I'm not quite sure whether to be amused or offended by the blank, slightly baffled looks I get when I mention to the uninitiated that I just bought a spinning wheel. My mother, my neighbor, my best friend...they've each looked at me, a little taken aback, and repeated in a dazed tone, "Spinning wheel? You mean...to make, uh, yarn?" Actually, my best friend thought I meant some sort of exercise equipment, but she recovered pretty gracefully.
I'm still working at it. My singles are still lumpy and overtwisted, but I think they may be getting slightly better:
There are some parts that almost look like yarn. I seem to be having a lot of trouble getting the tension right on my wheel (Spinners will understand. For everyone else, there is a little knob on the wheel that controls how hard the bobbin pulls on the fiber as you spin it.) Either the yarn won't wind on fast enough and gets overtwisted (more overtwisted than usual, I mean), or the fiber breaks. I am sure this has more to do with my drafting than the wheel.
For non-spinners, drafting seems to be the most important aspect of spinning actual yarn, as opposed to what I am making. It means pulling a little fiber out of the roving to be spun, and controlling how much gets spun at a time. The trick is pulling out just the right amount of fiber at a time, and continuing to pull it out evenly as you spin. This is more difficult than it sounds. You need to draft evenly to spin smooth yarn, which is my--apparently rather distant--goal. Uneven drafting gives you thick-and-thin yarn, which is, of course, a legitimate sort of yarn, but it's not the kind I enjoy working with. I am trying to spin smooth, fine yarn, which means continually drafting a small amount of fiber at a time. Problems arise when I draft too much fiber (lumps) or too little fiber (the yarn breaks). Because the wheel keeps spinning all the time, if I pause to get a better grip on the fiber or hit a snag while drafting or my hands just don't move steadily, I get uneven parts or breaks.
It's pretty fascinating, in a hypnotic sort of way. The wheel spins and the fiber slides through my fingers and I am constantly focused on keeping my drafting even. I can see how it could easily become addictive as one gets better and doesn't have to stop to fish the broken yarn end back through the flyer orifice or untwist the roving that has accidentally entered the draft zone and the drafting becomes smooth and automatic. Not that I would know from personal experience, mind you. But I can imagine.