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How To Spin On A Spinning Wheel for Absolute Beginners

So you just got a spinning wheel! How excited are you right now? Let’s get you spinning and learn how to spin on a spinning wheel for absolute beginners!

I know you probably want to dive right in and start spinning up that lovely fluffy fiber that will become your first yarn, but if you follow these simple steps, you will avoid frustration and have a better idea of how to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. Stick with me and soon you will be spinning amazing yarn!

Have your wheel assembled and ready to spin.

To get started, your wheel should  be assembled with all the necessary bits, bobs, and drive band in place. The type of wheel you have doesn’t matter. These steps will work for any treadle wheel with a flyer regardless of it being double drive, single drive, double treadle, or single treadle. The basics of spinning are the same. 

Treadling

The first thing we are going to do is practice treadling.

You may have a single treadle or a double treadle wheel. Either way, you will need to get comfortable with the treadling. 

You want to practice treadling smoothly.

with the drive wheel (the big wheel) maintaining a constant speed in one direction. You don’t have to go fast either! In fact, slower is better until you have a good handle on your spinning which will take time and practice. If you practice going just fast enough to keep your wheel turning, you will avoid future problems of over twisting your yarn.

Z Twist or S Twist?

Which direction should you turn your wheel? Great question! In general, you will spin with your drive wheel turning in a clockwise direction for all your singles. This is called ‘Z’ twist. You will spin in a counter clockwise direction, also called ‘S’ twist for plying your yarn. 

Practice controlling your wheel in both directions. Get used to starting and stopping. Go fast and then go slow. Get to know your wheel until you are able to treadle at a constant speed in the same direction without thinking about it. Be able to have a conversation, look out the window, and pay attention to the things around you. When you can do this, and not loose control of your treadling speed and direction, you are ready for the next step.

Next, we will practice putting yarn onto the bobbin. We aren’t ready to draft fiber just yet though. Practice with a loop of scrap yarn. I like to use a length of my arm span and then double that over. That should be enough. 

Attach this loop to your bobbin and draw the end of it out through the wheel’s orifice. You are now ready to adjust your wheel’s tension. 

Adjusting Tension

I have videos with very detailed  explanations of spinning wheel tension and troubleshooting. Check those out here:

We are going to go over the basics of wheel tension right now. First you need to know how to tighten and loosen the tension on your wheel. 

Double Drive

The tension control for a double drive wheel will usually be a knob that you can turn to move the flyer assembly away from or closer to your drive wheel. Moving away increases the tension on your double drive band and causes stronger pull on your yarn. Moving closer to the drive wheel decreases the tension on your double drive band and decreases the pull on your yarn. 

For a detailed tutorial about Double Drive, watch this video!

Single Drive

Single drive may have a knob, screw, or some other kind of adjustment lever for this system. To adjust the tension on a single drive system you will be increasing or decreasing a break band or strap located over your bobbin (bobbin lead or Scotch tension) or located over your flyer (flyer led or Irish tension). Increasing the tension on a single drive system means tightening your tension band and causing more friction over the bobbin or flyer. Decreasing the tension means reducing the tension on your bobbin or flyer.

Good Tension is a Balance

What you want to happen while you treadle is for the yarn to draw in or take up onto the bobbin as you feed it to the wheel. However a balance is required here. You are Goldilocks and you don’t want your wheel’s tension to be too strong or too loose.

This exchange should be gentle and the wheel should never rip the yarn from your hands or make you feel like you need a death grip on it to keep it out of the wheel. If it does, your tension is too strong, loosen your wheel’s tension. 

On the other hand, you do need to have some tension between you and the wheel for spinning to work, so if you loosen your grip on the yarn, but the wheel doesn’t take up the yarn, you will need to increase or tighten your tension system. 

Balanced tension means you should be able to feed your yarn onto the wheel when you move it toward the wheel, and you should be able to pull it back out of the wheel without too much resistance.

