Getting started with a drop spindle
The spindle is a pretty remarkable tool. It transports you to another time in our history. It slows you down and makes you more mindful of our place in the world. It’s portable and you can be manufacturing yarn wherever you go.
When I first taught myself to spin it was on a spindle. (In fact it was the same make of spindle we have in our Spindle Boxes.) I wanted to learn because I had started to dye combed top and I quickly realised that I wanted to actually see how it would look once spun. I didn’t have a wheel but I had a spindle that my mum had left for me a year earlier. I picked it up and began spinning with the bright orange fibre that was already on there. It took a couple of days of sometimes utter frustration but by the second day I was spinning freely and had a small orange skein of yarn. That skein still sits pride of place on my shelf.
If you have purchased one of my spindle boxes then you are ready to get started.
What is in your box:
- A bottom whorl drop spindle.
Hand turned by my father, Max Hill in the Blue Mountains.
Weighs approximately 40g.
- Wool with a medium staple length and micron.
The following combed top has been provided:
25g of Victorian Corriedale (white)
25g of Australian coloured wool (brown)
5 x 10g “Beaker bundles” - hand dyed medium Merino.
- Two felted balls. To help you to make plying balls.
- Spinner’s card
- Finished yarn tags. To attach information to your finished yarn.
A note about the wool provided.
The wool in your box is perfect for getting started on a spindle. Combed top has already had all the hard work done for you. It is what is called a worsted preparation with all the fibres aligned running parallel to one another. The resulting yarn is smooth and slick.
Out of all the lovely fibre in your box my first pick for getting started would be one of the natural/undyed fibres. Although the little colourful bundles are pretty and exciting they can add difficulties to your first spinning experience.
No matter how careful I am while dying. Water, dye, heat and handling add minor imperfections to the fibre. These imperfections will make inconsistencies and therefore just that bit harder for learning drafting. I am eager for you to have an enjoyable first spin. This is why I encourage you to start with fibre that is straight from the mill. It will pull through your hands without even the slightest tug. It will be magical!
Pre-draft your wool.
Pre-drafting is thinning out the wool before you even pick up the spindle. This process gets half of the drafting done before so you can draft less as you are spinning.
To pre-draft, pull off a length of the combed top. A good length to begin with is about the length from your hand to elbow. If you are having trouble pulling it apart, you may be trapping the staple lengths. Try moving your hands further apart. This will let the staple lengths move freely apart.
Never cut the fibre with scissors. Cutting the fibre shortens the stable lengths and will make it harder to spin and also contribute to pilling and deterioration in the finished yarn.
Taking the shorter length of fibre you pulled, grip the very end of the fibre with one hand. Grasp the “body” of the fibre with your second hand remembering to keep the hands far apart to let the staple lengths move freely. Gently start pulling the wool so the fibres start sliding by one another and you see a thinning in the density of the combed top. Move your first hand to where that thinning begins and your second hand further down into the “body” of the fibre. Continue pulling and thinning the fibres in this manner down the whole length. As you are drafting try to keep a consistent distance and pressure with your hands. This will prevent big lumps forming and also flimsy thin parts.
Your new spindle comes with a leader yarn attached but if you need to attach a new one, here’s how.
Making a leader.
I personally like a really long leader. It gives you extra length later when you remove the singles from the spindle.
With scrap commercial spun yarn, cut a length about 2m long. Fold that length in half and tie the two ends together with a secure knot.
Next using a Larks head knot secure this loop of yarn to the spindle’s shaft. I like to anker the “Lark’s head” using the leader’s knot on the end that I tied earlier.
Wrap the secured leader a few times on the shaft then wrap it onto your hook at the top of the spindle.
Attaching the fibre to the leader.
Find a chair that you can sit in with freedom in your arm movement. Sitting in that chair and holding the leader yarn in one hand and the spindle in the other. Spin the spindle in a clockwise direction to build twist into the leader yarn. Stop the spindle and hold it between your thighs.
Next, open the loop at the end of the leader and trap the end of your pre-drafted fibre in between the loop. Let the twist in your leader come up into the fibre source. Hold that twist in the fibre with the hand that will be your drafting hand. Release and spin the spindle in a clockwise direction to add more twist. Stop and secure the spindle once more between your thighs. Move your hand holding the spindle up to the fibre to pinch where the twist has built up. Keep holding that twist back with the spindle hand and draft more fibre with your drafting hand. With your spindle hand, let the twist go to move up into the fibre you just drafted.
This method is called “Park and Draft”.
Continue to add twist and draft in this manner until you have arm's length of new yarn.
