Category Archives: spindles


Remember the whorls I showed you in the last post and which were about to be drilled… well, they have now been mounted on shafts and properly finished.

I thought I’d show off the resulting spindles:

The largest and also the heaviest of the series, at 49g for a diametre of 7cm

It is much heavier than the spindles I usually go for, but it is also wider and would make a good plying spindle I think. It certainly spins for a while…

A slightly smaller version of the same design, on a 6cm whorl for a weight of 38g

A two magpie design, 6cm whorl, 35g

I’m loving them, they’re all slightly heavier than my usual ones, because I was making those on request, but I actually like that they spin for that much longer…

I usually aim around the 25g mark, but I think I’ll make some heavier ones on a more regular basis… How about you? What kind of weight are your favourite spindles? Do you use some of your spindles specifically for plying? I’m just curious…


Behind the scenes

Lately, I’ve had many things on the go and they’ve all been taking longer than planned to complete. Rather than rushing them to finish them off to show them here, I’ve decided to show you some photos of the work in progress.

First, some resin casting, with some birdy whorls soon to be drilled on my brand new press drill to become top whorl spindles:

Magpie whorls in 6 and 7 cm diametres, weight ranging from 27g to 38g.

In terms of spinning, I’ve been spinning tussah silk on my Russian spindle Annia for the last couple of months, and loving it. I’m aiming for a 2-ply laceweigt, which I’ll probably leave undyed and plan to knit into a stole. I didn’t do a sample and I’ve just been spinning without much control, as I was still getting to know Annia, so I’ve no idea of the yardage I’m going to have when I’m done:

Tussah silk: Fibers, one cop spun, another in progress on my Russian spindle Annia.

Also on the spindles: I’ve got quite a bit of Blue Faced Leicester in yummy browns spun on my little Grace and on Jarod, destined to be a 4-ply. I’ve done one Turkishful and almost twice as much on Jarod, which I’m going to make into an Andean bracelet to ply once it’s exactly double the weight of the first cop. For the last of the singles for the 4-ply, I’m currently spinning a second Turkishful:

Blue Faced Leicester, including knit swatch.

On the knitting side of things, I was waiting on some T-pins I ordered to get the Echo Flower shawl a second blocking. They finally arrived this morning, so I gave my shawl a soak of Eucalyptus Eucalan bought at Unravel, and it is now blocking again.

I suddenly realised last night that I needed an instant gratification project. So I decided to take some merino I spun a little while back as an attempt to spin thickish, and I cast on an improvised cafetiere cosy. When Eddie comes round and the expresso machine is just not right for the amount of coffee we drink, but the cafetiere always goes cold before we’ve had the time to drink it all… This, I hope, will be of help. And in the meantime I’m having fun with braids and making things up… Here is last night’s progress, I think it’s already half way there:

There are always a few more projects on the needles and the spindles in the background, but those are my main points of focus at the moment.

How about you? Are you quite monogamous in your projects or a bit of a philanderer like me?

Childhood challenge: all spun up

Remember the Spindlers’ challenge for December over on Ravelry with the childhood theme? I finished the spinning just before leaving home.

So this batch of alpaca and this spindle which I’d made out of resin:

Got spun and navajo plied on the fly and became this:

Which turned into this, once washed and whacked:

This was fun! It’s the first time I participated in the spindlers challenge, but I really enjoyed the process of thinking of the theme and deciding on how to interpret it and so on. The spindle theme very simply makes me think of my childhood, as does the caramel colored alpaca. It also made me finally deal with this batch of fiber which I’d had for a while.

Alpaca is definitely not my favorite ever fiber to spin. It sheds quite a bit and I’m not all that fond of the ‘hairiness’ of the finished product. Or of finding wads of alpaca hair under the armpits of my coat… never a flattering touch… It also created a few problems in the navajo plying because sometimes when going through the loop, some of the hair got a bit ‘ruffled’ in a way, and came out of the twist a bit. But that would probably have not been a problem with a different type of plying.

