Drop Spinning: Advice From a Non-Expert

There’s quite a lot of technical language that you encounter when delving into the world of spinning instructions, and you’ll find yourself in an especially confusing place if you’re specifically looking for advice related to drop spindle spinning. What the f#$! is a drafting triangle and where do I put it? Do short draw and long draw even apply to me?  Why did this all suddenly become a tangled mess? It’s possible to walk AND spin AT THE SAME TIME?!

At least, these are all questions that I had when I began to learn this skill. There’s a reason for all the vocab, because spinning is a pretty technical sport, but it CAN be daunting.

The red yarn on the right is around my 3rd spinning attempt, while the green on the left is my 8th.

The red yarn on the right is around my 3rd spinning attempt, while the green on the left is my 8th.

My post Spin Cycle drew enough comments and curiosity that I felt that I should weigh in with some tips from my personal experience for those of you considering trying it out. Yes, it does start with a short vocab lesson, but I promise not to say things like “short forward draw”  or “grist” at you. This isn’t a tutorial on how to spin your first yarn – just some pointers that have helped me learn to spin better.

Pssst… a good video for absolute beginners can be found here.

A Down to Earth Vocab Lesson

Drop Spindle:  The thing what makes your yarn go. A spindle can be anything that is capable of putting a spin into a length of wool. You could used a danged rock to do it… but that wouldn’t be very efficient. There are lots of different “official” types, but let’s just start with whorl spindles: Top-Whorl and Bottom-Whorl. The “whorl” is the circular weight at, you guessed it, either the bottom or the top of the wooden dowel part. The other really important bit is the little hook which grabs your leading yarn, allowing the twirling of your device to spin the wool into yarn.

Roving Vs. Top: Roving and top are both types of wool that have been processed for spinning. The difference is that top has been prepared so that the fibers all run in the same direction. Roving fibers only go generally in the same direction. The direction of the fibers influence the feel and texture of the yarn spun from them. A more detailed rundown of fiber preparation types can be perused at this post of Craftsy’s Spinning Blog. There’s also batts, pencil roving, rolags, etc… but don’t worry about those for now.

Twist: People refer to twist like it’s some sort of barely tamed animal – and you might begin to agree. It travels, it gets stronger or weaker depending on how you feed it, and occasionally tries to escape or even throw your spindle. Basically the twist is what gives the wool strength and turns it into yarn. You add twist to your yarn by spinning your spindle – it’s the force that runs from the already-spun yarn to the drafted wool and creates the connection between the two.  Imagine the hair on your head. One hair by itself can’t hold up to much pulling.  Now imagine twirling a clump of hair together… and then tugging at it. Ouch! Physics!

Cop: It’s the bundle of already spun yarn that you wind around the straight part of your spindle. I don’t know why we can’t just call it the “yarn bundle” but that’s hobbyists for you. Sometimes you see it wound in a cone, sometimes in a beehive type shape – this is merely a matter of preference. After several times winding into a cone for my cop and having my yarn slide downward and get tangled, I switched to a beehive shape.

Drafting: Thinning out the fiber to an acceptable density to produce the thickness of yarn you desire.Because if you didn’t draft your roving you would have one thick-ass yarn. Remember that higher density = thicker yarn and lower density = thinner yarn.

Park & Draft: The method taught to beginner drop spindlers. Because it’s hard at first to draft your wool out while the spindle is dangling there twirling away, you “park” the spindle by stopping its spinning and holding it still while you draft the fiber out, releasing the already-loaded twist into the newly drafted wool bit by bit. If you didn’t park & draft then you would have to draft out the fiber fast enough to keep up with the twist that is constantly being sent upward toward your wool by the continuously spinning spindle. You can probably see how that might be frustrating.

Drop Spindle spinning

Advice from a Non-Expert: 6 Tips to help you get comfortable with spinning

1. Watch other people do it. Multiple other people –

My first foray into drop spinning was led by a girl in a Youtube video. Youtube is a great resource, especially considering most people don’t live in a neighborhood with a bunch of people who sit around spinning. Unfortunately I had chosen a video of someone who really didn’t explain well what they were doing. Scour around, watch videos and read literature from reputable sources, see how different people approach it. That way when you are learning, you know you have options.

2. Spin in several different positions –

The video I linked to at the start of the article is a really good one – except that doesn’t look anything like how I have been doing it! That’s okay though, because the best way to do it is the one that gives YOU the most satisfying results. Just like with everything else.  I started spinning by using my left hand to lead the twist, and  then switched after I had an in-person lesson and discovered I liked using my right hand to lead much better. Stand up, sit down, hold the yarn horizontal or vertical, park, don’t park… have fun.

