November 2, 2013
I thought I’d pick back up after my Rhinebeck hiatus with a post about a side of spinning we rarely talk about here – spindles. They’ve been used to make yarn for thousands of years, long before the advent of the spinning wheel, and are still being used today, and come in many different shapes, sizes, styles, materials, and price ranges. Because they are significantly smaller and less expensive than spinning wheels, it makes the craft of spinning much more portable than with a wheel, and makes it pretty easy to build a considerable collection of spindles too.
My first experience with spinning was with a drop spindle at a workshop that I took at an SCA event in 2008. I enjoyed that workshop and learned quite a bit, but this was a new activity and I what I spun wasn’t quite what anyone would consider yarn. The spindle was homemade from a toy wheel and a dowel, and the fiber was a home preparation. I got to keep both, and took them home to continue practicing, but I still struggled and didn’t enjoy spinning at all. But the tools aren’t to blame for my struggling and lack of enthusiasm or enjoyment. My own lack of coordination was. Because of that I began to think that spinning was probably just not for me.
Fast forward to the fall of 2009 and my trip to Rhinebeck with my friend Will. He had just started spinning, and spending time with him that weekend renewed my interest in spinning and my desire to give it another try, this time on a wheel, and my first wheel came that Christmas. Another wheel followed in 2010 for my birthday, and then another in 2012, and another in May of this year. I had taken to wheel spinning like a duck to water.
Spindle spinning fell by the wayside, but at the Men’s Spring Knitting Retreat in 2011, I decided to give it another try and signed up for a workshop. In the time since the workshop at that SCA event, I had parted with the toy wheel and dowel spindle, so I had to acquire a new one. The outline for the workshop that I received well in advance of the knitting retreat gave some suggestions on what to look for in a spindle that would be appropriate for a beginner. Unable to decide between the simple, inexpensive Schacht student spindle, and a very reasonably priced Kundert spindle with a beautifully designed whorl, I treated myself to both. At about the same time, I acquired a beautiful Grafton Fibers/Dyak Craft spindle when I ordered my Dyak Craft “Darn Pretty” needle set. That was the beginning of my spindle collection.
The workshop at the retreat went really well. Having had some experience at wheel spinning helped, and I found the enjoyment in spindle spinning that I was unable to find during my previous attempt. My experience with spinning on a wheel helped me with my spindle spinning, and learning to spin with a spindle has been beneficial to my wheel spinning too.
That summer I acquired a supported spindle with a heavy brass base with intention of learning spin cotton which I haven’t been at all successful with. Later on in 2011 at Rhinebeck, or rather, just after Rhinebeck, I got my first Golding spindle with a beautiful porcelain picture of a greyhound on the whorl as a birthday/thank you gift from my friend Dave. In 2012 I got my first Jim Johnson spindle and an acorn spindle from Hearthwise at the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival, another Golding spindle at Rhinebeck the next month. This year my spindle collection grew again with the addition of a tahkli spindle made by my friend Becca, another Jim Johnson spindle at this year’s Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival, a Dragonfly Woodworks spindle at Rhinebeck, and a the most recent, a birthday gift from my friend Kyle, is a spindle with a blue stone whorl from Irish Rose Woodcraft.
Each of the spindles in my collection provides its own unique spinning experience. Some are more suited to spinning thin fine yarns while others are more suited for thicker yarns. Most are top whorl spindles and some can do dual duty as either top or bottom whorl. None are strictly bottom whorl. I seem to still have troubles keeping bottom whorl spindles stable when I start them spinning. That’s just a matter of practice and developing my technique, which I readily admit I haven’t done much of. Nor have I practiced much with spinning on a supported spindle like my tahkli. As far as spindle spinning goes I still prefer to use a top whorl spindle.
Until now I’ve never managed to produce very much in the way of usable yarn with a spindle. What I’ve made has been good yarn, but there just hasn’t been as much of it because I’m not as proficient with the spindle as I am with a wheel. I’ve mostly used my spindles to test drive fiber and produce samples that I would then take to my wheel to produce my yarn. There are spinners who contend that you cannot spin the same yarn on a wheel that was spun on a spindle because the tools and techniques are vastly different. I am inclined to disagree, but we’ll save that for another post.
Please don’t interpret that to mean that you can’t be as proficient or even more proficient with a spindle as with a wheel. Some spindle spinners certainly are and it just takes practice, which I again will admit I haven’t done anywhere near enough of. Lately I’ve been practicing plying on the fly with my spindles, where you spin a length of singles and wind that onto your hand in different ways that allow you to produce two and three ply yarns. This saves the step of having to wind off the singles from the spindle onto a storage bobbin and then plied. I’m not sure which method I prefer as there are benefits to both.
I’ve been enjoying spindle spinning much more recently. I think like any craft, the more you build your skills, the more you’ll enjoy it. If you’ve never spun before and want to give it a try, spindle spinning is a great place to start and an inexpensive one too. Much has been written on the craft of spindle spinning so I won’t go into that here. If you think you’d like to give it a try (and I hope you do) I highly recommend Abby Franquemont’s book and accompanying DVD Respect the Spindle as well as any of her YouTube videos. Having been raised in Peru where the people there still spin their fiber with spindles, and start from a very young age, Abby has decades of experience and is a fabulous teacher.
Have a great weekend everyone!