Still despite the few hiccups I tremendously enjoyed the whole challenge. Now I want to knit this yarn into something also related to the theme. I had Mousie on the mind, but seeing the quantity: just under 200 yards if I remember right (the yarn is home with its tag and I’m not)  and the weight: between heavy laceweight and light fingering, I might have to go and look for something else to do with it…

Any suggestions?

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?

Childhood challenge

Over on Ravelry, the spindlers group has monthly challenges. I’ve always followed other people’s take on the theme of the month, stalked the thread, and admired the yarn, but I’ve never actually taken part before.

This month, the theme is childhood, and I thought I had the perfect fiber and spindle to jump in. I bought this alpaca as part of my first lot of fibers from Wingham Wool, it’s in the natural shade Fawn, but in my eyes, it’s the perfect caramel colour (I can’t quite photograph the shade right, it’s slightly darker with more brown and reds in real life). It reminds me of the salted butter caramel sweets I used to have as a kid in France. For some reason I only tried to spin a bit of it when I first got it to try spinning alpaca, but I never really got round to spinning the rest of it. This felt like the perfect opportunity. The spindle is a reminder of the hours I spent on the swing set in our garden.

I’m not entirely sure yet what will happen to this skein so I decided to three-ply it because I love the look of three or four-ply yarn. I’m navajo-plying my yarn using the ply-on-the-fly technique, which for me is instant gratification because you can see straight away how the yarn is going to turn out once plied. Plus once you get into the rythm it’s a bit like when you get a bit of momentum on the swing.

Somehow I’m finding it more fiddly plying on the fly with alpaca than with wool, so I’m giving the singles quite a lot of twist and plying it more tightly than I usually would. It’s turning out about fingering weight, although I’ve not calculated wpi yet. The challenge only requires one skein to be spun by the end of the month regardless of its weight or length. I’m not going for a big skein, but would like to be able to not only spin but also knit a small item related to the theme by the end of December. I was thinking of maybe Mousie by Ysolda Teague, but that would only take a fraction of it, any other suggestions?

The spindle tales: Bottom whorl, the Turkish spindle

Bottom whorl drop spindles, as their name suggests, differ from the high or top whorl spindles by the fact that the whorl is situated in the lower part of the shaft, giving it a low centre of gravity. The yarn is then secured at the top of the shaft, either through a hook or with a half hitch.

IST Crafts Turkish spindle

The Turkish spindle is a variant on the bottom whorl spindle. On a Turkish, the whorl is not made of one piece, but of arms. The cop is not wound above the whorl but around it. Unlike other types of spindles, the Turkish spindle is made from independent parts and can be easily disassembled. The whorl consists of two pieces, which slide into each other to form four arms, and the shaft runs through both pieces, stabilising the whole. Mine, shown here, is a tiny beauty weighing just 10 grams, its shaft is ash and its whorl zebrano wood. It’s an IST Crafts creation and spins like a dream. I absolutely love it, and I’ve spun a lot of cobweb singles on it. Like all spindles, the Turkish spindles come in a variety of weights and shapes, so a heavier one will be more suited to thicker yarns.

Turkish spindle with the cop almost at full capacity

On a Turkish, the cop is built by wrapping the yarn around the arms. Once the spindle is full, which is when the cop almost reaches the ends of the arms, or once you have enough yarn, the cop can be removed by sliding the whorl and cop up and off the shaft, then pushing the arms out, thinnest one first. This presents one major advantage: as the arms are removed, the cop stands as a stable ball of yarn, meaning that it can be used straight away without having to wind it off the spindle, either to ply or to knit. By securing the start of the yarn onto the shaft before starting the cop it is apparently possible to use the ball from both ends. This is not something I’ve done yet, so please let me know if you have.

If you are a Ravelry user, there is a very interesting thread on building a cop on a Turkish spindle, with some beautiful images of cops being built with amazing regularity. I do realise that marveling at this makes me the ultimate spinning geek, but I can live with that. I also have to admit that I am far from being as systematic in my cop building as the Ravelers in question and rather tend to wind my cops any old way, following only the ‘under one arm and over two’ system, which helps keeping the base of the spindle relatively flat, and builds the cop mainly upward and outward. What I love most is the little star shape the yarn makes on the arms at the very start.

