An ancient method for modern results…
The art of spinning fiber into yarn has been around for over 10,000 years, and the spinning wheel only came onto the scene during the late Middle Ages. How did they do it before then? Drop spindles. There are a bunch of different variations on this ancient tool, but the physics of how they all work remain the same.
The spindle, which acts as a sort of spinning top, is held in the air and given a good twist. This will spin the fibers together, turning them into a length of yarn. There are a few different techniques and methods that people use for this, but the results are the same: handspun yarn. Once that length has been spun, you wind it around the shaft of your spindle and repeat the process. Yes it’s a little time consuming at first, but what hand craft isn’t?
Many folks learn to spin on drop spindles before trying a wheel, which makes a lot of sense to me. The necessary motions might be very different from using a spinning wheel, but the actual process of drafting and feeling the fiber twist into yarn is much the same.
There are a lot of good reasons to consider a drop spindle if you’re interested in the art of spinning. First, it’s a project you can take anywhere. Sure, there are travel wheels that are lightweight and fold up for convenient carrying (like the Schacht Sidekick Spinning Wheel - Complete), but you can’t exactly take that wheel out on the subway, or in the waiting room at the dentist, or taking up precious space in your car on a road trip. A drop spindle, however, can be used even when you’re walking around! In fact, I like to keep my hands busy with my spindle while I’m waiting for things to cook in the kitchen, chatting with my lovely co-workers, and even on meandering summertime walks. I keep a little bag of fiber on me whenever I go away, and I always make sure to bring what I have dubbed my very own “travel wheel”- my beautiful Shotzee Drop Spindle - Exotic Wood.
All the same fiber rules apply. My most recent project was spinning up a hand carded batt of soft, luxurious stuff. Here’s what was in it: 50% Fine White Merino Wool Top Fiber, 30% Kid Mohair Locks and Loose Fiber, and 20% Pulled Sari Silk Fiber, 1/4 lb bag. Super soft! First I spun it all into a roughly fingering weight singles, which looked like this:
I wound that single into a ball directly off my spindle, which rolled around everywhere in the process, much to my dog’s glee. I then weighed my little ball of yarn and divided it in half. Armed with two singles now, I tied their ends to the starter yarn on my spindle and proceeded to spin them together (in the opposite direction from that in which they were originally spun) creating a kind of loose two-ply yarn. This was the first time I’ve ever used the spindle to ply, and it went by much faster than I’d expected.
Here are some glamour shots of the finished product:
All wound up on the swift (because I still need to get my own niddy noddy, like Nancy's Niddy Noddy). A large batt of blended fiber produced about 64 yards of shiny, soft yarn. I’ll make another few batts with the remainder of my merino, and try to match the blend as much as I can so I get a more usable amount of yarn.
As a novice spinner, I can honestly tell you that it is not uncommon for my husband to get a good chuckle when he hears my spindle hit the floor with a jarring thud. We all have the yarn break or something get snagged from time to time, and that’s ok!
If you’re interested in learning how to use this versatile, inexpensive, mobile spinning tool, here are a few items that can help you along your way:
And some fibers that are easy to spin (not to mention, fun):
Lastly, you might want to check out this photo tutorial, which shows you how to get started. Think of all the fancy handspun yarn you can make, any time and anywhere!
Related items of interest: