Tag Archives: Russian spindle

Adventures in silk

I’ve now finished spinning my first full batch of tussah silk and I thought I’d share the ups and down of the whole adventure.

First 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 this:

Annia and honey-coloured tussah silk

I set out to spin a 2-ply laceweight, which could then be knitted into a stole. As I was spinning I became more specific: I wanted to try and possibly get one skein out of 100g of fibers (bought at Wingham Wool), and I wanted the whole thing to be spun on my Russian spindle Annia.

If you remember my warnings about silk hankies, you might understand that I was a bit wary of two plying my silk on itself using an Andean bracelet, which is what I have often done with wool. So here I was, too scared of doing an Andean bracelet to ply my silk single on itself, and wanting to free up my spindle for the second batch.

The single was pretty thin, and I imagined would have taken ages to wind off the cop without a ball winder. I therefore decided to slip the cop off my spindle and onto something else to store it. A gentle tug easily dislodged it, and it looked like it would slip off in a tidy fashion. I’ve seen it done with straws before… but didn’t have any in the house, so I tried rolling up a piece of cardboard but that looked too thick for the core of my cop. I eventually opted for a thin dowel.

Bad. Idea. Very. Bad. Idea.

The end of the dowel got caught on the silk, and in the 2 seconds it took me to  withdraw it, the tip of the cop came undone and tangled…

Silk single, all tangled up.

I decided to leave it as it was until I was done spindling the remainder of the fibres.

I spun a second cop, you might remember seeing it in progress before:

One cop of silk complete, the second one well on its way

I have since read of some people using knitting needles to slip the cop on… It could have been a much better choice with the pointed end of Annia. But I still think a drinking straw would have been better.  Once I was done with the second spindleful, I decided to just slip it off the shaft because it seems to be pretty stable if I didn’t up muck up the end by trying to insert something in it.

I usually ply straight from the spindles but this time I decided to make a plying ball so I could deal with any potential problems created by the tangle I had on the first cop. I took it with me to the Friday morning Crafty Coffee group and was delighted I’d done that because it didn’t take long to realise that sliding those two silk cops off the spindle without anything to stabilise their centres had been extremely stupid.

It might come from the way I’d wound the cop, but its extremeties were prone to tangle from the start, and as the cops grew smaller they became more and more difficult to handle, as the silk was grabbing onto itself. We had a six hand operation going for a while in the sofa corner, and I am ever so grateful for Caitriona and Eddie to have helped for a couple of hours. Eventually, we gave up on the centre of the smallest cop. But then Lisa, who loves untangling, had a go. In the end, only a tiny bit got thrown away and I think it is quite an achievement given how delicate it was, how grabby silk is, and how long the whole operation took.

I have to say I really liked using a plying ball. It was fast and easy, although my singles were broken in places, and the silk failed to grasp on itself in the plying, making it a bit more fiddly to make joints. In the end, I plied it into three skeins. Here is the plying in progress,  with two skeins plied and the third one on the go.


I just love the sheen of the finished yarn. It’s not as shiny as other silks I’ve seen but I love the more subtle look. I think it’s due to the drafting method I used on the Russian, long draw, which gave me an ever so slightly hairy yarn. It is also closer to a 3-ply/light fingering weight than to the laceweight I was aiming for originally.

Here is a sneak peak of what the yarn is now becoming… and I’m loving knitting it. The feel of the 100% silk, the drapiness and the satisfaction of having spun it… I sometimes can’t help but smile smugly while I knit it…

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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?