Isn't the star shaped cop at the base of the spindle cute?

Overall I find I spin on the Turkish spindle slightly slower than on some other of my spindles because I’m not as fast winding the cop on the Turkish as I am on my top whorls. And yet, I still use it a lot, because it’s such a joy to spin with. I thoroughly enjoy my teeny tiny Turkish: it’s my lightest and smallest spindle, so a favorite to carry around, and I just love being able to take the cop out, instantly freeing the spindle.

Spindle bonanza

Just a few pictures of spindles I made last week.


Resin spindles

Since there were a few drilling mishaps – as in, huh I wonder why this isn’t drilling straight… and 3 whorls later… oh maybe the drill is not on the right setting, ah that’s the unscrewing one… that would explain the wonky holes – a few other whorls will be recast at a later date.

In the meantime I’ve added those to the spindle gallery.

The spindle tales: Top whorl

Top whorl drop spindle (Jarod)

This type of spindle belongs to the drop spindle category. The whorl is basically a weight, used to stabilise the spindle and give it more momentum. Top whorl spindles, sometimes also called high whorl, are given that name because the weight is on the upper part of the shaft, and the cop is wound underneath the whorl.

The placement of the whorl affects weight distribution on the spindle, and therefore results in different spinning properties. On a top whorl spindle, the centre of gravity is placed near the top, making it slightly more prone to wobble than a spindle in which the centre of gravity is lower on the shaft. However, the weight of the spindle is going to be further affected by the cop as it grows and gains in weight, changing the centre of gravity on the spindle.

Top whorl drop spindles are often the entry point into spindle spinning, partly because they make it easier to use the ‘park and draft’ method. In ‘park and draft’ the spindle is flicked into motion, twist is stored into the leader, the spindle is then ‘parked’ between the knees or under the arm, while more fibers are drafted. The twist is then released into that new section. Because the top whorl spindles have the long part of the shaft under the whorl, they are very easy to tuck between your knees or under your arm. They are also very easy to make as show the examples of the CD spindle, or that of the toy wheel spindle.

CD Spindle, courtesy of Historic Crafts

I love my top whorl spindles, especially since they make it so easy to navajo ply-on-the-fly, as Rosemary so brilliantly demonstrates in her video.  Her previous version of the video showed how to get started on this technique. If you’ve not tried it before, give it a go it’s such a great way to navajo ply on a spindle.

How about you? where does your preference lie? High or Low whorl? or maybe a middle whorl? That’s one I haven’t tried yet.

Sneak Peek

I’m making spindles for a spinning demo at a charity event at the weekend. I couldn’t resist posting pictures of some of the resin whorls before drilling into them.

Resin whorls about to be drilled

I’ve now prepped shafts and made hooks. As soon as the spindles are assembled, I’ll post photos in the spindle gallery.

The spindle tales

It might be because I don’t have a spinning wheel, but for me, the humble spindle is one of the greatest tools ever invented. I love its portability, but also the fact that no matter how elaborate the spindle, the principle at its core is simple and has on the whole remained the same over thousands of years. It is basically a stick, which spins so as to twist the fibers together and create yarn, and on which the spun yarn is stored.

There are two main families of spindles, and within these families, many different types. The two main families are the drop spindles, also sometimes called suspended spindles, because they spin hanging off the end of the yarn being spun, and the supported spindles which spin resting on a surface, without putting any weight on the yarn, making it easier to spin short staple fibers and thinner yarns.

Different types of spindles

As soon as I picked up my first spindle I became fascinated by the way it worked. And as soon as I realised there were other types of spindles (I started with a top whorl drop spindle) I wanted to try each of them. I have since tried a few, and plan to try as many as I will encounter. So I decided to make a series of posts looking more closely at each type of spindle and their characteristics as I try and tame them.

First off will be the top whorl drop spindle since that’s the one I started with, and I still think it’s the easiest type on which to start spinning, but there again, I’m aware that’s a personal preference.

What about you? Which type of spindle did you start with, and which one is your favourite today?