Before I started spinning on my first spinning wheel, I learned how to spin on a drop spindle. With this guide, I will explain drop spindle spinning for complete beginners. You will learn everything you need to know from attaching the fiber, to finishing your yarn!
This post is the first part of a spindle spinning series. You can also watch this video demonstrating the whole process from start to finish, or keep reading to see each step explained.
What is a Drop Spindle?
Spindles are simple tools that have been used throughout cultures around the world as far back as pre-recorded history! Covering all the different types of spindles and techniques could fill many books, so today we’re going to talk about the top whorl drop spindle.
Top whorl drop spindles come in many different styles and colors. They are made of a variety of materials from various woods, acrylic, printed plastic, to stone and other materials. The common things that you will find on all top whorl drop spindles are a hook or notch, a whorl (disc) at the top of the shaft, and the majority of the shaft sticking out below the whorl.
Tip: If the majority of the shaft is above the whorl, then you are looking at a bottom whorl drop spindle.
When you’re considering what kind of spindle to start out with keep in mind that in general larger spindles are used for thicker, bulkier yarn, and smaller, lighter spindles are used for thinner yarn.
The Woolery has a great selection of beautiful drop spindles. Click here to browse their spindles! (Affiliate)
Now that you have a spindle to get started with, let’s get spinning!
Best Fiber for Beginners
When I got started spinning, the first fiber I spun was a batt of wool. I have spun a lot of different fibers since then. I know that some people get started with spinning because they have their own alpacas [how to spin alpacas link] or other sources of fiber, but I will still recommend starting with a nicely prepared wool. It is simple, ready to go, and very forgiving. You can shop for spinning wool here (affiliate).
Start Spinning With a Leader
It can be a little tricky to get the fiber going onto the spindle so that’s why we will start with a leader. Make a leader by taking a length of yarn, tie it into a loop, and then tie it to the spindle
shaft below the whorl. Bring the leader up through the hook and you are ready to spin!
Tip: By creating a leader with a loop, instead of tying one end of the yarn to the shaft, you eliminate any possibility of unspinning your leader when you get started. The loop also makes a convenient way to attach your fiber.
Attach Your Fiber
Next, it is time to spin some fiber! I recommend starting with wool roving or top, but batts can work well too. Just take a piece of the fiber, you don’t need to hold the whole pile at once. Tuck the wispy end of your fiber into the loop of the leader and fold the end back up along the spinning fiber. Now it is secure and you are ready to start drop spindle spinning!
Add a Twist
There are different ways to add twist to a spindle. Experiment and figure out what works best for you and your spindle. If you have a longer shaft, like a top whorl drop spindle, you can try this method. Roll the shaft along your leg to get it spinning. Notice which way the spindle is spinning and make sure you spin it in the same direction each time you add twist. Most of the time, you will want to spin your whorl in a clockwise direction (Z twist) and ply your yarn in a counter-clockwise direction (S twist).
Park the Drop Spindle
Now that you have the twist built up in the leader, and before the drop spindle starts to spin the other way, grab the spindle and hold on to it. This is called the “park and draft” method. You will hold the spindle with your knees, or tucked under your leg so that it does not untwist.
The twist is going to travel up the fiber. This is the essence of how spinning works!
Draft the Fiber
Hold back the twist with one hand by pinching the fiber. Then gently pull the fiber back from the pinch point. Watch out, don’t pull it out too far! Pull it out just enough to get the thickness you want for your yarn. Then, slide your pinched fingers gently back over the wispy part of the fiber. This will let the twist travel up your yarn and trap all those wispy strands into the yarn.
Tip: If your fiber is difficult to draft it's probably because too much twist has gotten up into the drafting zone, past your pinchy fingers. If the twist has gone too far you can untwist it a little bit with your fingers so that there's no twists in this area past your pinch point. That will make it easier to draft.
Continue to slide your fingers up to let the extra turret twist into the fiber and just keep on going just like that until your twist is distributed evenly through the section. You don’t want the yarn to kink up (too much twist) or to pull apart (not enough twist).
Paradise fibers also has a great selection of fibers for spinning. You can see their selection here. (affiliate)
When you have a length of yarn made, you will wind it onto the spindle. This is called a cop. Wrap the yarn around the shaft of the spindle under the whorl. Leave a few inches of length to start your next section of spinning and bring that up around the hook.
You are ready to add twist, park your spindle, and draft more fiber.
Tip: If your fiber slips around the whorl and unravels when you are spinning, file a small notch on the edge of the whorl to catch your yarn. You can also place a rubber band around the shaft and over the whorl to catch the yarn.
Practice makes Better
As you get better and better with your park and draft spinning, you will you will realize that you don’t need to hold the spindle while you’re drafting. You can keep the spindle spinning in the air and keep drafting. Once you get to that point everything starts to feel very smooth because you have built up the muscle memory in your hands and fingers to keep the spindle spinning.
That’s all there is to it! Make sure to read this post next to learn how you can ply your yarn when you finish drop spindle spinning. Happy spinning!
If you would like to learn more about spindle spinning, I highly recommend the book Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont
*I use affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.