Tag Archives: hand spinning

My New Super Hero Skill

15 May

Not only can I take yarn and turn it into fabric and real, useful and beautiful clothes, I can now with more and more proficiency take wool and turn it into  yarn! (Although someone else still has to take the sheep or similar and shear them and turn their fleece into prepared wool for me, but whatever. I’m sure I could figure out how to do it if civilization fell. Provided I could find friendly sheep or someone’s abandoned pet angora rabbit or maybe a long-haired dog.)

Here’s my first attempt in a year or two that I spun on Saturday. As you can see, I’m doing thick and thin and there’s not enough twist (?). I also tried to fashion a Lazy Kate out of a shoebox, and while it has worked for me before I just couldn’t figure any of it out now. Although my guess now is that I tried to turn the spindle in the same direction both while spinning and plying, and that’s… not how it works. Now I spin counterclockwise and ply clockwise, because it feels natural.

Then I found out about the importance of the weight of the spindle. Mine (made of a pencil with a hook on top stuck through a cardboard circle following the advice in this video) was 11 grams and apparently, for a beginner 50-70 grams is ok. Apparently the lightest commercially made ones are more like 30 g… Oops. Well that certainly explains a lot. I stuck on an eraser for added weight, and things got a lot easier. I also finally gave Andean plying a chance and oh, the joy! By the way, there are some really confusing explanations of Andean plying out there, and the one in Knitty I linked to is the best I could find… Suddenly, after 30 minutes of going “barooo?” it was very easy to do.

These changes resulted in this much better yarn that I spun on Sunday.

I looked online for real spindles in the weight category someone recommended for beginners and I found one, a Schacht Hi-Lo spindle (62,4 g). It works as both a top and bottom whorl. I also found out that Bluefaced Leicester wool is one of the easier fibers to learn on… So the boyfriend ordered the spindle and some BFL wool for me as my birthday present.

I don’t feel like spinning for long periods of time, but I still want to go back to it all the time. It’s a strange feeling.

I’m not sure why I have so much trouble finding basic information on spinning online, but I’m coming to the conclusion that my vocabulary is too small/I don’t use the words I know right, and I’ve confused the Great Google.

I finally found these useful tidbits of information by turning to my first language – surprise! Actually I think my vocabulary is even smaller in Finnish when it comes to spinning, but at least it’s slightly easier to learn the new words.

Now I’m just waiting for Mister or Miss postperson to bring me mah spindle and mah wool! I want  them right now *stomps foot*.


How I Learned to Handspin with a Drop Spindle

9 Jun

This week I’ve been learning how to hand spin yarn. To my surprise, the hard part wasn’t the spinning, it was making a working drop spindle. And even that wasn’t that hard. Well, this is how I did it.

Spinning has always seemed interesting to me, but I always thought it would be too difficult to learn and too expensive to begin. Then I learned about drop spindles and, after seeing videos on how to make a top whorl and a bottom whorl spindle here, I finally believed they really are pretty simple tools and easy to make at home.

I used a flower stalk and cardboard from a cardboard box to make my first bottom whorl spindle. I chose bottom whorl because I was going to use this Finnish page to learn to spin.

The page encourages the reader to first learn to spin the spindle by the leader. I tried this.

I tied the leader to the spindle exactly like instructed, but the thing just wouldn’t spin.  It always just wobbled for a bit and stopped. I kept trying for quite some time, thinking I was spinning it too fast or too slow.

Finally I figured there’s something wrong with the spindle itself. I thought it might have something to do with the piece of cardboard being too light (it *is*, after all, called the “weight”). So I found some tape and attached a couple of erasers to the bottom of the cardboard circle, since they were the only thing I could think of to fulfill the task. And what do you know, I was immediately able to spin the spindle by the leader. Great success!

The next problem came up, when I enthusiastically grabbed my wool and started spinning like instructed. Everything went just fine at first. My yarn came out totally thick-n-thin, but I wasn’t discouraged because that’s what’s supposed to happen, right? I also started to believe thick-n-thin yarn really exists because newcomers to the art of spinning don’t want to waste their wool, and have to make-believe thick and thin is totally rad and just what they wanted all along. Maybe? Anyway. The problem arose when it was time to wrap the yarn around the shaft of the spindle. “Ok,” I thought, “but, um, how?”

