02 Mar 2009

The Intentional Spinner

Author:Judith MacKenzie McCuin
Publisher: Interweave Press
Soft-bound: 152 pages
Price: $26.95 US £11.95 UK
Available from: Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

The geeks among us know that it can be difficult to find a balance between the knowledge and the doing. Whatever the craft, art, or science, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and bogged down with details, and to forget to enjoy the beauty of what we are making or exploring. I know that I often remind myself of this when I am spinning, to make sure I stay in that middle ground where geekery complements the process, instead of completely drowning it out with details. I’m tempted to call this the Twilight Zone of knitting, inspired by the old opening lines of the TV show:

“It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.”

intspin-cover1That may be a bit overly dramatic. Spinning does not lie in the pit of my fears. But I think that the most interesting things in life are best experienced in that middle ground, where we balance out the knowing with the doing, allow our knowledge to enhance our pure experiences, and let our imaginations run wild with their new toolboxes full of tricks.

The subtitle to Judith MacKenzie McCuin’s new spinning book, The Intentional Spinner, is “A Holistic Approach To Making Yarn.” I’m tempted to suggest that the sub-sub title be “Spinning In The Twilight Zone,” because I feel that she has hit that middle ground between light and shadow, and has written a book that goes into the glorious technical detail of fiber and spinning, while not overwhelming the reader or taking away any of the metaphorical magic that many of us find in the craft. As she states at the end of the book’s introduction, “The forces at work in the world and in your fibers are constant and steadfast, shaping your hands and your work as they always have.”

Spinning is nothing special – people have been doing it for millennia. It’s as run of the mill as it gets, so how hard or complex could it really be? On the other hand, just flipping through the book demonstrates that there is a lot to know and a lot to learn about spinning, and that it is something very special and interesting. A beautiful Twilight Zone paradox.

intspin-flaxThis book is not going to teach you how to spin for the very first time. That is something you need to learn through the doing. But from the first sections, with in-depth discussions of fiber (right down to diagrams that make my inner biology geek squeal with joy), though the discussion of different fiber preps and spinning styles, and straight to the end, with instructions on how to create yarn for different types of projects, I do think this book could be valuable to any spinner. My education as a spinner has been largely self-guided. I have never had a spinning teacher to stand over me at my wheel or with my spindle, to guide me through the learning process. I have learned from trial and error (emphasis on error), from a few books and articles, and to a great extent from the generous and wise spinners who share their knowledge through blogs and internet forums.

The thing about spinning is that there are rarely clear right or wrong answers, and even where there seem to be, there are always exceptions. Judith MacKenzie McCuin does not have all the answers (none of us do), and hers is not the only voice or opinion, but her voice is extremely clear and easy to understand. Her book is not just a collection of information, but to a large extent a collection of wisdom. It has taken me 2 years of self taught spinning to gather just a fraction of the wisdom that she has jotted down in her book. If I had her book when I was first learning to spin, the things I am first trying now, and the things I have yet to try, would be techniques that I’d have been playing with months ago.

Flipping through the book again after having finished my initial reading of it a week ago, I’ve realized that a straight listing of the chapters or description of the contents doesn’t do the book justice. It doesn’t capture the essence of the book, or explain the strong feeling I have about this book being as full of inspiration as it is full of technical detail and instruction. Perhaps the inspiration comes from the photography, which is artful and eye-catching where appropriate, and clear and instructional where necessary. Perhaps it’s the writing style, which is clear and flowing, without the dry terseness of a textbook. It could be that, implicit in the incredible amount of information it contains, it carries the message that there is fun and experimentation to be had with fiber, and that we should get our hands dirty and try it all for ourselves.

intspin-fullMy one complaint about the book is that it ends too soon. I would be happy to read a book-length version of each chapter. Perhaps something even more in-depth is to follow one day. In the meantime, I shouldn’t be such an information glutton. There is more than enough in this book to inspire my fiber exploration sessions for months or years to come. Maybe I’ll even make a novelty yarn. Pigs may be taking flight, but if Judith can make it look so interesting, then I’ll concede that something so far out of my own comfort zone may be worth a try. With a huge hunk of new spinning wisdom in my back pocket, I’m ready to delve even further into the dimension of informed imagination.

bowerbird-avatar-230_largeRebekkah spins, knits, and enjoys life in Keene, New Hampshire. She can be found online at, Bowerbird Knits and on Ravelry as bowerbird.


  1. I think this is the best Review that I have read and accurately reflects the contents and inspiration/spirit of the book.
    I have found both the book and the review inspiring in their own right.

    Thanks Shani

    Posted on 3.10.09 ·
  2. Jo wrote:

    Great review. I just got the book and am totally gobsmacked by the vast amounts of information! I’ve been spinning for a couple of years, but have had trouble finding succinct descriptions of various spinning methods…no longer! Judith has filled in great gaps in my spinning information, as well as inspiring me to try all kinds of new (to me) methods! Thanks to you, Rebekkah, for such a spot on review! And thanks to Judith for….well, we’ll save that for later!

    Posted on 3.10.09 ·
  3. annmarie wrote:

    I opened this book up in the subway on the ride home after buying it and, starting with the first page, kept reading straight through without skipping. It is fascinating and would be a good read even if you don’t want to spin fibers at all. What a wealth of information! Thanks for such a helpful review.

    Posted on 3.24.09 ·

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