Wool is one of the easiest fibers to drop spin; the longer fiber length means it won’t break as easily when pulling fiber down for the spindle to twist. To spin wool, you will hold the spindle with your right hand and the fiber in your left. Your right-hand works the spindle and drafts the fiber out, your left-hand holds the fiber and the spindle.
Drop spinning materials and tools
There are two things you’ll need to get started spinning wool on a drop spindle.
- Drop spindle
- Wool fiber
While this may seem like a simple list there is so much variety in these two things that it can be a challenge to decide what spindle to use and which wool to pick. Below I will share some of my favorites to start out with.
There are two main types of drop spindle. The top whorl and the bottom whorl.
A top whorl spindle, also called a high whorl spindle, is one where the round part of the spindle with the hook is at the top of the spindle shaft. It is held with the whorl above the shaft.
A bottom whorl spindle also called a low whorl spindle, is one where the round part is located at the bottom of the spindle shaft. The spindle is held with the whorl below the shaft. The wrapping process for winding up spun yarn and preparing to spin another section of yarn is more complicated and takes a few more wraps than the top whorl spindle.
I prefer a top whorl spindle when beginning drop spinning as I find it easier to work with and less trouble to set up and learn.
Try out both if you get the chance before diving in and buying a spindle or make your own.
There are many different breeds of wool all of which have different characteristics and properties.
I suggest starting out with one of the following wools when starting on a drop spindle. These wools are more coarse and have long fibers which will make it easier to learn the spinning process without having to worry about the short fibers slipping and the spindle falling.
Some suggestions to start drop spinning with:
- Alpaca- This is a softer, finer fiber. Look for one with long fibers.
After some success, you can move on to finer and softer wools and other fibers.
Some suggestions to try:
- Bluefaced Leicester
- Baby camel
Using a drop spindle requires that you manage several different fuctions practically at the same time. You will be turning the spindle so that it twist the yarn, drafting the fiber so that there is something for the spindle to spin, while making sure each draft of fiber is relatively the same amount and density every time.
This can be a lot to handle at first so going through each aspect of the process one at a time will help you to learn the processes individually before you try doing all of them at once.
At the end of this post I have a video showing the practice techniques described here as well as how to combine them to spin your first yarn. You will also find tutorials on how to make your own drop spindles included in the description of that video on Youtube.
Learning the drop spinning process
The following instructions will be for a top-whorl drop spindle.
Setting up the drop spindle
- Using a twenty-four-inch piece of yarn or twine, tie a loop around the shaft of the drop spindle right at the base of the whorl.
- Wrap the yarn around the spindle two or three times.
- Bring the yarn up the side of the whorl. If your drop spindle has indentations around the edge of the whorl set the yarn in one of the indentations. If not just bring it up the side.
- Wrap the yarn twice around the hook at the center of the whorl.
How to spin the drop spindle
Practice spinning using the yarn you set up in the previous steps.
- Hold the drop spindle in your dominant hand. Hold the remaining yarn coming off of the whorl hook in your other hand.
- Hold the yarn five inches or so from the hook allowing the remaining yarn to lay over your hand out of the way.
- Now using your left hand gripping the yarn, release the spindle shaft with your dominant hand and give the spindle a twist. You will almost be snapping your fingers only with a spindle between them. Use your pointer and middle finger and your thumb to gently grasp the spindle and give it a twist.
- Hold the yarn up with your left hand and allow the spindle to spin until it begins to slow. Give the spindle another spin with your right hand.
Winding the spun yarn
When spinning you create a length of yarn that comes from your hand holding the fiber down to the hook on the whorl of the spindle. Once this reaches a length that is hard to manage or the spindle reaches the floor you will want to wind this up on the spindle shaft. Practice with the yarn you set up in earlier steps to learn how to do this.
- Hold the end of the yarn, the hand that would be holding the fiber, out in front of you with the other hand holding the spindle so that the spun yarn is held between the two hands.
- Untwist the yarn from around the hook maintaining some tension on the yarn so that it doesn’t twist up on itself.
- Wind up the yarn around the base of the whorl until you have enough length to go up the side of the whorl, loop around the hook twice and have two or three inches hanging from the hook to your fiber hand.
That is the fiber winding process. As you spin yarn you do this at intervals to wind up what you’ve spun and continue spinning another length of fiber.
How to draft fiber evenly
Fiber drafting while spinning a drop spindle can be challenging if you’ve never done it. So to eliminate the diffuculty and to get a feel for the process I’ll show you how to do this without the drop spindle.
- Hold a piece of roving with your non-dominant hand.
- With your dominant hand gently grasp a pinch of fibers and gently draw it out so that you have a tuft of fiber coming from the end of the roving, try to keep the tuft attached to the end of the roving, don’t pull it out of the roving.
- Again gently grasp the base of this tuft that is still attached to the roving and pull it out further grasping new fibers to continue the length of the tuft.
- Keep doing this until you have ten to twelve inches of fiber pulled from the roving.
How to draft fiber and maintain the spin
Now it’s time to combine the spinning of the drop spindle, the drafting of the fiber and the winding of the spun yarn into a smooth process. This may take some patience and it may involve a lot of dropping the spindle and having to reattach the fiber to the yarn. Breathe, relax and embrace the journey of learning this technique. The outcome is rewarding when you start to see yarn you spun begin to accumulate on the spindle.
- Start out by setting up your drop spindle with another length of yarn. This can be the same piece you used to practice on or a fresh piece. Tie a loop and put the loop over the spindle shaft. Wind it on a few times and then bring it up the side of the whorl and twist around the hook twice.
- Tie another small loop into the end of the yarn so that the loop comes up an inch or two above the hook.
- Grasp the wool fiber you are going to spin with your non-dominant hand. Creating a small tuft of fiber like we did in the practice above thread the tuft of fiber through the loop in the yarn. Draft enough of a tuft so that it will thread through the loop and loop back up to the fiber.
- Pinch the loop of fiber in place about two inches above the yarn loop. Give the spindle a spin to twist the fiber loop together so that it holds.
- Now as the spindle slows down draft another tuft of fiber down to the spindle. To keep the yarn from spinning up and twisting into the fiber too far pinch the base of the fiber, and the piece you’ve drafted to spin, so that you are holding a point for the twist to stop.
- Each draft of fiber will only need a second or two of twist. So you will be balancing a rhythm of spinning the spindle, drafting, pinching the fiber, and doing this over again until you have a spun length that reaches the floor.
- Wind up the spun yarn as directed in the winding section above. Leave enough yarn so that there are two or three inches above the hook.
- Continue the spinning process until you have a full spindle. At this point, you will wind it off of the spindle to either ply with another batch of spun yarn or to knit or weave as a single-ply yarn.