Handspinning with a drop spindle is an art form that was once necessity. All over the globe from the early history of humans to modern times people have employed the use of various types of spindles and eventually spinning wheels in some cases to create threads of different types. These threads would create clothing and other useful materials. In this beginner series of articles I will be providing a very basic overview on handspinning.
To start handspinning you will need something to work on. Spinning wheels are very expensive and have such a large range of different sizes and types it is best to actually physically work on as many different models as possible before purchasing one. You can look for local groups or fiber arts events if interested in trying a wheel. Some fiber shops may have models available to test as well. There is also the option of an electric spinning wheel. A small tabletop device that allows you to simply work on your material drafting skills as the small wheel turns itself. These run around a thousand dollars but are a great way to learn and also great for those who may not have the ability to move the wheel and draft wool simultaneously. They are also used in producing yarn or thread quickly. I would say they could be great for children too but I don’t think I would trust a young child to not break the device or more importantly not hurt themselves on a self moving spinning contraption.
What I recommend is a drop spindle. I have used several and own three currently. Many drop spindles are affordable but can also be made potentially from items around your house if you don’t wish to spend much money on a craft you are unsure of. Just a forewarning. Handspinning is one of those crafts that end up becoming an expensive but deeply enjoyable habit if you find it’s “your thing.” Handspun thread and yarn are highly valued items in the fiber arts community however so in time and with lots of experience you may be able to sell your work if that is your goal.
If you are looking to purchase a commercial drop spindle I highly recommend the Hi-Lo Spindle by Schacht. It can be used both as a high and low whorl drop spindle. Meaning, you can spin with the weight on the top or on the bottom. Many popular drop spindles feature a low whorl such as the Turkish spindle. I prefer a high whorl but that is what I started with and have used the most. I find it easier to use and the yarn doesn’t loosen as easily. A problem you may encounter when starting. There are other big brands such as Ashford and Kromski that also make spinning wheels and other fiber arts tools. “The Woolery” is a great place to start looking as they carry a wide variety of different options. Many fiber arts and local yarn shops will carry at least a few drop spindles. If you are lucky you may even find some handmade!
Here is my Schacht Hi-Lo Drop Spindle:
Another great place to look for drop spindles is Etsy or other handmade sites. I love my handmade spindles. The problem you may find is an artist who made a drop spindle aesthetically pleasing but not well balanced and therefore not great for spinning. I would look at shops with a good history of high reviews. I love supporting small businesses and artists so I always look on Etsy or locally when considering another drop spindle. They are not always more expensive than factory produces pieces with a company name attached to them so there is that to look for as well. You can also find more historically based pieces from small businesses on sites such as Etsy. Something that greatly interests me.
Here is my handmade drop spindle! My very first one and made for me as a gift from my friend Leslie who owns “Blyth House Creations” on Etsy:
Here is my handmade Viking era replica drop spindle I purchased off of Etsy:
If none of these options are viable for you then make a drop spindle! You can make a basic piece using a dowel, a rubber band or some glue, an old cd and a screw hook. Many beginner spindles sold on Etsy are made using a wood wheel from the craft store, a dowel, glue and a screw hook. I have seen others use plaster, clay, plastic pieces from large boxes of Saran Wrap, etc. You can get really creative! These are great craft projects for kids as well. Many teachers will make spindles like this to create many beginner spindles on low budgets and they still work just fine. Balance and weight are the key here in a spindle. Not how pleasing to the eye it may or may not be.
Be aware when looking for a drop spindle that the weight will effect the yarn/thread. Heavier pieces will spin longer and pull on the roving more so they will generally create thinner yarn. I’m one of those people that somehow can create bulky yarn on anything but that’s just me. Fine yarn is something that many will master on any weight eventually through drafting techniques. Fine yarn seems to be the most desirable to achieve though personally I prefer heavier weights with a cushy texture. Medium weight in my eyes is the best to begin with due to the momentum it creates when spun while also not dragging down roving that may break. Light spindles with small weights or no weights added are not commonly found here but I see people from other countries spin on essentially sticks with a small smooth bump in the center. The artists can produce fine yarn on them but I wouldn’t suggest them to a beginner.
Lastly there are beginner kits. They typically come with very basic instructions, wool roving and a drop spindle. They are one of the easiest options if you don’t want to spend hours like I do looking over drop spindles and wool top and roving. They also are a nicely put together gift all ready to go if you’re purchasing it for someone else.
In my next article I will discuss purchasing materials to actually spin!