Spinning is the art of twisting fine fibres so that they hold together and make yarn, thread or string. You can do this with a hook of wire and some fleece. You can also do a pretty good job on a stick with a weight either at the top or the bottom, and many of the early spindles were just that, a stone attached to a shaft. A drop spindle just makes the job so much more efficient, and easier. Carolines Books n Crafty Bits carries a small selection suitable for learners.
I recommend a simple spindle at first; once you have learned to spin you will be able to fully take advantage of the hundreds of craftsmen-made spindles available, but for now a basic bottom, or top, whorl spindle will do. There is nothing stopping you turning it upside down if you have problems, moving the hook, and trying it the opposite way!
As well as your spindle, you will need a small ball of commercially made yarn and some fibres. Most spindles come with Merino tops but it is actually easier to start with a nice Border Leicester or English Leicester greasy fleece: you can buy a 500 gram of coated fleece from this seller:
Moseley Wool Store. However greasy fleece is not for everyone, which is why you usually get tops or rovings, and you can replenish your stock from here:
Highland Cottage Crafts and
Patz Felting and Fibre Supplies.
Before you even tackle the tops, have a look at the commercial yarn - its probably plied (separates into several threads) and they all twist in one direction if you try to unwind it.You always tie the yarn on so that the leader as it is called, goes around the shaft the same way as the twist so it doesn't come undone while you are learning. Tie one end of it around the shaft of the spindle just under the whorl. If you have a bottom whorl spindle, you take the yarn immediately over the whorl, and I like to wind it up the shaft like a candy cane, and hook it over the hook to hold it in place. If you have a top whorl spindle, hook it under the whorl, then bring the leader over the whorl and under the hook.
I recommend the ball of wool rather than a shorter leader, because you can now practice spinning the spindle ( if its going the wrong way the wool unravels) and winding a bit of wool onto it, then twirling the spindle etc. This helps your hands memorise much of the process before you actually start. After you have run the ball through once or twice, you are ready to add fibres to the mix.
You will need to thin the fibres out to spin them properly; this means gently pulling them until they are almost apart but not quite.
The more air in the fibre, the lighter and warmer your yarn will be. If, because of the drought, your tops are very fly-away, spraying them with a spinners mix of 90% water to 10% olive oil should hold them down and help them to cling together more. The easiest way to thin your tops is to divide them in half, then in half again and again. Do a couple of feet at a time so it remains manageable. You want them to be about the size you want your final yarn to be but not so thin the whole lot falls to pieces.
If you went the fleece route, you can probably just separate the tips of the locks with your fingers so it fans out a bit. If you want to get really high tech, use a cat comb from the supermarket or pet shop: it does a brilliant job!
Either way, separate your fibres out and lay them over your hand in a fan shape. By now you will have worked out which hand twirls better, the other hand has to control the fibre. Put the end of your leader yarn into the fan shape, and without letting the spindle drop, twirl it until the fibres start taking up on the yarn and twisting around themselves. This is spinning and shows in slow motion what you are going to do very fast in a few days.
Your spindle hand learns how to keep the spindle spinning and also to control how fast the twist travels up the fibres, and how much twist the yarn has. Your other hand has the job of holding the fibres loosely enough that they slide gently through your fingers ready to be spun. To begin with, a start-stop action will get you into the routine.
Twirl the spindle, then park it between your knees so it can't untwist. The usual way of twirling is clock-wise, its not written in stone, and as long as you keep working in the one direction thats all that matters.
Use your spindle hand to catch and release the twist between your forefinger and thumb, driving the twist up the rovings so it becomes yarn.
Use your other hand to slowly draw the fibre roving away from the bit of fibre where the twist is starting to take, and by alternating between your hands, you can send the twist up the roving.
Give it a gentle tug to check there is enough twist to hold it in place and add more twist if necessary.
Wind your yarn onto the spindle leaving a little to go under the hook and form the leader for the next bit of spinning.
Before you know it, you will be doing this faster and faster, and will have the confidence to let the spindle drop towards the floor, instead of parking it between your knees! Congratulations, you are spinning!
I must here make the usual disclaimers: I am not responsible for any addictions that may occur as a result of learning to spin, ;-)!
Many spinners find that the gentle actions involved appeal to something almost primeval within us. Some say its like meditating, others like a wordless prayer. All I know is that I like that I am creating something along with all the other women who have spun yarn over the centuries. and its very satisfying!
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1 March 2008
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