How should you learn your wheel’s tension?

Practice finding your balance with your wheel. Increase your tension until it is too tight so you know what that feels like. Decrease your tension until it is too loose so you know what that feels like too. Then play with it until you can find the delicate spot in the middle that is just right. You will have to adjust the tension when you spin so it is very important to get aquatinted with this adjustment on your wheel.

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Practicing with a Loop of Yarn

Once you have found that perfect tension balance for your wheel, you are ready to practice spinning with your loop of yarn.

Relax, start to treadle, and let the loop of yarn feed onto the bobbin. When you have run out of yarn to put onto the bobbin, pull it back out and do it again. Continue doing this with your loop until you are very comfortable with your feet and your hands, and remember to practice going in both directions.

Using multi colored yarn will help you see the twist.

Controlling Twist

Next we are going to practice controlling the twist with your hands as you “spin” your yarn.

To do this pull the entire yarn loop off the bobbin. Remove any twist out of it so that you can hold it loosely with both hands. Manny spinners like to keep their dominant hand closer to the wheel, and hold their fiber supply with their non dominant hand. Whichever way is the most comfortable for you is best. Try practicing both ways to see what you like. Watch out for death grip though! You want to keep your hands fairly relaxed. If you feel like you have to hold on tightly, you might need to reduce your tension. 

With the hand closest to the spinning wheel, pinch the loop of yarn with your index finger and thumb. This hand is not going to let any twist get past it. Start treadling slowly, and watch as the twist builds up in the front of the loop. Slide the pinching fingers backward to let the twist travel further up your yarn loop. As you do this, let the tension of the spinning wheel draw the twisted section of your loop onto the bobbin.

Practice guiding the twist along the length of your practice loop. Repeat the process in the other direction. Try switching your hands. See what feels comfortable. Take your time and get to know your wheel.

Drafting Yarn

There are many different types of fibers and ways to prepare those fibers for spinning. If you are looking for some fiber to start with, I recommend something that is already prepared for spinning. Avoid raw fleece or locks for now. Look for well blended batts, roving, or top to begin with. Rolags could work, but I like to use rolags for spinning with a long draw and I would consider that a bit more advanced to start with.

Worsted style or short forward draw is great drafting technique to begin with.

Make a leader

You will need to get ready for spinning by making a leader. This is another loop of yarn, but this time a shorter one. Wind all of the leader onto the bobbin until you have the last part of the loop just in front of you.

Attaching your fiber

Whatever fiber you have ready to use for your first spin, you should be able to gently pull it apart until it is wispy. This is called drafting. Tuck a wisp of the fiber into the loop of your leader.

Pinch the fiber with your pinchy fingers so the twist stays between your drafting hand and the wheel.

Start to treadle

Remember you can stop treadling any time you need to. If you get nervous or frustrated and tend to treadle faster, you will only make your problem worse. It is ok to stop treadling if you need to.

As you build twist, you will need to feed the wheel more fiber. Pull some fibers out of your fiber supply (held with your fiber supply hand). Slide your pinch back as you let the twist travel up your new yarn. 

You are spinning yarn! Hurray!

Repeat until you run out of fiber!

Now you will repeat this motion of pinch, draft, and slide until your bobbin is full or you run out of fiber to spin. Don’t forget to change hooks, pegs or slide to a different position so your bobbin fills up evenly. As you practice it will feel more natural to you. Don’t worry too much about the lumps and bumps when you are getting started. Just get used to your hands, feet, and your spinning wheel all working together relaxed and comfortable.

To learn more about spinning, I encourage you to watch some of the tutorial videos I have on my website by clicking HERE

If you are looking for a good spinning fiber to get started with, I highly recommend this Blue Faced Leicester Roving from Paradise Fibers (affiliate). It comes in several natural colors, is easy to draft,

Happy spinning fiber friend!