3. Go easy –

It really doesn’t take much spin or a really dense chunk of wool to make a yarn. When I first started I was whirling the spindle like a maniac trying to twist thick hunks of fiber into thin and even yarn… it did not work out for me. My chosen video led me to believe that I should roll the spindle vigorously against my thigh and send it out into space like a flying saucer… please don’t do this when you are first learning! Waaaay too much twist led to me having terminally coily yarn that would curl so violently that it would throw the spindle from the leader yarn and across the room. Hilarious, but inefficient. A small flick of your fingers is all it takes to add enough twist to be getting on with. Hyperactive whirling can come later if you like.

4. Spin against the light-

Shine a light behind the fibers you are working with and you may discover a whole secret world of fiber relationships you were not previously aware of – giving you a much better idea about how the twist enters and gathers the drafted wool. This can lead to many good things, like altering your angles to get a smoother yarn, or deciding that you can pull from a larger or smaller section of fiber to reduce overdrafting and breakage or difficult drafting.

5. Spin something multi-colored-

Again, this can completely change your view of how the fibers gather and pull at each other. I recently spun a ball of roving with short, distinct color changes and something surprising (to me) happened… I was seeing the appearence of the next color change before I had moved past the color of the drafted section I had been holding. I was drafting green fiber but orange was appearing on the yarn! Woah. It was because the twist was entering from the middle of the drafted section and was therefore twisting & gathering the middle of the roving faster, drawing down the fibers from further on through the core of the roving. Science is neat.

6. Spin something that isn’t top-

Combed top is smooth and easygoing, all the fibers just lined up neatly and primly. That’s why it’s so good for beginners. But once you’ve tried your hand at a few pretty tops, try something more primitive. I bought 4 oz of a locally produced Tunis wool roving when I was in northern Indiana and spun it recently, vegetable matter and all. The fibers were every-which-way, fluffy, all different thicknesses, and all in all just hard to control… which is why it was such good experience.  I really like a wild’n’wooly look, actually, which is why I’m working on another local wool at the moment.

Icelandic Wool roving - you can see how the yarn I'm spinning here is fuzzier than the green and red handspuns pictured earlier. This is a good example of roving (the Icelandic) versus top (the green and red yarns)

Icelandic Wool roving – you can see how the yarn I’m spinning here is fuzzier than the green and red handspun yarns pictured earlier. 

Where once upon a time a yarn that was thick-and-thin or messy would just be considered a bad spinning job, that kind of yarn is now in high demand as “art yarn” or “novelty yarn.”  So you really can’t lose! Hold your head high and conquer that wool.

My very first handspun ended up being doll hair :)

My very first handspun ended up being doll hair 🙂 Meet Java Gypsy, my amigurumi doll beauty from 2011. Her body is made from recycled cotton/poly sweater yarn dyed with coffee and her clothes are old upholstery samples!

Have drop spinning questions? Leave a comment!

-MF

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Spin Cycle

Ladies, I won’t mince words here. There’s a certain time of the month where I want to do only two things (okay, well, only two fiber related things; sleeping and whining do not count)…

…destroy sweaters and spin yarn.

That’s right, PMS means I can’t be having with this whole “designing patterns” and “dealing with logic and structure” business. My creative energies become nascent and embryonic, existing in a state of pure yarn, only yarn, with little concern for what the yarn will someday become.

If you are both female and creative, I recommend – nay, URGE – you to keep a diary or journal of your creative activity and related moods for a few months at least. You might discover, as I did, that different times of your cycle demand of you different activities if you want to keep your mood and your life balanced. Hell, do this even if your journal doesn’t focus on your creative activity.  Hell.. do this even if you are male.

And so having identified why I would become so unhappy if I tried to work on designing a pattern during a specific time of the month, I can put away my pattern designs without guilt until the moon changes.

And spin.

“Rainbow Dangerous”

Because the twirl of the spindle, and the fiber in my hands, and the blending of the colors soothes the wretched hormonal beast that is trying to claw its way to the surface and make me feel miserable.

I spin on a drop spindle (top-whorl), often referred to as the thing you spin on when you can’t afford/don’t have room for a spinning wheel. But this little device deserves much more credit than just being the cheap, space efficient alternative – it’s design is ancient and it’s an absolute pleasure to work with.

“Gloaming.” I love the deep forest colors of this one.

