Tag Archives: spindle tales

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?


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.

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.

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?