Sunday, November 17, 2013

SPINNING BASICS: Tools to Spin With: Spindles

So far, we've gotten what yarn is, but we're not up to how to make it yet. You'll need tools to make it.

Spinning tools come in two broad categories: spindles and spinning wheels. These come in categories, too. Let's start with spindles and cover wheels in the next post.


Spindles come in two broad categories. There are support spindles and drop spindles. Actually, there are a few that can use both or a combination of support and drop. It pays to learn both ways of spinning on a spindle. But we'll simplify to just support and drop spindles.

Support Spindles

As you might guess, support spindles are ones that are supported while they're used. There are many kinds of support spindles, and they're often used with a spinning bowl to keep them from traveling while in use. The bottom of the spindle is usually placed in a bowl, and the spindle spun with a finger snap on the shaft. Most support spindles are used this way.

The fact that the spindle is supported makes it much easier to learn on. You can use a spindle that's too heavy to be used as a drop spindle with the yarn you're trying to make, and it will still work well. And I find it easier to draft and add twist with this kind of a spindle.

A Navajo spindle has the bottom of it placed on the floor or in a bowl (if it tends to skid on the floor) usually on the right side for spinning (Z twist), and the left side for plying (S twist), and spun by rubbing the top of the shaft against your thigh with your hand held flat. Because you're not actually using hand dexterity, this is a good choice for spinners because you're using your arm muscles to provide the spin, not your hand muscles. So, you can give your hands a rest from knitting.

Find out more here.

A low whorl drop spindle can be used as a support spindle if it has a nice, pointed bottom end, and they often do, for versatility. They can be spun in a bigger bowl, or a shallow bowl.

There are many different kinds of support spindles, and many are named for where they became popular, so you'll see them called names like Tibetan, Russian, Andean, and much more. You can search for spindles on sites like Etsy, and if you want a support spindle, you should search for it with those words. If you check Etsy for this, you'll also find a lot of spinning bowls, although you can use any bowl that has kind of a scooped out inside. A bowl that has a flat bottom inside isn't as good for a spinning bowl. You can also find many videos on how to use these different spindles on YouTube. Here's a link for Tibetan spindle spinning:

Drop Spindles

Drop spindles are, as you might suspect, given some spin and then dropped. They're harder to master at first because they are the weight they are. If you have a spindle that's too heavy for the yarn you want to spin, it's going to break the yarn before it has enough twist and fall to the ground. If you choose one that's too light, you're going to have a hard time getting it to spin. The twist you're adding with the spindle will be strong enough to resist twisting, and start untwisting instead. You need to watch for both of these conditions and modify the yarn you're making to be compatible with the spindle, or change to a spindle that works better with the kind of yarn you want to spin.

Drop spindles mostly come in either high or low whorl varieties. Either can be snapped in the fingers or you can raise your leg and rub it against your thigh to twirl it before dropping it. I'd recommend the thigh rub, because it will save your hands.


There are a few spindles that can be used either way. Low whorl drop spindles can be spun in a bowl. An Akha spindle has a mid whorl, and is usually used supported in the hand, but sometimes, after twist is inserted, it's spun against the thigh and dropped to insert even more twist. See it here.

Turkish spindles are usually considered to be drop spindles, but, as with other low whorl spindles, can be used in a bowl if they have a nice, sharp point at the bottom.

General Info About Spindles

The thin long center part of the spindle is called the shaft. A thin shaft will give you more twist for your effort, but you don't want it so thin that it will break easily.

The wider part of the spindle is usually circular, but could be square, triangular,  a straight piece, two straight pieces, a bead or just a wider part of the shaft. It's called a whorl.

Spindles sometimes have a hook at one end to catch the yarn and hold it to make it possible to spin more quickly and easily. Hooks are seen more often on drop spindles. The alternative to a hook is a shaft that narrows to a point. There are pros and cons to each.

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