Learn How to Spin Yarn by Hand

Learn how to make your own yarn with a hand spindle, a tool that’s hardly changed since the Stone Age.

| February/March 2019

 
Photo by Queren King-Orozco

I taught myself to spin when I was about 13 years old, using a spindle I made with a discarded CD and a pencil, and polyester stuffing for the fiber. My yarn was lumpy and bumpy. I learned to knit around the same time, and focused on that for several years, but when my mom gave me a beautiful wooden drop spindle and 8 ounces of sheep’s wool, I took up spinning again. My yarn was still pretty lumpy, and I dropped my spindle so often that my housemates at the time threatened to banish me to the porch until I got the hang of it. A word to the wise: Practice over carpet first. Your spindle — and your household — will thank you.

With about 10 years of experience behind me, I can now spin lace weight yarn while I walk, talk, and read. Spinning is a physical skill that gets easier the more you practice it, so don’t get discouraged if your first results aren’t quite what you want; your hands need time to learn what they’re doing.

Tools of the Trade

Before you spring for a spinning wheel — which can easily cost several hundred dollars — look for a drop spindle (or “suspended spindle”). They’re generally inexpensive (you can find a good-quality spindle for about $10), portable, and sturdy. The most common type of spindle you’ll encounter has a whorl, which is a weighted disk, with a shaft running through the center. The whorl can be at the top or the bottom of the spindle, and many modern spindles have a hook on the top end of the shaft to make anchoring your yarn easier. Some ancient spindles are little more than shaped pieces of wood.




A spindle and some fiber are all you'll need to make yarn. Photo by Queren King-Orozco.

You may also find supported spindles in your search. Their shafts will be sharpened at the bottom, and many come with a spindle bowl. These are useful for spinning extremely fine or short fibers, such as cashmere or cotton, because they balance on their tips so the yarn doesn’t need to support the weight of the spindle.





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