1 hand spindle, well-balanced and not to heavy.
About 1⁄2 ounce of prepared fibre, preferably medium-grade wool, in a colour you like.
Tiny piece of masking tape, with an arrow drawn on it.
A piece of wool starter yarn, about 24–30 inches long.
A good spindle
This is critical. The wrong spindle will not let you discover the true pleasure of spinning, whereas the right one will do at least half the teaching. Some simple spindles work well, and some fancy ones don’t. And vice versa. There are many kinds of spindles, in all sizes, weights, and forms. The basic spindle elements include hook or groove, whorl, shaft. We’re going to concentrate here on drop spindles. Their shafts normally fall between 9 and 15 inches in length, and their whorls average between 2 and 3 inches across (although their whorls may be as small as 11⁄2 inches or as large as 5 inches). Drop spindles twirl in midair as you spin, and are often made of wood. Some have the whorl at the top of the shaft and some have it at the bottom. Either arrangement will do. What makes a good spindle? You'll discover that in spinning there are no rules, but we can offer guidelines.(If you fall in love with a spindle that doesn’t exactly fit our description, it’s probably perfect for you anyway). Spindle weight depends on the type of yarn you want to spin— heavy yarn, heavy spindle. A drop spindle that weighs more than 4 ounces (the weight of a medium-sized apple) is too heavy for general use. And hold off on the 1⁄2-ounce spindle (with a whole walnut’s amount of gravity) until you have some experience. Look for a weight between 11⁄2 and 21⁄2 ounces (with the heft of an apricot or a plum). Balance is essential. The location of the whorl on the shaft affects the spindle’s balance, as does the shape of the whorl itself. Check a bottom-whorl spindle by resting its tip on a non-abrasive surface (like your leg) and giving it a twirl; let your fingers flick the shaft so it spins, and then make a circle of your fingers so the spindle can rotate freely but remains upright. To check a top-whorl spindle, attach a short length of yarn to the hook at the top, give the shaft a quick roll between your fingers, and watch the spindle rotate. (The drawings above show this process). Spin the spindle a few times. Then note your impressions. Does the spindle rotate freely (does it feel like it wants to spin), or does it wobble? Does it keep going for a while, or feel sluggish? Is the shaft easy to grasp and twirl? Do you like this spindle? If you have hesitations, keep looking; there are more spindles out there. Basically okay? Go for it! Take the piece of tape with the arrow and put it on the whorl to remind you which way to turn it.
Fibre, raw material, wool . . . you need something to spin. “Puff” is not the official name, but it does describe the quality you want your first fibre to have. There are lots of reasons to prepare your own fibre, but there are also wonderful bags of ready-to-spin stuff out there that you can start on . . . or work with forever. With prepared fibre, you can spin now. You want a medium-grade wool in batt or roving/sliver/top form (a batt is pancake-like, and roving, sliver, and top are rope-like). The fibre should hang together well when you hold it gently, but should have some air in it—like puff. (A slick, smooth preparation will be hard to work with until you’re proficient.) Pick a colour you like, either natural or dyed. Separate a piece of your fibre from the mass by gently pulling it free. You want a segment about 4–6 inches long and 1⁄2 inch wide.
