Handspun Handwoven Pinwheels

My childhood was fairly basic and without excess, but almost every spring was marked with a pinwheel — a flimsy plastic, sometimes sparkly pinwheel that was destroyed with the first big gale that came along. Like losing a balloon off my wrist, I knew the inevitable destruction of my happy little pinwheel was just a cloud away, and yet I still love them to this day and hope you will love yours, too.

One thing that I really love about teaching children is their willingness to try without fear of failure. I am not sure when we develop this fear that makes things harder to learn, but I urge you to throw caution to the wind and have some fun. Whether you spin on a wheel or a drop spindle, weave on a floor loom or cardboard, this is a project that doesn’t require you to be an expert at spinning, weaving, or sewing, where joy can be found regardless of age or ability.

Having children has ensured a reintroduction to many joys forgotten since my own childhood. One such forgotten gem is my enjoyment of glow-in-the-dark. That being said, glow-in-the-dark has come a long way. Imagine my surprise when the stitching around the rocket on a pair of my son’s pajamas illuminated when the lights went out. Glow-in-the-dark thread, oh yeah, and they sell it at JoAnn Fabrics and other sewing stores, and at Amazon. The pinwheel can be left plain or embellished by plying your yarn with glow-in-the-dark thread. For this project I have made two different versions to show that you can make do with whatever tools you might have to create this fun little pinwheel.


Stephanie’s pinwheels in her indoor garden


— Drop spindle or spinning wheel

— Loom and shuttle

— Lazy kate (if you want to add glow thread)


— Spinning fiber that will felt – I used Merino/Angora in Mustard from Spunky Eclectic and Teeswater in Twilight from WhirligigYarns.com

— Coats and Clark Glow-in-the-dark thread (optional)

— Rayon/Mylar yarn or metallic embroidery thread (optional)

— Fabric Fray Block or Elmer’s School Glue (or other glue that dries clear)

— Sewing thread and needle

— Decorative buttons

— Pencils

If you prefer not to spin, you can make a pinwheel with about 25 yards of lace- to light- sport-weight yarn. To use the glow-in-the-dark thread, carry it along with your base yarn when warping and weaving.

Spin a single yarn and check periodically to see that the yarn has enough twist to ply back on itself. The spun singles for both pinwheels were approximately 18 wraps per inch (WPI). To find the wraps per inch, wind the yarn around a ruler using moderate tension and count the number of threads in one inch. This technique for measuring is common between spinners and weavers. As a spinner, this measurement will keep you on track to spin a more consistent yarn from beginning to end of your project. As a weaver, this measurement will help you to determine sett.

For this project, the weave structure is balanced plain weave. This makes the planning for the project extra easy. Because the pinwheel starts with a square, half the yarn will be used for warp, and the other half for weft. Spin a small quantity of yarn, about ½ ounce, and then divide it in half using a scale or by measuring yardage. If you have spun the singles then want to divide it in half there are many ways to do it, but the easiest is to use a scale and divide the yarn by weight.

For the yellow pinwheel, I plied the yarn with the glow-in-the-dark thread on my spinning wheel, then divided it by weight. Glow-in-the-dark thread usually comes in 100 yard spools, so if you are planning a larger pinwheel, you might need two spools.

materials for milk carton kate

Materials for milk carton kate

milk carton cut

Cut milk carton

The yarn for the Teeswater square was spun on a drop spindle then wound into a center- pull ball with a ball winder. Since glitz is always on my spinning menu, the Teeswater was plied with a sparkly rayon and Mylar yarn. An empty milk carton was repurposed into a lazy kate with the help of a chop stick. Using this lazy kate loaded with the rayon/Mylar, I had both hands free and an empty drop spindle to ply the warp (see video).

milk carton kate finished

Finished milk carton kate

Both the glow-in-the-dark thread and the rayon/Mylar yarn were so thin that they had little effect on the diameter of my yarn, resulting in similar WPI to the singles.

Sett for a balanced weave can be determined by taking the WPI and dividing by two. It took me longer than most to figure out why this works. For the weft to go over and under the warp it takes space between each warp roughly equivalent to the diameter of the weft. Thus, you have to leave half the number of WPI vacant in the warp to leave room for the weft. Determine your WPI and warp your loom accordingly. I used a small frame loom that has very little waste. Handspun yarn is precious and minimizing waste is important.

warped mini loomwoven fabric on mini loom

My Schacht Mini Loom has a fixed sett of ten ends per inch, although if I wanted to skip a slot to achieve a more open sett, I always have that option. If all you have is a piece of cardboard, you can fashion it with slits at the sett you desire and it will work just fine for this project. The warp width was 5 ½” across the loom for a total of 55 ends. The weave was balanced at 10 picks per inch for 5 inches. Hemstitching at the beginning and end of the Teeswater pinwheel helped the fabric felt evenly when washed and gave a straighter edge after the first wash better than the yellow merino/angora, which was not hemstitched.

Once the square is woven and removed from the loom, submerse it in hot water with dish soap and rub vigorously. When the sample starts to full and shrink rinse it in cold water and plunge back into the hot water, add more soap and continue to rub back and forth on itself.

Square after felting

Square after felting

Fold up first corner and tack with needle and thread

Fold up first corner and tack with needle and thread

Rinse again in cold water, wring out the square and roll it in a towel to remove excess water. With sharp scissors cut off the hemstitching. Repeat the washing process again to mesh the cut edge together into a solid piece of fabric.

After rolling the square again to remove the excess water, use a ruler to create a diagonal from corner to corner and apply a healthy amount of fray block along the diagonal.

Rotate the square counter-clockwise, fold up the corner and tack

Rotate the square counter- clockwise, fold up the corner and tack

Move the ruler to the opposite corners and apply fray block along the ruler again to create an invisible X across the fabric and hang to dry. Once dry, cut the fabric from each corner to ¼” from the center. Fold the right corner of the bottom triangle toward the center and stitch it down. Turn the square clockwise and repeat folding the right corner toward the center and stitch down.

Rotate, fold, and tack the remaining corners

Attach button at center

Attach button at center

Watch as the pinwheel emerges.

Continue around the square until all corners are tacked to the center. Add a button to the center and use the thread and needle to attach a pencil to the back. Push into the edge of your favorite plant and think spring all year long.

Attach pinwheel to pencil

Attach pinwheel to pencil

It glows!

It glows!

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Stephanie Flynn-Sokolov

Stephanie Flynn Sokolov trained in accessory design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She teaches classes in weaving and spinning around the U.S. Stephanie lives in Boulder, Colorado.