Drop Spindle Spinning Made Easy

If you want to make handspun yarn, you don’t have to use a spinning wheel. Drop spindle spinning is easy to learn, portable and less expensive when you’re starting out.

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by Flickr/stichdiva

Whether you are an experienced crafter chasing the perfect yarn or a beginner looking for an outlet for your creative talents, The Complete Guide to Spinning Yarn (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) by Brenda Gibson will inspire you to get spinning. Beginners can learn basic techniques, from preparing and dyeing fiber to drop spindle spinning and wheel spinning, while more advanced spinners can explore recipes for a range of textured and colorful yarns.

One of the simplest ways of making a quantity of yarn is to use a drop spindle. Per hour of spinning it may be a slower process than using a wheel, but the portability of a drop spindle means you can spin in spare moments and this may increase your productivity.

The drop spindle provides the means of adding the essential twist into the fiber, keeping it under light tension while doing so, and storing the spun yarn. The techniques of woolen or worsted spinning apply equally to spinning using either a hand spindle or a spinning wheel. To start, you will need a small supply of prepared fiber, and a spindle with a leader yarn attached. I recommend you use a doubled leader with a loop in the end. In the following sequences, green arrows show spinning direction and red arrows show hand direction.

Spinning with a Bottom-Whorl Drop Spindle

The principle of spinning with a drop spindle is to set it in motion to add twist, allow its weight to provide the necessary tension to keep the newly spun yarn under control, and to use its shaft to store the yarn.

Note for beginners: As your spinning progresses, a drop spindle gets appreciably heavier, which means increased tension on your spinning. So you may need to stop before your drop spindle is absolutely full otherwise the yarn will start to break regularly.

person holding a drop spindle spiraling yarn around it

1. Twirl the top of the shaft clockwise while holding the leader at an angle of about 90 degrees, spiraling the leader up the shaft toward the top.

person securing yarn to the top of a drop spindle

2. Secure the leader to the top of the spindle with a half hitch (if it has a notch) or by wrapping around the hook if it has one. Leave about 6in (15cm) of the leader yarn free.

person drawing out fibers from unspun yarn to loop in to leader yarn

3. Draw out a few fibers, pass them through the loop in the leader, double the end over, and pinch between forefinger and thumb of the left hand.

person spinning yarn on a drop spindle

4. Wrap the unspun fiber loosely round the wrist to keep it out of the way as you spin. Still holding the join together with the left hand, use the right hand to start the spindle rotating clockwise for a Z-twist yarn.

person spinning on a drop spindle with fiber wrapped around their wrist

5. Now use the right hand to hold the join and draft more fibers by gently pulling back with the left hand. Slide the right hand along the drafted fibers; the twist will follow behind your fingers to create spun yarn.

person spinning on a drop spindle with fiber wrapped around their wrist

6. Repeat Step 5 as long as the spindle is still turning and hasn’t yet reached the floor.

person flicking stopped drop spindle

7. As the spindle slows to a stop, (keep an eye on it or it will start to turn backward and untwist your spun yarn), give it another flick to maintain clockwise rotation.

person holding fresh spun yarn under tension

8. When the spindle is about to touch the floor, keep the newly spun yarn under some tension while you undo the half hitch or unwrap from the hook.

person wrapping yarn around the base of a drop spindle

9. Holding the spun yarn at about 90 degrees to the shaft of the spindle, rotate the spindle clockwise, storing the yarn until about 6in (15cm) remains. This yarn store is known as a “cop.” Secure it to the spindle again. Repeat the process.

fresh spun yarn twisted in snarls

Notice how the freshly twisted yarn snarls when not held under tension. This is why it’s important to maintain the tension when winding onto the shaft of the spindle and when plying.

person drafting fibers with a drop spindle

10. Set the spindle in clockwise motion again and begin to draft.

person drafting fibers with a drop spindle

11. Continue to draft more fibers by pulling back with the left hand and sliding the right hand along the fibers toward the left hand.

person drafting fibers with a drop spindle

12. Draft more fiber while the spindle continues to rotate.

person drafting fibers with a drop spindle

13. Concentrate mainly on the drafting and guiding the twist into the yarn, but keep an eye on the spindle ensuring it doesn’t stop and start to reverse.

Spinning with a Top-Whorl Drop Spindle

The principle of a top-whorl spindle is the same as a bottom-whorl spindle, but the design is different since top-whorl spindles have a hook to secure the yarn.

person creating a leader on a top-whorl drop spindle

1. You can start by creating your own leader by catching a few fibers in the hook and starting to spin. When you have enough, attach the leader to the shaft, twirling the bottom of the shaft clockwise while holding the leader at an angle of about 90 degrees, as for a bottom-whorl spindle. Alternatively, attach a conventional leader. Wrap fairly close to the whorl and then pass around the hook above the whorl, catching the leader into a groove in the whorl if there is one.

person drafting fibers on a top-whorl drop spindle

2. Set the spindle in motion with a clockwise twist and start to draft. Keep the unspun supply of fiber out of the way by wrapping it loosely around your wrist and follow the method described in “Spinning with a Bottom-Whorl Spindle.”

person rolling spindle along their thigh

3. Rotate the spindle with your fingers or, better still, roll the spindle along your thigh. Roll up the outside of the right thigh or down the outside of the left thigh for a Z- (clockwise) spin.

Plying from Spindles

You can use a spindle to ply just as you can spin. (Ply in the opposite direction, of course.) If you have at least three spindles, you can leave the singles yarn on two spindles and ply onto a third. Spindles can be mounted in a special rack or you can improvise by mounting them in a shoebox.

two spindles in a cardboard box

Often, though, you may not have spare spindles, so the spun singles need to be removed in order to free up the spindle for more spinning or for plying, and there are many options for how to do this. With a top-whorl spindle, you can normally just slide the cop of yarn off the spindle intact. Another good option is to wind a center-pull ball and ply from both ends. Or simply wind each singles yarn into a firmly wound conventional ball and put each into a container so that they do not tangle on each other but run freely. A small pot placed upside down with the yarn feeding through a smooth hole is ideal.

More from The Complete Guide to Spinning Yarn:

Six Steps to Hand Carding Wool
How to Use a Drum Carder in Three Steps

book cover with coiled yarn on it

From The Complete Guide to Spinning Yarn: Techniques, Projects and Recipes ©2012 by Brenda Gibson. Reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press. All rights reserved.