Keeping the yarn under tension, wind this length onto your shaft making sure you have a good length to secure back onto the top hook. As you wind more yarn onto your spindle you will form what is known as the cop.
If drafting is becoming hard you may find that your hands are too close together and you are trapping the staple length.
Sometimes twist can move into the fibre supply beyond our pinching hand and can also lock the staples. Use those pinching fingers to untwist a little way back and while holding that untwisted section draft the fibre supply with your drafting hand. Unwanted thick sections can be dealt with in a similar way. Use both hands to untwist a thick section and then gently drift thinner. The hand action is the same as opening a boiled lolly wrapper. Twist hands in opposite directions and pull slightly.
Beyond Park and Draft.
Continue to park and draft until you feel comfortable with drafting and coordination of the spindle. After a while you will feel more confident and you will be able to spin and draft freely while the spindle continues to spin. You may find it more comfortable to stand at this point. Standing will result in longer lengths of yarn which can be harder to manage when winding onto the spindle. Before winding I like to wrap the newly made length of yarn in a figure eight motion around my pinky and thumb. Then wind from the little figure eight on my hand onto the cop that is forming on my spindle.
Once the spindle is full.
There is a choice to be made at this point.
What is sitting on the spindle right now are known as singles. You can skip on to skeining and finishing and have a beautiful yarn to work with and admire.
If you wish to ply this spindle worth of singles then you will need to wind them off your spindle and store them for future use. These singles will either need to be plied to themselves or plied to another spindle worth of singles spun in the same direction as the first.
The aim of plying yarn is placing the same amount of twist in the finished yarn as was in the singles but in the opposite direction to finish with a balanced and strong yarn.
Plying singles to themselves from a centre pull ball.
You will need a ball winder or nostepinne and a box or basket that your spindle will fit inside to roll.
Place the spindle in the basket or box. Find the end of your singles and secure it to the ball winder or nostepinne.
Start winding the singles into a centre pull ball letting the spindle roll freely in the box. This is best done slowly and being careful to watch that the spindle isn’t getting tangled in the box. If the single breaks or comes apart I find the simplest method to fix them is to wet splice them back together and continue to wind them into the centre pull ball. Once all the singles are in a ball, hold both ends together and remove the ball from the ball winder. Leave this ball to one side while you prepare your spindle for plying.
With the leader still attached to your spindle, start spinning in an anticlockwise direction. Pick up your centre pull ball and attach the two single ends to your leader in the same manner as you did earlier when attaching the fibre to the leader. Place your ball in a bowl, basket or box by your side so it won’t run away from you while you are plying. Free a length of both singles and let the anticlockwise twist ply the singles together. Wind the length of yarn onto the spindle and continue plying until all the singles are gone.
Plying from two plying balls.
You will need the two felt balls provided in the kit and a box or basket that your spindle will fit inside to roll.
Place the spindle in the box or basket and find the end of singles. By hand wind all the singles around the felt ball.
Leave that plying ball to one side and start the process of spinning the second lot of singles. Once those singles are done. Wind them onto the second felt plying ball.
If you would like to divide the whole spindle onto two balls then just break the yarn halfway and continue winding the singles onto the second ball.
Note: To find an accurate half way you can use scales to weigh the ball as you make it. The felt balls weigh approx 2g. As an example, if you have a total of 25g of fibre on the spindle and you divide it into two 12.5g each. Then you need to add 2g for the felt ball centre. Each plying ball should weigh approximately a total of 14.5 grams.
Prepare your spindle for plying. With the leader still attached to your spindle, start spinning in an anticlockwise direction.
Place the two plying balls in a basket to stop them rolling away from you.
Find the end of the singles from each ball and hold them together. Attach the two single ends to your leader in the same manner as you did earlier when attaching the fibre to the leader. Let the twist go into the singles to make a plied yarn. Hold the yarn at this point and add more twist continuing in an anticlockwise direction. Release more of the singles to ply and then wind the plied yarn onto the spindle. Continue to ply the remaining singles. It is very normal to run out of singles on one ball before the other is finished.
Skeining and Finishing
Using your arm or a niddy noddy wind your yarn (singles or plied) from the spindle into a skein. Tie the ends off to the skein and add two or three extra ties depending on the skeins size. These ties prevent the skein from tangling.
Soak the skein in warm water with a little wool wash. Gently submerge under the water letting all the air come out. Leave to cool down completely before removing. If the wool wash recommends rinsing, do so in cold water. Gently squeeze out the water and place in a towel to roll up and remove excess water. Hang to dry.
You just finished your first skein of yarn. Huzzah!
If you have any strife whatsoever please don’t hesitate to contact me.