Drop Spindle Spinning

Being a knitter who knew very little about spinning, I have always turned to pre-made, readily available yarn. Whether at your LYS or at one of the numerous shops online, there is a ton of it out there and seemingly something for every rhyme or reason...

Many years ago, more out of curiosity than anything else, I bought a "Learn to Spin" kit. It came with a top-whorl drop spindle, some wool and a sheet of instructions. Though I gave it a few tries, I just wasn't getting it and after practicing for some time and producing nothing vaguely yarn-like, I put it away. A couple years later I pulled the kit back out for another try. Again I ended up with nothing I could call yarn and set everything aside, frustrated. But I kept seeing the kit from time to time and knew that the I'd try again...someday.

So recently, I purchased and read the incredibly inspiring "Respect The Spindle" by Abby Franquemont, She has been spinning since she was five years old when she lived in the Andes. She has written an incredible book which is both in-depth and broad in scope. Armed with the knowledge and confidence that Abby bestows on her readers, I decided to give it another try.

Instead of using the old kit I had lying around, I decided to start fresh. I started off by making my own spindle as she demonstrated in the book. It was made using a dowel, a wooden toy wheel and a small cup hook. It cost me under three dollars to make. I also stopped at my local yarn shop (Halcyon Yarn in Bath, ME...highly recommended if you're ever up this way) where I was given some advice on what would be good wool for a beginner to learn with. I ended up buying three different kinds for a few dollars and went home to give spinning another try.

For the first week I practiced using the "park and draft" technique. This means that you practice pulling the fibers apart and allowing twist into them while the spindle is stationary. Doing so allows time to learn how to draft the fiber without having to worry about what the spindle is doing. This gives you a chance to build up some muscle memory. It's one of those things where no matter how much you read ahead of time and think you are prepared and know about the process, you learn that only practice, practice and more practice is going to get you there.

So after practicing for about half an hour a day for a week I was feeling pretty good about the results I was getting and decided to try making a small skein of yarn. Here are some pics of how it went!

I didn't think to start taking pictures any earlier in the process, but here is the spindle with the completed "single" spun on to it. I wasn't trying for any particular gauge of yarn, just trying to get the thickness to be even.

Once that was spun, I wound the single off of the spindle and onto a nostepinne, specifically making it into two small "cakes" of yarn. These I then wound together into one double-stranded ball of yarn.

This next pictures shows the lone double-stranded ball on the left with both strands being plied together. This is done by spinning them in the opposite direction of how they were spun and winding them back onto the spindle for storage.

Here is all the newly plied yarn on the spindle. From here I wound the yarn around a book (I didn't have a niddy noddy and this was mentioned as an alternative...), tied it to keep it from tangling, gave it a hot water soak followed by a cool water rinse and then hung it up to dry.

And last but not least, here is the finished mini-skein of yarn. I was quite pleased with the fact that the yarn didn't end up with crazy thick and thin areas. A pretty decent first attempt.

While I never really thought I would get too excited about spinning, now I can see why people do. It's a connection to the past, a learned skill that is thousands of years old. Plus if you are a knitter AND a spinner, these things obviously go hand in hand. I can't wait to make a project with some yarn that I've spun myself! And, can I mention Etsy? Have you seen some of the gorgeous fiber you can buy on there? And the beautiful spindles?

Speaking of spindles, since my first attempts at spinning, I have modified my spindle a little. What I found was that due to the small wheel/whorl, most of the weight was close to the shaft. This meant it spun fast, but not long, and I wanted to have more time to draft between spins. So I found a spindle I liked online (a Trindle to be exact) which is meant to spin a long time due to the extra external weight. I was going to buy one but decided that I would make something similar with a few beads and some nails. I don't know if this will hold that well in the long run, but at least I know that with this modification, my spindle spins much better now! Plus the skull beads give it a little something extra, eh?!

Well, thanks for letting me share my excitement with you on something related, but a bit off-topic from knitting itself. I hope this has at least been interesting and who knows, it may encourage someone to try spinning, whether on a drop spindle or on a wheel. Take care, guys!


Bill's picture

for a "first yarn"...that's exceptionally good!

