Spindle and Wool Top

As if I don’t have enough obsessions already… I’ve been trying my hand at a new craft – spindling.

This beautiful high-whorl drop spindle was a gift from my mother a few months ago.

I love this spindle. It’s smooth and beautifully marled, and generally soul-soothing. For months now I’ve been twirling it through my fingers empty of fibre, yearning to try it out properly, but discouraged by the woeful results of my sporadic attempts. It seemed to call to me from its place on the bookshelf behind my desk, urging me impatiently to give it another try – so last Saturday I did.

Spinning is a completely different animal to master… Unlike knitting and crochet – where the end result is more important than how you get there – spinning is all about process. So my first attempts at spinning were unmitigated disasters – I dropped the spindle on my foot and spun it out of my hands and across the room several times, I tangled the fibres irrevocably, or spread them too thin. Then, gradually, I started to produce yarn.

As you can see, my first attempts at yarn are a little… mixed.

First Handspun and Penny

This sad-looking bundle of yarn is the result of my first committed attempts at spinning. I practised with the pale green, then concentrated a bit more on the darker wool, then I plied them together. I ended up with a dozen yards of thick-thin dk-ish 2 ply yarn. My plying leaves a lot to be desired (well, every stage of my yarn production does at the moment), but it makes a very big difference to the finished result. My main problem is the consistency of the singles, and I erred on the side of over-twisting them. I thought that the finished yarn would be useless, but I underestimated the difference that plying and washing makes to taming an over-energetic yarn.

I’m making progress, slowly but very satisfyingly! The blue single on the spindle is a lot more even and balanced. I’m still relying a lot on park-and-draft, but I’m getting more comfortable with the spindle and the fibre. I’m holding myself back from buying all the extraneous equipment and fancy fibre that is tempting me, and am making a conscious effort to focus on the weight and movement of the whorl, and the teasing apart of the fibres, and the co-ordination of my hands. For all my control I’m feeling a build up of excitement in my heart – twisted into it as the spindle turns. I think this may be something that I will love doing!

If you have always wanted to start spinning, or if the growing availability of beautiful handspun is tempting you to try, I would urge you to stop thinking about it and jump right in!

How to start spinning – some resources

What do you need to start spindling? Not very much at all:

  1. A spindle: First decide which kind you want to use: high-whorl, low-whorl and supported are the most common types. Mine is a hand-turned one (beech, approx. 35gr.) from Scottish Fibres, but there are many different kinds on the market. Ashford make a good range, including a student spindle. Bosworth, and Kundert are balanced and beautiful hand-crafted spindles, and some small-scale producers, like Butterfly Girl Designs, are gaining a fan following. Golding rules the luxury end of the market, but there are many local artisans working below the blogosphere radar, so you may find a gem closer to you. The cheapest option – why not make your own?
  2. Some fibre: Unless you want to wash and card a fleece yourself, you’ll probably want to buy some prepared fibre. Some thoughts on terminology: have you ever wondered what exactly is the difference between batts, tops and roving? Abby Franquemont has the answer! There are some beautiful prepared fibres available for handspinners, a tour around Etsy reveals some real gems! I started with a mixed bag of dyed Merino roving, although Corriedale and Jacob’s wool are often recommended as beginner fibres.
  3. A few yards of fingering weight yarn from your stash – this will be your leader.
  4. You’ll also need some instructions: Ideally you would ask an experienced spindler to show you the ropes but, if like me, you don’t have anyone to ask, you’ll need some books or visual demonstrations. I would recommend Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts. This is a great book which includes instructions on choosing a spindle, preparing fibre, spinning, drafting and plying techniques, explained using detailed drawings and diagrams.

I also found online demonstrations of handspinning very useful. This excellent website has several videos demonstrating different spinning techniques. There are also many videos on YouTube: including these excellent drop-spindle basics by Abby Franquemont and this demonstration of park-and-draft spinning. There are also websites with extensive written instructions for drop-spindling, and handy hints for techniques such as spinning on a notchless spindle.

As with knitting and crochet, I’ve found Ravelry to be an invaluable source of information and support. If you’re a member, try out the many groups dedicated to this craft: Spindlers, Beginning Spinners and UK Spinners.

Happy spinning!