The history of spinning is vast, and spans thousands of years along with dozens of iterations of spinning tools. From sticks and rocks, to wheels and mills; where there has been a need for yarn, there has been a way to spin it.
In 1969, Schacht Spindle company started with a humble drop spindle. 50 years, 5 spindles, and 5 spinning wheels later, we’ve become one of the leaders in manufacturing spinning tools and accessories.
Some spinners prefer spindles while others prefer wheels, and even within those groups, people prefer one tool over another. At Schacht, we make drop spindles, tahkli spindles, and Navajo spindles, however there are other varieties such as Turkish spindles, kick-spindles, and other types of supported spindles.
Wheels also come in all shapes and sizes, each of them good for specific styles of spinning. We produce 3 castle-style wheels; Ladybug, Sidekick, and Matchless (wheels where the orifice is oriented directly in front of the spinner) and 2 Saxony style wheels; Schacht-Reeves and Flatiron (wheels where the orifice is slightly off to the left or right of the spinner.) We recommend taking spinning classes at a shop where you can learn the basics, and try all different types of spindles and wheels to find out what you like to spin on.
Picking a Drop Spindle
First and foremost, you want a balanced drop spindle that spins true. This means that when it spins, it doesn’t wobble around, which can cause issues with your singles yarn. The other factor that is important is weight; lighter spindles allow for finer spinning, while heavier spindles are good for thicker spinning. Choose a spindle that’s right for intended yarn. Some people have a preference over bottom versus top whorl, however, our Hi-Lo drop spindles can be used as either! Our drop spindles come in 3 different sizes; 2″ (1.1 ounce), 3″ (2 ounce), and 4″ (3 ounce). We find the 3″ (2 ounce) drop spindle ideal for beginners.
It begins with preparing the fiber, usually wool for beginners, to ensure a pleasant spinning experience. A fiber that isn’t too grippy and isn’t too slick is ideal. Fibers like BFL, merino, and even targhee are great begginning fibers to use. If the fiber has come as roving, sliver, or a combed top, it’s a good idea to pre-draft the fiber. This entails placing your hands at just about a staple length apart, and pulling gently to separate the fibers. You move your hands along the length of the fiber until it has been all pre-drafted. If you have a particularly large chunk of fiber, you can split it in half lengthwise before pre-drafting. If your fiber is in batt form, it is prudent to pull small sections off at a time to not have too much fiber in your hands as you spin. Punis and rolags are small cigar-shaped bundles of fiber that have been carded on hand-carders or blending board, and are the perfect size for spinning.
Once the fiber is prepped, it’s time to make a leader. A leader is how spinners begin spinning yarn. It can be a piece of yarn or string that is tied to the shaft of the spindle, or you can spin your own to get started. To tie a leader, tie an 18″ piece of yarn into a loop, then using a slip knot and a couple of half hitches, secure it to the shaft. Then stick a small portion of fiber into the end loop of the leader and start spinning. To spin your leader, take a small amount of fiber into the cup hook of the spindle, and start twisting gently in a clockwise motion. This will begin to add twist to the fibers, as twist builds, draft out some fibers, and keep repeating this process until you have about 12″-18″ of yarn. Then carefully remove the yarn from the cup hook, and start winding it around the shaft, taking care to trap the tail end of the yarn securely.
To start spinning on a drop spindle, we recommend beginning with the park and draft method, this way you can focus on each step of the spinning process. Spin the spindle clockwise by rolling the spindle in a clockwise motion along your leg or by spinning it like a top with your fingers. I prefer using the outside of my leg, but you may have a different preference.
Once enough twist has built up, pinch the spindle shaft between your knees, then using your non-fiber hand, pinch the yarn right at your other finger, draft your fiber a little, then slide the other fingers up allowing the twist to travel up that fiber. It is important to not let that twist travel past your fingertips into non-drafted fiber. When all the twist has been used up, wind this yarn onto your spindle, and repeat the process.
After you have practiced this technique, you can try drafting as the spindle spins. This requires more attention and patience at first, but will quickly become muscle memory.
When spinning, you want to make sure you have enough twist in the singles so when you ply it will be a durable and balanced yarn. To quickly check twist, relax the tension on your spindle and fiber hand and let the single twist back on itself. This will show you how large the finished yarn will be, and how much twist is in it. If there is too much twist, draft more fiber, or let the spindle unwind a little. If not enough twist, give the spindle a few extra turns.
Once you’ve spun all of your singles, you can wind your yarn into center-pull balls using a ball winder or nostepinne, or you can wind the singles evenly onto two storage bobbins, that can then be used to ply from.
Plying is taking two or more singles and spinning them together the opposite direction from how the singles were spun, so in the most cases, you ply counter-clockwise.
Plying on the drop spindle is quite easy, just take two ends of your singles, loop them around the cup-hook, and start spinning counter-clockwise. When you are happy with the twist of the ply, remove from the cup hook and wind around the shaft securing the end. Continue plying until you run out of singles.
Finishing Your Yarn
When you are done spinning and plying your yarn, wind it into a skein of yarn using a swift, niddy noddy, or other yarn winding device (we hear that a loved one’s arms work well in a pinch.) Then, tie off the yarn in a couple of places along the skein to avoid tangles. Soak your yarn in warm water and wool soap, then gently squeeze (not wring) out the extra water. Snap or smack the yarn to help set the twist and let it dry.
As with any skill, the key is to practice! Try spinning 10-15 minutes a day, and you’ll be amazed how quickly this skill becomes second nature.
If you’re like me, and are a visual learner, check out our new video on how to spin on a drop spindle!