What makes yarn
Fibre is turned into yarn by twist. Completely untwisted fibre pulls apart easily. Twisted fibre, or yarn, is strong and won’t pull apart. The twist comes from the spindle, and the transformation takes place between your hands. What your hands do is called drafting—letting the fibres slide past each other and then letting the twist catch them. The size of your yarn is determined by how much fibre is caught by the twist. When you’re spinning, your goal is to pay attention to the fibre between your hands—the fibre that is about to become yarn. Everything else can take care of itself! The first twist.don’t want it to do right now is to turn backwards, away from the arrow, and untwist” your work. It’s okay if the spindle flops over to one side after it has rotated, or when you stop it. As long as there’s twist in the starter yarn for you to work with, that’s fine. Move your upper hand a little way up the fibre, pulling gently to loosen the fibre between your hands. Then pinch the fibre with your upper hand and slide the lower hand up next to it. The twist will glide up behind your lower hand. You’ve just made yarn! Tie your starter yarn around the long portion of the spindle’s shaft, next to the whorl. Turn the spindle a few times in the direction of the arrow, so the yarn wraps around the shaft. Take the starter yarn through the hook or notch at the top of the spindle (on a bottom-whorl spindle which doesn’t have a hook or groove, make a half-hitch about 1⁄2 inch below the tip of the shaft). A top-whorl spindle can hang from the starter yarn. Ultimately a bottom-whorl spindle will do the same, but while you’re learning, rest it on a table so it doesn’t fall. Your lower hand will rotate the spindle and release the twist. Your upper hand will hold the unspun fibre, gently prepare it to become yarn, and then keep the twist from moving into the fibre before you want it to. Spin the spindle in the direction of the arrow; hold the loose end of the starter yarn with your upper hand, and watch the twistcollect in the yarn. Feather out one end of your fibre and overlap it onto the starter yarn. Pinch the fibre and yarn together with your lower hand, and pinch just above that point with your upper hand. Rotate the spindle with your lower hand, then move that hand back up to its “pinch” position. Don’t worry much about what the spindle’s doing; the only thing you
That’s it. Your hands repeat the pinch, pull, slide movements, whileyour lowerhand occasionally reaches down to rotate the spindle. As you practice, you’ll feel at first like too much is going on at once. Then you’ll find that yarn is strong and your hands know what they’re doing, so you won’t have to stop the spindle while you draft. Soon after that you’ll think that you’re reaching a long way down to rotate the spindle, and you’ll find yourself with between 2 and 3 feet of yarn that you have made. It’s time to wind on.
To keep your yarn from tangling while you wind on, catch it behind your elbow. Release the end from the hook or half-hitch and turn the spindle (always in the same direction so that the new yarn wraps around the spindle shaft, over the initial wraps of the starter yarn. Leave enough new yarn free to catch the hook or to make a new half-hitch. That’s it—back to spinning! When you run out of fibre in your hand, take a new piece and feather out one of its ends. Feather out the end of the old piece as well, overlap the two ends, and let them twist together in a join.
Bumps and breaks
Lumps happen in yarn when there’s too much fibre between your finger sat the time that the twist comes along and turns it into yarn. Make sure your lower hand is pinching back the twist until your upper hand has pulled out the fibre and gotten it ready. Breaks occur when there’s too little fibre in that spot between your fingers. Fix a break by feathering the end of the yarn and the end of your fibre and making a new join. Thick-and-thin can be a design element in fancy yarns. While you’re learning, experement a bit with these extremes so you can see how they occur and can later produce them when you want to.
After a while, you’ll have a mass of yarn that fills the spindle—the spindle feels heavy to work with, and the yarn begins to get in your way when you rotate the shaft. It’s time to wind your yarn off into a skein. Tie the skein with small pieces of yarn (the two ends of your spinning will do; a third tie is helpful). Set the twist by running some lukewarm water in a sink, setting your skein on the water, and gently pressing the skein so that it is submerged. Leave it for a few minutes, lift it out, squeeze gently to remove some of the water, and hang it over a hanger or doorknob to drip dry.
Congratulations! You’re a spinner.
(1) If your yarn pulls apart, you need to add more twist. To connect the ends back together, untwist both ends again and loosen the fibers. Lay one side on top of the other and twist the fibers together like before.
(2) If the spindle gets away from you and the twist runs up into the fibre mass, which is a common occurrence for beginners,, stop the spindle and untwist the fiber mass—then start the drafting process again.
(3) If the yarn is over twisted, loosen some of the extra twist by drafting out more fibres.
(4) If there are “fat soft areas”, known as slubs in your yarn or thick spots and thin spots, you can keep them and make a novelty yarn. You can remove them by pinching the yarn with both hands on either side of the slub (a little back from the slub) and untwisting it until the fibers draft out a little.
(5) After you have wound off a considerable amount of singles the spindle will become too heavy and will start to wobble a lot as you are spinning it. When this happens it is time to stop spinning yarn and remove it from the spindle.