Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spinnin' wheel got to go round.

Or in my case, a drop spindle.

Now, I figure that most of you reading this know what a drop spindle is and what it does, but just in case: a drop spindle is a handy-dandy little tool for spinning fiber into yarn. It predates the spinning wheel by --- well, no one really knows. Thousands of years is probably a reasonable estimate. The spinning wheel is a relatively new piece of technology, considering the grand scheme of human history.

I've been spinning with a drop spindle for at least 15 years or so. I chose to start spinning with the spindle because it was less expensive and more portable. The plan was to eventually get a wheel, but that still hasn't happened, mostly because I don't have a place to put it. And even though a decent wheel isn't outrageously expensive, that money usually has to go to things like car repairs, surprise vet visits, medical bills. . . well, you get the picture. So, over the years, I've gathered a pretty fair collection of spindles.

A drop spindle is basically a stick with a balanced weight on it, called a whorl. The whorl can be at the top or the bottom of the spindle shaft. I've used both and lately I've really come to prefer the top whorl spindle, especially for fine fibers like alpaca, because the weight distribution allows for smoother spinning and less breakage. For heavier fibers, the bottom whorl spindle works just fine. There are even teeny-tiny little spindles for spinning cotton.

The drop spindle also gives me a personal connection to those ancient people who used this tool. (My fellow history geeks will understand this.) Several years ago, NOVA ran a program on the mummies of Urum-Chi -3000 year-old Caucasian mummies in the Chinese desert. Why were they there? Where had they come from? At the time, I had a bad case of bursitis in my knee, but when the archaeologists pulled out several stone spindle whorls, I just about jumped straight up off the sofa, and I was nearly in tears. I was overwhelmed to think that I was helping to carry on a multi-millenia-old tradition, small and insignificant as it may be.

Any spinner will tell you, though, spinning is addictive. It's mesmerizing. The wheel - or the spindle - turns, and yarn appears before your eyes. It would be magical if it weren't so easily explained by physics and science. It's a simple matter of twisting fibers together, and yet, it's so much more than that. I don't really know how to explain it. But here's a photo of my latest project:

This is a mixed fiber batt I bought for a spin-a-long. The first half of the batt is already spun and on the spindle. After I spin the second half, I'll twist the two halves together for a 2-ply yarn. And yes, I'll do that on the drop spindle, too. What I'll do with the yarn once I'm finished is anyone's guess. We'll just have to see where the knitting muse takes me.

Where is your muse taking you these days?

Till next time ----


  1. I am currently spinning just enough 2-ply "thread" on my spindle to sew up a purse I am working on. It's pretty cool to spin just one length at a time! LOL

  2. Oooh. This looks interesting. I hadn't thought about spinning as a companion to my knitting. Are there classes? Do you teach?