Portrait of Sierra Roberts
by: Sierra Roberts

Getting started with a drop spindle

Looking to learn how to use a drop spindle?  Like driving a stick shift, it’s all about practicing until you get a feel for the rhythm.  But how does one get started?  We’ve set up a short photo tutorial to show you just that.  From one beginner to another: don’t let it intimidate you!

To start, you’ll want to cut a 20″ or so length of already spun yarn- the woolier the better. One end of this will be tied onto the shaft of your spindle…
…like so. Just a double knot or any secure knot of your choosing will work.
Now the lead yarn is attached.
Bring this yarn up and around the hook, making sure to have it resting in the little groove on the side of the whorl (the disc part of your spindle) as shown.
Here’s another photo of that. It doesn’t matter which direction you wrap the yarn around the hook in, as long as it’s securely hooked. Otherwise, your yarn will slip out as the spindle is spinning, causing the spindle to fall to the floor. The spindle is bound to hit the floor unexpectedly at some point, and don’t be discouraged if it happens a lot at first!
You can spin from the full thickness of roving, but it’s easier to split it up into thinner strips as shown. This makes drafting a little quicker and less labor intensive.
To start spinning your roving, pull it out a little (this is called drafting) and overlap it with the lead yarn, as shown above and below.

Holding your fiber and lead yarn together with one hand, give your spindle a firm twist with your other hand. As it’s spinning, gently loosen your hold on the fiber and lead yarn. You should feel them start to grab and twist around each other. It’s important at the very start to choose a direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise) to twist your spindle in. You’ll have to stick with this direction for the rest of your project, otherwise you’ll end up un-spinning your yarn!
Slowly allow the weight of the spindle to drop, while keeping just enough grip with the fingers holding the two fibers together to keep everything from falling to the floor. That will allow the yarn to slide through your fingers as it’s spinning; you can see what comes out below them- it’s becoming yarn!
You can see the roving beginning to spin by itself above where my lower hand is. I’m using the hand above to draft, while my lower hand keeps a grip on the spinning yarn.
Once your spindle has reached the floor, you’ll have a nice long length of yarn. This needs to be wound onto the shaft of your spindle before you can continue. The lead yarn you tied on at the beginning will likely want to spin around the shaft when you go to do this, so it helps to hold it in place with your thumb for the first few twists around.
Here’s what it looks like once you’ve wrapped that section.  Be sure to leave enough already spun yarn to bring back up and around the hook.
Now that the yarn you just spun is wound up, you’re ready to repeat the dropping and spinning process.

Here are some helpful tips while you’re getting started:

• You don’t have to draft while spinning!  Lots of drop spindle users will tuck the spindle between their knees or under their arm so they can draft comfortably without being rushed.  Give it a twist and allow that length to spin; once it’s spun you can “park and draft” again!

• Once you understand the process, I encourage you to play with different hand positions and grips until you find a comfortable combination.  I often change up my hand positions, and some work better for different fiber types.

• Don’t feel bad if you end up with thick and thin yarn.  Textured, slubby yarns are awesome!

• Try to keep the yarn you’re spinning from becoming too thin.  This will cause it to break, and your spindle will hit the floor with a crash.  It’s inevitable at first, so don’t worry when it happens. Your spindle will be OK even if your pride is slightly damaged.

• Most importantly: There is no such thing as “wrong” yarn;  I encourage you to get a feel for the motion, and don’t worry about creating a perfectly balanced, even yarn at first.  Just have fun with it!