Tips for Using the Drop Spindle
Using a drop spindle is a fun way to get started in the wide, wide world of hand spinning wool. The drop spindle is inexpensive to buy and an easy DIY project. We just finished a weekend at the Heart of New Mexico Fiber Gathering where I was able to demonstrate spindle spinning and visit with many people who are trying to learn how to spin yarn. These tips are my best advice for a beginning spindler. Don't feel frustrated until you've tried them all!
1. Watch someone spin with a drop spindle.
In my opinion, it is really hard to learn hand spinning from a book or an article. Perhaps this stems from my unique learning style, but I think any beginner will be better off learning from a demonstration, especially if it is one-on-one. An in-person demonstration will give the best help since you could ask questions and clarify what you don't understand, but a YouTube video could also be helpful. I also think it is very important to watch more than one person spin. You'll see that everyone has their own style and that should give you some confidence.
2. Use fiber that has already been prepared for spinning, such as carded wool roving.
Don't get worried about all the vocabulary - roving is merely wool that has been washed and carded at a wool mill so that the fibers are a little more organized and mostly lying in the same direction. This makes it easier to pull the fiber (the process of drafting) to allow the twist to spin it into a thick thread or yarn. Pencil roving will make this process even easier, if you can find it. It is a type of roving that is already pre-drafted into a thinner rope, allowing you to spin without doing much drafting at all. You'll find many choices for prepared roving online from small wool producers like Hyer Wools. (see our Fleece and Wool Roving page) It is also fun to browse the vendors at a fiber festival or search for wool roving on Etsy.
3. Spin slow until you get the hang of drafting.
Twirling the spindle is what puts twist into your fiber and that twist creates the yarn. If you whirl that spindle fast, the twist will travel quickly up the fiber - more quickly than you'll be able to draft or pull out more fiber for the twist. If you rotate the spindle a little more slowly, you'll have time to draw out more fiber before the twist eats it up. You have to keep the spindle spinning, though, to keep twist (or tension) in the yarn. Otherwise the weight of the spindle will pull on the untwisted fiber and simply drop to the floor. But going slowly in the beginning will allow you to learn to draft more evenly and be less frustrated. It takes some practice, so please be patient with yourself! Many beginners use what spindlers call the "park and draft" method. In this method, you twirl the spindle to put twist into the yarn then tightly pinch off the twist at the top and "park" or stop the spindle (on your lap or the chair or a table or even under your arm). Then, holding on to the pinched wool, you can draft or pull out a bit more wool from the roving. While the spindle is stopped, you can release the pinch and allow all that twist up into the newly drafted wool. Pinch the twist again, draft out a bit more wool, gently spin the spindle to create more twist, stop the spindle, pinch the twist again, draft again, then release the twist into the newly drafted wool. Repeating this "park and draft" process will help you learn to draft and soon you'll be spinning without stopping.
4. Use colorful wool - but not dark colors.
You will find it easier to learn to spin when you can see what is happening with the wool. Light colors, but not necessarily white, will help you see how the fibers slip by each other as you draft them and how the twist travels with the spin. Later, using a variegated roving is even more instructive in how the fibers gather into the twist and pull against each other. Dark colors can be difficult to see. Save the rich, dark colors for after you understand what is going on.
5. Experiment a little.
There really is no right way to spin. You will find many, many instructions about spinning and some will seem very definitive and assertive. You should know that we all do it a little differently. You may want to hold the fiber in a different hand, or twirl the spindle at the side or from the top. You may want to stand rather than sit. You may end up drafting and holding the yarn horizontally or vertically. you might draft with one hand or two. The best way to spin is the one that is most comfortable and intuitive to you while giving pleasing results that satisfy and make you proud of your effort. Maybe I'm just insecure, but I sometimes feel very intimidated by hand spinners and conversations that include authoritative figures and vocabulary. Don't pay attention to it. The basic concept is plain and simple - it's twist in wool. Just spin and discover for yourself.
6. Try more than one style of spindle.
There a two main types of drop spindle - the top whorl and the bottom whorl. The whorl is the round weighted part of the spindle. The hook will either appear on top of the round whorl with the shaft hanging below OR the hook will be at the top end of the shaft with the round whorl spinning below. Both types spin beautiful yarn. I prefer a bottom whorl spindle, but many others like the top whorl style. Try them both to find your own preference.
Demonstration of drop spindle spinning for elementary school children - Kids&Cows