PaulKnittingNow's picture

I am truly impressed! That is great looking yarn. Very inspirational....I, too, tried to learn how to spin using a drop spindle. I took a private lesson from someone who really was a big disappointment - she spent all of 20 min with me (did not really seem that interested in spending time to see whether I "got it" or not) and then sent me packing...with a new spindle to boot! LOL So....I kept looking at that box of roving and the new, unused spindle I bought with a tinge of guilt (I hate not being able to learn how to do something - especially with my hands and, worse yet, buying something and not using it!).
Anyway, I am now enrolled in a three hour group class this September, and I can't wait. Your post was well-timed with great pictures and a near description of my experience! Thank you for your inspiration.

KenInMaine's picture

Paul, that is great that you're giving it another try! I'm just a newbie myself, but if I can offer some advice, it's all about practice time. I practiced for 15-30 minutes a day to start. I didn't overdo it because I knew my hands and brain needed time to let things sink in. I also read everything I could find on the subject.

(There is actually an excellent blog called Studio Strategos by a young lady named April. Along with some other crafts, she mostly chronicles her adventures in drop spindling from her recent work all the way back to her first skein. I found myself returning to her blog again and again to peruse the pictures. Very inspirational. Plus she has some spinning tutorials. OH, and take a look at the Winter Pinoak she just posted about...so amazing!!)

Anyway, be patient with yourself and work through the frustrating moments, take breaks when you need to and you'll see improvement pretty quickly. In no time, you'll get into a rhythm and it will start to feel automatic. Your drafting will become more consistent and even. By the way, I would recommend Abby's book because it will give you a lot of useful knowledge to go along with the hands-on learning you get in class. Best of luck to you. Can't wait to see/hear how you make out!

Tallguy's picture

In reality, 20 min is about all the instruction anyone really needs. There is not much more to tell you. But the rest must come from you. You need to spend a lot of time spinning. By carefully observing what you are doing, and watching what you get, you can become better and better. Of course, you need a good spindle -- I've seen some that no one could ever make anything on it, so you need to use the correct one.

The rest is just a lot of practice. There is really no other way. Don't expect to become proficient overnight. It just seems to "catch" suddenly, and you are on your way!!

cacunn's picture

Very nice work

Tallguy's picture

That is excellent work! All it took is the right time. You needed to let all that you learned to settle in, and then to follow the principles. Works every time.

Yes, spinning your own yarn and then knitting with it is the best! There is a special quality in the yarn that you cannot find anywhere commercially. I can't explain it very well, but it feels like your hand-spun yarn has a bit of life in it. Commercial yarn is quite dead in comparison.

Besides, now you can make your yarn EXACTLY as you want it. Well, nearly exactly. All it takes is some time. And practice with quality materials.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Very nice work, Ken. I really like the modification with nails and beads. I may have to try that on one of my homemade spindles. Did you epoxy the beads onto the nails, or just go with a tight friction fit?

Working a consistent ply is what spinning is all about and the reminder to go in small time increments is right on target.

Congrats on a really great skein of yarn.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

KenInMaine's picture

Thanks Joe! For the modification, I actually didn't do anything to the beads. They are loose but when the spindle is spun, they fly out to the ends of the nails, so I didn't feel the need to glue them in place. I really like how the extra weight on the outer edge adds so much extra spin time!

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Thanks for the tip on how to place the beads. I've really been thinking about how much fun it would be to try it out. And the "click" when they go into orbit ought to be fun!

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

knittingman's picture

I'm wildly impressed with that yarn. Nice work!!! When you finally cave and get a wheel, look at Schacht. I spin on a Matchless and it is incredible!!!

Potter's picture

That yarn looks wonderful! You did a great job. If I had more time in my life, I'd definitely try that. I'm a little jealous of your new found skill.

Sara Katsan's picture

spinning? oh no! i SO don't need to get 'hooked' on something else!

i have seen a lot of home spun yarn and yours looks beautiful for an experienced spinner. that you just started out, well, i am impressed.

for my projects, i need tightly spun single ply, so seeing your first picture made my heart race!

let me know if you ever want to collaborate : - )

Nehkhasi's picture