I stood there, the yarn wrapped around my knee, one arm stretched towards the ceiling so the yarn wouldn’t wrap around itself, trying to figure out how on Earth I was supposed to get the leader off the shaft so I could wrap the yarn. I stared wildly at the pictures in the instructions I was using. “Yes, the leader is definitely meant to come off the top of the shaft before the wrapping of the yarn can commence,” I thought, my arm (still pointing at the ceiling) starting to go numb, “BUT HOW?”

You see, the instructions said to make a loop around the top of the shaft with the leader before beginning to spin. So that’s what I did. But because when I spun the spindle, the leader always came undone, I figured I was supposed to *tie* the leader around the shaft (the wording in the instructions really is ambiguous). This is why I was having some difficulties.

I somehow detached the leader from the shaft and wrapped my yarn. Yay, my first few feet of hand spun yarn!

But I couldn’t figure out how to get the yarn to stay on the shaft while I spun. I was confused. I looked through all the sites I could find on hand spinning with a spindle. After a while it dawned on me that most drop spindles have some sort of hook at the top of the shaft and, apparently, the little hook is what does the trick.

What followed next was an hour of frustration trying to find a substitute for an actual hook – although I’m sure I have hooks somewhere, they are, for the moment, eluding me. I destroyed a few safety pins but I couldn’t push them through the wood – the metal gave out before the wood did. I tried hammering a nail with this little plastic hook in it (used for attaching cables to walls)  to the top of the shaft, but to my horror, I only managed to splinter the shaft. Fine. No hammers allowed near my spindle. I tried screwing a screw in there. I tried using my hobby drill to drill a hole and *gluing* a nail into it, but it just wouldn’t do.

Finally I gave up altogether on my bottom whorl and decided a top whorl would solve all my problems. If at first you don’t succeed and so on. Again, I used a flower stalk and some cardboard, plus the added weight of a couple of erasers (I KNEW I hadn’t saved all those 20 erasers for nothing!) and *very, very carefully* drilled a hole at the top of the shaft and very, very carefully put a nail with-one-of-those-little-hook-thingies in there, and pressed ever so slightly on the nail to attach it to the shaft juuust a little bit.

Spindle version 2.0

Finally! A spindle that spun like a good spindle ought to (after I cut 5 extra inches off the bottom of the shaft.

A lot of happy spinning ensued. I quickly got the hang of it, to my utter amazement, and began enjoying it more every minute. After three hours of spinning, I was able to spin an amazing 2 yards of yarn that was of even thickness. WOW!

I learned how to move my hands so the spindle keeps turning in the right direction and the spin on the yarn doesn’t reach the wool beyond the tight grip of my left index finger and thumb.  I began to understand how to hold the fibres, and a lot of little things like that, that come quite naturally once the hands get to feel the fibres and how they behave. I began realizing how many details have to be taken into consideration when spinning and my respect for those who really know how to do it grew by the minute.

But the spindle wasn’t perfect. The yarn kept pushing the cardboard up the shaft and next to the hook, and when this happened, the nail would invariable come loose and I’d have to stop for a while to very, very carefully glue it back in there. I was worried about the great quantity of glue near my hand-spun.

At some point I weighed my wool and realised I’d only spun half of it. I decided to make another spindle so I could then ply the yarn straight off the spindles.

This time I wasn’t going to stand for bits coming out or anything silly like that. I’d read of spindles with little grooves in them – no hook needed.

So I carved one.

Carving: an essential skill for any urban gal

I harvested the cardboard-eraser-set-up from the first spindle, cut the shaft down to size, took out a knife and carved a little groove for the yarn. I was pretty proud of myself.

But spinning was impossible: the yarn would come out of the groove way too easily.  Maybe there was too much wobbling going on because the weight of the erasers was distributed unevenly? I took the erasers out and tried spinning with only the cardboard circle on the shaft. The wobbling was gone, but the spindle didn’t spin long enough because of the lack of the weight. FINE. Back in go the erasers, only this time I took care to make it more balanced. The yarn wouldn’t stay in the groove. OK. I carved another little groove. And it works!

But by this time the hole in the cardboard was getting too big and the cardboard wobbled and caused the spindle to wobble as well. Plus there was the issue of the yarn pushing the cardboard up the shaft.

Solution? Cut out the middle man.


And that is how I learned to handspin.

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