It IS very cool and very rewarding!
but I'm very intimidated by the thought.
Break it down into steps.
- I've seen home made drop spindles online. seeing as how it would save on the cost to get started if I made my own (which is deffinatley what Dh wants) is it reasonable to expect to get a decent final product with a home made drop spindle?
Very reasonable and you don't have to spend a lot of money. There are instructions all over the web on how to contruct a drop spindle. The one using CD's works well.
- I would like to eventually spin everything from fingering weight to worsted. is it realistic to expect to ever be able to spin fingering weight yarn on a drop spindle?
Yes, you would have to have the correct fiber and the correct weight of a spindle. too heavy of a spindle and your yarn will break.
- if I spin some yarn, and I decide the plys are too thick can I re-spin (or spin it more, or whatever) the plys (b-4 plying them) to get a thinner ply? or am I stuck with whatever comes out the first time?
It is difficult to do. To avoid this, be sure your roving is pre-drafted well. The better your fiber prep, the better and more consistant your yarn.
- when shopping for fibers how do I know if the final yarn will be felt-able or not? washable or not? I'm sure I'd like to spin some yarn that is machine washable as well. are there key words to look for when shopping around that will tell me if the fibers will be machine or hand washable once spun? or is it in the spinning that makes it washable or not? how will I know? (see I told you I'm intimidated)
An excellent resource about the various wools out there is [COLOR=#003399]In Sheep's Clothing: A Handspinner's Guide to Wool[/COLOR] by Nola Fournier and Jane Fournier. Briefly, down wools usually felt easily, wool from meat breeds usually do not.
- are there types of fibers to stay away from? fibers that give a yucky or course yarn? things that make it hard to spin? basically I want nice soft yarn, are there things that would prevent this end product that I should stay away from?
Fiber prep, fiber prep, fiber prep will make a nice yarn. Again, the various fiber animal breeds will produce various types of yarns, even within a breed or in a single sheep, there can be a variances in the fleece.
- what's the difference between top and roving? is one easier or better than the other?
Both are good. There are also batts, clouds and raw!
- how much yarn would I get per pound of fiber if I'm spinning worsted weight yarn approximately? I need to figure out how much to order my first time.
For starting out, I would recommend getting about 4 oz of various fibers. When you've tried a number of different fibers, you can start getting larger lots.
I like corriedale - easy for beginners to spin, but makes wonderful 'next-to-the-skin-soft' yarn