McCuin
151 pages, Interweave Press

If you've ever taken a spinning class from Judith MacKenzie McCuin and wished that you could get her to hold her hands still for an hour or so while you figured out how the heck she did that, now you can.

Filled with many step-by-step color pictures of Judith's hands in action, this book clearly illustrates spinning using a variety of techniques.  Wound in among the science of fiber composition, are anecdotes about the history and lore of textiles.  This blending of art, science, and history makes the book feel as rich and textured as an exquisite three-ply yarn.

The first half of The Intentional Spinner concerns itself with fiber.  In sections organized by chemical composition (cellulose, protein, and manufactured), Judith describes where each fiber comes from, its inherent properties, and gives a quick overview of how it is prepared for spinning.

The second half of the book covers technique.  Numerous step-by-step pictures illustrate the basics: combing, carding, woolen, worsted and plying.  Following this is a section about cabled and novelty yarns.

But the heart and soul of this book is chapter seven: Yarn Design.  In it, Judith walks you through the process of moving from a spinner who makes "yarn that holds together" to a spinner who designs a specific yarn to meet a precise need.  Having set the stage by explaining the properties inherent to the fiber and the yarn structures created by the different spinning techniques, Judith now has you put these two things together so you can spin the yarn you want. 

There is a flow chart on page 106 that takes the mystery out of adjusting a spinning wheel, which will be a boon to any spinner who's ever just twiddled knobs and changed whorls and then looked to see what happened.  Personally, I'd like to blow it up on a copier to poster size, laminate it, and mount it on the wall over my spinning wheel.

Which brings me to my only criticism of the book.  In some of the diagrams and charts, the font gets quite small.  Flipping through the book, there's a lot of information and text, and I wish the book was a  larger format so these elements would have more room to spread out.

The last section of the book describes specific projects to make with your handspun.  There are knitted socks, a back scratcher that can be knit or woven, and a sumptious scarf woven from bison, cashmere, and camel.

The appendix covers caring for textiles, not only how to protect them physically, but how to preserve something even more precious and fleeting: their stories.

The author's first book, Teach Yourself Visually: Handspinning, was a great introduction to handspinning.  But because of the strong formatting of the Teach Yourself Visually series, less of Judith's voice came through than it does in The Intentional Spinner.

The Intentional Spinner, is small but mighty, a little book packed with a whole lot of information about yarn construction.  It belongs in the library of anyone who wants to be able to design and spin yarn for a given purpose.

It would also be of use to weavers who want to learn more about the properties of the yarns they weave with.  In weaving, as with spinning, understanding the raw materials is essential to being able to design and achieve a specific result.