Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tutorial: Spinning Yarn with a Drop Spindle

Having recently just started spinning myself, I can't offer a lot of sage advice on the craft. What I can offer is the same resources I used to learn spinning, as well as the little bits of knowledge I've gained from practicing the craft.

Craftster.org has a specific section dedicated to the Fiber Arts, that contains a couple of different Spinning Threads. At the beginning of this year, Jane Doe starting a Learn to Spin in 2010 thread, which sadly hasn't gone beyond Lesson 2, but she provided enough information for most people to continue on their own, which I did. Her general lesson plan was pretty solid, so I figure I'll follow that format.

Spindle & Materials
All you need to start spinning you're own yarn is a spindle and some fiber, though fiber isn't the only thing that you can spin, it's just the easiest. There are several different types of spindles that you can use and each can create the same kind of yarn, though specific yarns are easier with specific spindles. The position of the whorl, weight, and speed of the spin all effect the weight of the yarn that is created.

Anatomy of a Spindle
A spindle is a essentially a rod with a hook and disc, or whorl, at the ends. The position of the hook relative to the whorl is what determines if it is a bottom or top whorl spindle.

Top whorl spindles are generally lighter, spin faster, and are easier to load then bottom whorl spindles. They're typically used for very fine, lace weight yarns, but can also be used for making heavier yarns.

Bottom whorl spindles may or may not have a hook, spin longer, are more stable, and are better for plying yarns. You need to wrap the yarn around the spindle more often, as well as half-hitch your yarn.

Different people prefer different spindle types and no one can tell you which type you'd fare better with. It's all up to personal taste, and I encourage you to test out both before you settle on one. Personally, I like the ease of the top whorl spindle for spinning in general, but I like the weight of the yarn I produce with a bottom whorl spindle more. Typically, the heavier the spindle, the thicker the yarn.


You can spin almost anything into yarn, but for this tutorial, I'll stick to the fiber. When starting out with spinning, you should always make sure you're buying clean, prepared fleece. Undyed is typically cheaper, which is fine, just make sure it's clean.

Different sellers put their fiber on the market in different states. Roving, combed top, sliver are all sold in a long, tube like form. They vary only slightly, but pretty much all look the same. Batts are flat and rectangle in shape and are sold either tied or rolled. They're a blend of different types of fibers combed together and often cost more then roving. I like to buy roving as it's shape makes it easier to draft and start spinning with immediately. Make sure that you buy fiber with a long stable length (the length of the individual fibers) for when you first start spinning. The longer the stable, the easier it is to spin without having to worry about breaking your yarn. Wool is typically the best fiber to start with, but there are several different breeds, so make sure you get one that is stated as having a longer stable length.

I buy all of my roving from Etsy, so far finding these sellers fantastic in both quality and service: SheepishCreations and BlarneyYarn.

Drafting is a process where you pull apart your batt or stretch out your roving into a thinner, more yarn-like quality. It makes it easier to spin, and controls the thickness of your final product. Pre-Drafting is where you draft your fiber before you start to spin it. When you become a more proficient spinner, you can draft while you're spinning.

Your roving is not one continuous length of fiber. It's made up of several hundreds of fibers, all overlapping each other, and unless it is a mix, each of these fibers is typically the same length, called the "stable length". The longer the stable length, the easier it is to spin.

Megan LaCore has a great series of videos showing you how to start spinning with a top whorl spindle. I learned from these videos and so I figure what better way for you to learn.

Helpful Hints:
- Never cut your roving!!!!!! If you want to split your roving up, simply take a good hold with both hands, about 8" apart, and gently pull the fibers apart.

- Don't worry about accidentally pulling your roving apart while drafting. I still do it. It's really easy to spin separate sections together, as Megan will demonstrate in her next video.

- Don't worry about doing it all at once. If you want to just draft a 4th of your roving, spin it, then go back and draft another section, go ahead! It makes the process a lot more instantly gratifying.

Spinning a Single

When you get really into spinning, you can learn how to make ply'd yarn, but for this tutorial I'm just focusing on the basics. Well, I'm going to let Megan focus on the basics.

In this video, Megan's going to show you how to spin on a top whorl spindle. I can't compliment her enough for this video, it's fantastic.

Wanna try it out with the bottom whorl spindle? Attach the lead above the whorl and wrap it up the spindle to the hook. Attach the fiber the same way you do with the top whorl, and spin it the same. I prefer to stand when using the bottom whorl spindle and just spin it with my hand, or lift my leg to spin it off my thigh. When the spindle gets closer to the floor, I use my feet to stop it, then wind on.

Helpful Hints:
- Don't freak out if your spindle spins in the wrong direction for a little while, just stop it and respin. There's not a lot you can do in spinning to completely ruin it.. it's all really easy to undo.

- You don't want to spin your spindle too fast. Otherwise your already spun yarn will fly off your spindle and you'll have to backtrack.

- If you watch the video again, she kinda pushes the twist up the yarn. What she's doing is making those coiled up parts of the yarn spread their twist up the yarn. When you first start spinning, you'll probably be doing this a lot, but no worries, you'll get better fast.

- Always maintain tension. Always, always. After you've put a spin into your fiber, you don't want to let it go slack, at least until you set your twist.

- I read somewhere once that if you spin as little as 15 minutes a day, within a week you'll be spinning a consistent yarn. As far as I've seen so far, I believe it, so make sure you practice.

Winding Off and Setting the Twist
This is the part of the process where you measure how much yarn you've made and set your twist. Be prepared to have sheep-smelling hands by the end of this.

Once again, Megan shows you the physical process of this better then I could write it.

If you're going to set your twist right away, don't fold it up like she does in the video. Take a pot that's deep enough to completely submerge your skein and fill it with barely-hot water - not boiling. Hold your skein by one of the embroidery threads (or two), and dunk it slowly a couple of times until it is soaked through and will sit below the water by itself. Let it rest in the water for about 15-20 minutes. When the time's up, take it out and ring it as dry as you can, in the direction of the twist, and then hang it to dry. If it curls up on itself, add a hanger to the bottom to pull it straight, but don't put too much weight on the end! If you put too much weight your yarn will lose its stretchy quality. No weight, or not enough, and it'll keep it's stretch and bounce.

If you want to dye your undyed roving, Knitty.com has a fantastic article on how to Dye Wool with Kool-Aid. They have instructions and a great color guide that shows what flavors make what colors.

Happy spinning!

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