*Some links in this post are affiliate links. If a purchase is made using the link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

10 thoughts on “How To Spin On A Spinning Wheel for Absolute Beginners

  1. Deb Murdoch

    Thanks for the posts and videos. I’m spinning for the first time in 30 years and hadn’t done a lot then. So much to learn! I’m having a lot of trouble adjusting the tension on my Ashford. If it’s loose enough to pull the yarn back it’s not tight enough to pull the twisted yarn onto the spool. Any tips? I keep doing tiny increments in the tension. I watched your video on tensioning.
    BTW we have 7 alpacas and I have 25 fleeced to spin, I’ll be spinning for a while. Shearing again in October.

    1. JillianEve

      Hi Deb! That is awesome that you watched the video, it’s a great place to start. I’m assuming you have a Scotch tension (flier led) set up, but if it is double drive, let me know because the adjustments will be a little different. I also have two Ashford wheels so here are a few quirks I’ve discovered about them that might help you out. Sometimes, I need to increase the drive band tension. If it is too loose, increasing the tension brake over the bobbin will slow the whole system and that won’t give you any uptake, just make it harder to treadle. If your treadling becomes difficult, you’ve tightened the drive band too much. Another thing that really helps with the Scotch tension is to have a good spring on the break band, opposite the tension knob. This makes the take up much smoother. My wheels also prefer a fishing line type of break band. If you have thicker or stickier material it can make the subtle adjustments more difficult to control. I hope that gives you a place to start. Ashford does have a maintenance kit with new springs and a tension band in it, but those are also fairly easy materials to find around the house or at a hardware store. I hope you get it figured out soon, you sure do have a lot of alpaca to spin! Let me know how it goes!

  2. Deborah Murdoch

    Thanks, this is helpful. I have a Scotch tension but the spring is missing so will fix that. Treadling gets difficult when the yarn is spinning so will try the other adjustments as well.

  3. Gail Thomas

    I purchased an antique CPW and am having difficulty getting the bobbin to spin separate fromthe flyer. I have tried changing the amount of tension I have on the double drive band with no luck. I have cleaned the inside of the bobbin but wonder if I should try using a large pipe cleaner or oil. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. JillianEve

      Mine was fairly sticky when I got it too. I think it was gunky with old oil. I cleaned it out with a soft rag, rubbing alcohol and some patience. It did the trick for me. I think a pipe cleaner is a great idea to get inside the bobbin too!

  4. Best Spinning Fibers For Beginners – Jillian Eve

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  5. Kurt C. Siegel

    Hi, Jillian.

    So what is your opinion – release tension on the drive band when not spinning, or leave it on? I was always taught to release a poly band, and leave a cotton (double drive) band alone, but others have said the opposite, or to just leave them all on, or take them all off (which on a DD Saxony wheel usually causes the Mother-of-All to flip forward, I’ve found, and sometimes dump the flyer out of the maidens…)

    1. JillianEve

      Hi! This is a great question. I think testing your own equipment is always a good idea because what may work for one set up, climate (humid vs. dry air), material might be different for someone else. For me, I find that if I leave my cotton bands under tension initially after I tie them on, they get their break in time and I do less adjusting while I spin. If I leave them tight after that initial stretch period, then they slowly stretch beyond what my wheel can tension and then I have to tie a new one back on sooner. The poly bands are different. They have stretch in them and don’t seem to be affected much if they are left under tension. Also, taking the tension off just means it isn’t at the tightest level required for spinning. You can have it relaxed a little bit without being so floppy it falls off. I hope that helps! Happy spinning!

  6. Samuel

    I’m researching fanatically trying to find information on spinning thread for sewing rather than yarn for weaving. But I can’t locate anything. Everything keeps coming back to yarn. Is there a trick, tip, or some info that I am missing?

    1. JillianEve

      I’m going to be working on a project for sewing thread. I’m running into the same thing, everything is for weaving, knitting, crochet, etc… I’m currently in the research phase so stay tuned because there will be information coming in the next few months.

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