Tuesday, June 23, 2009

math for budget conscious spinners

Remember the sheep shearing I went to on May 26th?

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!

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Blogger vanessa said...

enen if you buy a lovely 4 oz of hand-dyed wool rovng for about 15 $s, there are many many hours of pleasure spinning leasure for less than $20.
last time i went to a movie the ticket alone was $9.50, i was in shock!

June 23, 2009 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Geek Knitter said...

A friend of mine gave me a drop spindle as a thank you gift for helping out at Black Sheep Gathering... and I have the sneaking suspicion I'll be putting your economics lesson to good use before too long.

June 23, 2009 at 4:05 PM  
Blogger Sarah Jean said...

Hey Joanne! I haven't commented in a while, so I thought I'd pop back over and say hello!

While spinning does sound like a fun hobby, it is still far too expensive for a Poor Student like me. hee. I've always wanted to work with sheep, though, and have thought about trying to find a local shepherd and seeing if they need any help for the summer. xD Yea, I'm weird.

June 24, 2009 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

I agree about the fleece Joanne....I alway buy raw fleece the same way and my alpaca fleeces (of which I have many and only the finest) are paid for by me doing stuff for the breeders. I can't imagine paying for a measly 4 oz of roving no matter how nice it is.

June 24, 2009 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Well, I just wrote this to Renaissance Wednesday on her blog, but I'll try here, too. If you can afford $5 for a spindle (make your own with a dowel, a wooden toy wheel and a hook) and $5-10 for some roving, you can afford spinning. In fact, many spinners are happy to start others out with some fiber for free. It's just fancy spindles/wheels/upscale hand-dyes that seem prohibitive, in my opinion...

June 24, 2009 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger Sarah Jean said...

Re: your comment
I'm off to Emerson College in Boston as a film major in September. :)
Maybe I'll investigate spinning online as well!

June 24, 2009 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

BTW, if you open your fleece boxes and insert breakable item(s) into the middle, then pack the box back up with duct tape, then you are 'killing 2 birds with one stone'. I've used the same processor and she does a lovely job!

June 24, 2009 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger annmarie said...

I love Nancy's comment! :)

June 24, 2009 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great blog. I used to raise angora goats and I got 15-20 pounds off of one goat every 6 months.

June 25, 2009 at 1:05 AM  
Blogger Willow said...

I'm finally getting back to read this post. I agree that getting your yarn on the hoof, or just off the hoof is the cheapest way to go. And bartering your expertise for fiber makes a win-win situation. I got mmost of my llama fiber in trade for knitting. One thing to watch for in sending out your fiber for processing: ask ahead of time if the processor uses anything (like Downey) on the wool and machines to keep down static. I wasn't aware that it was used and when my fiber arrived it smelled of Downey and was completely unusable for several years until the odor was gone because The Professor (mine) is horribly allergic to it.

June 27, 2009 at 10:16 AM  

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