math for budget conscious spinners
I bring it up because today, my lovely fleeces came back from the fiber mill. I sent them to Stonehedge Fiber Mill to be washed and carded. I don't do this with all my fleeces, but gosh, I figured I ought to concentrate on packing and not washing 40 some lbs of fleece. Yes, it was a lot of fleece.
I'm frequently asked if spinning is an expensive hobby. I say no! The other spinners around me at the spinning guild will say "Yes!" Why the discrepancy? Well, let's crunch some numbers.
Let's say I already have basic equipment like a spindle or hand cards, and a spinning wheel. Let's not talk equipment, although you can be spinning in no time with a $5 handmade spindle or a $5000 custom built spinning wheel. Let's just talk spinning fiber. Let's talk wool.
I often go to a sheep shearing or a fleece show or auction to get my wool. What does handspinning wool cost? Anything from free to $33 a pound. Free doesn't always mean "bad wool." It may mean the shepherd or shearer doesn't want to deal with the wool for one reason or another, or that the industrial wool pool pays so little that year as to be useless.
$33 a pound is the exorbitant price paid for a grand champion fleece at New York State Sheep & Wool Festival (Rhinebeck) a couple of years ago. This is way too much dough for wool, in my opinion!
For the complete newbie, a perfectly spinnable fleece can be purchased for $5 to $10 a pound. Many fleeces are less expensive, some are more. The price doesn't correlate to any kind of rating or quality. You need to learn to judge a fleece on its merits on your own. For your first or second fleece, bring a friend along. If you're really on your own, ask the shepherd. If they're honest and they know something, they'll tell you what they think of the fleece, too!
So, the fleece comes home and I decide to send it all off to be processed.
Note: Check out Fiber Gathering for information in how to skirt a fleece...
40 lbs of fleece are packed up and shipped via USPS parcel post to the mill. $33 in postage later, I come home. I wait. When the fleece comes back, I've got approximately 23 lbs of gorgeous washed and carded roving. Some of the wool is even blended with mohair, as per my request. Light, airy, and just popping out of the box to be spun. (use your imagination here, I haven't managed a photo!) Cost? $221.
Note: This would be less if I'd washed and carded it all at home, but water/energy also cost money. Likely no where near $221, but worth remembering at this juncture.
OK, so let's round that to $250 for 23 lbs of fiber. If you got this Romney wool for free, as I did, (the farmer's partial to me and he doesn't sell his wool) that's about $10.87 a pound. I always bring the farmer a present in exchange, but let's not budget that in. Instead, let's pretend the wool cost $5 a pound for the raw wool, which would be: $5 X 40 lbs=200 dollars.
Note: $5 a pound, while not a fortune, would enable that farmer to do far better than if he sold the wool at the industrial wool pool. He might even break even or earn a small amount.
That would bring the cost of the wool up to: $250+200=450 dollars
450 dollars/23 lbs=$19.57 a pound
Your average adult sweater weighs around 2 lbs in finished weight. That is equivalent to just under 40 dollars. Not expensive...because I'm not counting all the processing time (knitting/spinning) as being work. If I counted the hours this took to process, it would be a very pricey sweater. Maybe $1000 or more at minimum wage.
Note: This is why it's not generally cost effective to have someone commission a spinner to make a sweater.
As a hobby with a sweater end product, this isn't expensive when you consider the many hours of enjoyment I'll get spinning and knitting this sweater.
Can spinning be expensive? Oh, absolutely. If one buys only hand-dyed roving, imagine paying roughly $20 to $40 for 4 oz of wool. That's lovely colorful stuff. If you buy enough for the same 2 lb sweater and it costs $30 for 4 oz... multiply up and that is $240 for an equivalent amount of fiber.
$40 versus $240. Wow. That's a big spread.
Budget conscious spinners are now wondering about dyeing, and how much those packets of dye cost. Well, it varies in price, but it certainly doesn't cost anything like $200. Time to buy some dyes, you're thinking?
Note: Check out the dyeing tutorial in Fiber Gathering!
Now, even if you only buy processed fiber, it's still an affordable, if not budget-conscious, hobby with practical results at the end. When compared to, say, yachting, or golf vacations, or a ski chalet in the Alps? Spinning and knitting sound downright affordable. However, if you're worried about saving money in a recession?
Buy Fleece. Buy lots of fleece.
(If you don't get to spin it all, it makes great packing material and even better insulation.)
Was this helpful? Please let me know in the comments and feel free to pass along to any spinning friends who might be interested. I'd love more blog readers! Now, back to packing...moving day is in 2.5 weeks. Winnipeg ho!