Meeting the HansenCrafts miniSpinner™
I always intended to learn to spin, especially with the fleece so handy during my 35 years raising sheep, but never took the time. Now that I’m retired part-time with no sheep, it seems like I might be able to finally learn, but alas…about the fleece.
At a summer open farm day here on the Olympic Peninsula right after I had moved here, I heard about a small hand spinning machine that ran with electricity, didn’t have a large wooden wheel and didn’t need foot treadles. When I found out they were made right here in Port Townsend, I knew I wanted one.
Apparently they are actually quite well known by spinners “back East” (as they say out here) and since all the fiber artists I have met in Port Townsend know about them, I decided to pay them a visit. Now you all can see what I saw.
It was on a rare sunny January afternoon that I found my way (no thanks to Google) to the HansenCrafts miniSpinner™ manufacturing facility to visit with Kevin Hansen and hopefully get a tour of the place. I only spoke with Kevin, but his wife Beth also works with him and makes all the circuit boards (among other things I’m sure).
The Hansens didn’t reinvent or change the spinning technique, but they saw an opportunity to innovate the tool for spinning into something that uses the technology of the current century—electricity. Their website reminds us that the craft is called “handspinning,” not “footspinning.” By eliminating the need for foot pedals and large wheels to keep the spinner spinning, Hansen has created a cute, almost cuddly little gizmo that can fit into your suitcase or backpack if you want to take it on a trip. You can get the power needed to run the electric motor from the same type of battery that might add portable power to your phone or computer. But when you are at home or in the studio, you just plug it in like a toaster, or…you know, a lamp or a radio. These little spinners still have the hand finished wood of the spinning wheels of old (in fact you can get them in your choice of about nine different kinds of beautiful woods).
Hanson remarked that there are two directions to go in making a living from manufacturing, “you either go for volume, or you go for quality.” He has definitely gone for quality. Every little piece of this “famous” (well, in spinning circles all over the world) little electric spinning wheel is a beautifully hand crafted precision work of art, design and functionality.
Kevin pointed out that handspinning really fell out of favor after the industrial revolution, and only returned as a home craft in the 60’s possibly with the back-to-the-land trend that included immersion in the old ways of living without electric power and producing ones own food from gardening and clothing from fiber raised on animals they kept. Thus the resurgence of interest in the wooden wheels.
Even the spinning wheels of old had bobbins and spindles and flyers and tensions and the craft has become so ubiquitous in this century that this tool to turn fleece into yarn has now joined technological advancements much the way the iPhone has replaced the heavy wooden wall-mounted box my grandmother used.
Hansen’s spinner may not be a wooden piece of furniture, but the mechanics to drive the spinning parts are the only things that have changed—the spinning process is the same. With less effort required learning to coordinate the feet with the motions of drawing out the fiber, beginners have an easier job learning to spin. (That would be me when I get one of these.)
In a local newspaper article back in 2009, the little spinning machine was referred to as an “e-spinner,” presumably the “e” stood for electric, but as Kevin says, it maintains the “essence of spinning” so that is what the “e” might have stood for, although they are trademarked as the miniSpinner™ today.
From a one or two little tryout models he now calls “rough” back in 2003-2004, to the shelves full of polished wooden and metal precision parts ready to be shipped out as orders come in, and the spacious “shop” full of wood- and metal-workers’ dream tools, thousands of mini spinners have found their way into the hands of spinners all over the world.
After expanding out of their garage in the early days, they build a 1000 sq. ft. commercial building they quickly outgrew, moving into a building double that size. The building I was fortunate enough to tour has 5000 square feet and was designed and built by Hansen in 2012.
Flyers and bobbins and orifice reducers, oh my! To the non spinner these terms need photos, and that is what you will see on HansenCrafts website—part information, part explanation, part education, part blog and part history of how they got started. Oh, and you can order a miniSpinner™ too, and have it shipped to you wherever you are.
Turning what they thought (in 2009) would be a little workshop “craft project” making 10 or 15 a year into a full fledged, family-owned manufacturing business, Kevin and Beth Hansen now make and ship out way more than 10 or 15 of these beautiful little spinners (the machine) to a worldwide market of spinners (the people).
Here are photos I took at my visit. If you click on any of these tiny thumbnails, a larger manual slideshow will open, some with captions. They don’t do the place justice.