The spindle tales: Russian spindles

Spinning with a Russian spindle

The Russian spindle is a supported spindle, so can be used for short stapled fibers where a drop spindle would be much more difficult to use. Like all supported spindles it’s ideal for very thin singles because the yarn doesn’t have to resist the weight of the spindle.

The Russian spindle doesn’t have a whorl per say, the spindle is shaped of one piece, the bottom of the shaft being the heaviest part, pointed so as to spin more efficiently. To minimise friction when spinning, Russian spindles are often used in a bowl or a saucer, although apparently, traditionally, bowls were only used in the Orenburg region. The upper part of the shaft, on which the yarn is stored, tapers to a very pointy top, off which the yarn is made, and which gently rests on the fingers or the palm whilst spinning. Gently resting on a curved open hand being the key to not stabbing yourself with the spindle.

I bought my Russian spindle out of sheer lust. Ian from IST Crafts had come to my Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Guild to give a talk about his spindles. After the talk, I saw the beautiful Purpleheart wood, the flowing lines, and I had to have it. It was purple! The fact that I had no idea how to work it was a bit of hurdle, though. But this being a guild meeting I was given a bit of fluff and told to go play with it for a bit. After a while I got the hang of spinning the spindle to build up twist, wait for it to stop and draft using long draw, give it one last flick to put in a bit more twist before winding on. I bought the spindle and was spinning before I even got home. The cafe where I went after the meeting had saucers which worked great to set the spindle on.

Annia, with a cop of honey coloured tussah silk.

Before the end of the weekend I had a nice enough cop, and the long draw wasn’t so much of a problem anymore. I really enjoyed the whole process but I have to say the spinning was going much more slowly than on my drop spindles. The one major advantage was that I could spin sitting comfortably on the sofa with the little bowl on my lap or by my hip. I guess what I was doing was the supported spindle equivalent to park and draft.

Then, thanks to Ravelry, I stumbled upon this video.

It blew my mind. No-one had shown or told me you could draft while the spindle was still spinning. In retrospect it seemed so obvious, but when I was trying it out it never crossed my mind. With this technique, I started to spin as fast as I do on my top whorl drop spindles. I’m still practicing, but I’m definitely getting faster and faster. Not as graceful as the video but there’s hope… and there’s something to be said about being able to spin whilst reclining in the sofa.

Have you tried supported spindles? What about the Russian? How did you find it?

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3 responses to “The spindle tales: Russian spindles

  • Leslie

    I just got a Russian from Grippingyarn, and I love it. It’s taking some practice to get used to changing the angle of the yarn to add twist vs. wind on, and my initial efforts at spinning top mostly failed (what a difference when I carded the top into rolags!). I’m still in the park and draft stage myself–it’ll be a while before I’m as smooth and efficient as Fleegle!

    • Cecile

      I’ve been drooling on Grippingyarn’s spindles on Ravelry, I love the lines of her spindles, which kind of wood is yours?
      I have to admit I’ve never tried rolags on the Russian, only tops so far because that was all I had ready to spin at the time, some merino, some BFL and now silk. I’m far from being done with the silk I’m doing on it now, but once I am, I’ll try rolags to see how different it feels. I have read before that rolags are the best preparation for long draw (in Anne Field’s ‘Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics for instance’), because of the random arrangement of fibers as opposed to the parallel one in combed tops.
      As for moving beyond the park and draft stage, it won’t necessarily take all that long, once you start working the change of angles without thinking about it, it all goes very fast. One minute I felt I didn’t understand how Fleegle was doing it, the next my hands seem to have suddenly acquired the movements. It all clicked.

  • Adventures in silk « The ways of the whorl

    [...] of all, it really allowed me to get properly comfortable with supported spinning and with my Russian spindle in particular, and I loved every minute of spindling this. So back in December I started out on [...]

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