There’s not nearly as many resources that specifically talk about drop spindling as there are for spinning on a wheel, but a quick search on Google or Pinterest can give you enough information to get you started, including DIY versions of drop spindles – although for a maximum of pleasure and minimum of frustration, I would recommend just buying a good solid wooden spindle. My first one was only $15 from the local fancy shmancy yarn shop, and it included roving as well.

There’s a pretty decent starter video here. I learned from videos at first, but I have to say that my spinning only dramatically improved after getting an in-person lesson (from Natalia Wilson, who helps organize YarnCon in Chicago – check it out if you are in the area!).

About 240 yards of pure, 1-ply hormonal therapy.

About 240 yards of pure, 1-ply hormonal therapy.

If you are interested in learning to spin, be my buddy on Pinterest and check out my Spinning, Dyeing, and Weaving board.

-MF

Stone Cold Charming

Does anyone else here have a Magpie-like tendency to grab shiny objects and stow them away?

Tiny animal charms, small bells from wedding decorations, bits of broken jewelry (sometimes my own, sometimes from things I have found on the ground), smooth rocks… all stacked in old tea caddies and desk organizer trays in my drawers, on my shelves, and who knows where else. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re interesting. Because eventually they would be useful.

And today they were. Warning: I went pic-heavy on this as GTFO. Because nothing is more interesting than pictures of rocks.

Crochet Stone Cover 3

Easy Crocheted Stone Necklace Tutorial

Stone Charm 1

Supplies Needed:

Lace weight yarn or Size 5, 10, or 20 crochet thread

Hook: 3.25, 2.75, or 2.10

Round flattish stone, 1″ to 1 1/2″ diameter

Small charms or beads

Tapestry needle, embroidery needle.

Start with your 3.25 hook and the lace weight yarn – later when you feel more confident in your stone-wrapping skills, you can move on to the tiny hook and thread.

Stone Charm 2

Rnd 1: Starting with a long yarn tail, Ch 6. Sc into the 6th ch from the hook. (Ch 5, sc in the same st) 4 times. Ch 2, dc in the same st. Leave tail hanging out from the center of the motif on the Right Side. (as show below in the Rnd 2 photo)

Crochet Stone 3

Rnd 2: (Ch 6, sc in the next ch-5 space) 5 times. Ch 3, treble in the top of the dc of the next ch-space.

Crochet Stone 4

At this point you should test the fit of your stone. The loops should reach about one third to one half of the way up the stone unstretched with the “bottom” or fattest end resting in the center of the “flower” motif. Since every stone is different and so is every crocheter, you may have to adjust your pattern to fit the stone better. Add a repeat of Round 2 or subtract it altogether to make the net smaller or larger. Since it’s a very small, quick motif, experimenting doesn’t take too long, but it does take some patience. Once you are satisfied, take your stone back out and continue with the next round.

Rnd 3: Ch 4 – counts as dc + 1. (Dc in the top of the next ch-space, ch 1) 5 times.

Crochet Stone 5

Before joining the end of this round, take your stone and slip it into the net, bottom centered against the middle of the motif. Join Rnd 3 to the 3rd ch of beginning ch-4 with a slip stitch, making sure to tighten securely. The net of the motif should be stretched almost to the top of the stone. Tug it into place, keeping the center of the motif aligned with the bottom.

Crochet Stone 6

Rnd 4: Ch 1. (Single crochet in the next ch-1 space) 6 times. Join with a slip stitch to the first sc of the round.

Crochet Stone 7

You should have a ring of 6 sc at the very top of your stone. Skip 2 stitches. Insert your hook in the next stitch, work a sc. *** In the bar at the side of the single crochet stitch (the outside loop, at the base) insert your hook and draw up loop. Yo and draw through two loops on the hook – 1 double chain stitch made. For a photo-tutorial on the Double Chain stitch, click here.

***If you prefer to work regular chain stitches for the cord, skip the rest of the paragraph. I prefer double chain as it is sturdier, prettier, and more elastic.

Crochet Stone 8

Double chain 120 – 150 stitches (depending on how long you want your cord to be – just make sure it will fit over your head) and join back at the base stitch without twisting. This forms your cord. Cut yarn.

Crochet Stone 9

Move to the base of your stone, where you left the long beginning tail hanging. Thread your embroidery needle or tapestry needle with this tail and sew on your charm or beads.

 

Weave in your tails with a tapestry or embroidery needle and you’re finished! This is a beautiful way to keepsake stones from your travels or from places special to you.
I made my next one with a similar weight yarn but smaller hook, and a beach stone…

Crochet Stones Cover 2
And after that I felt confident enough to move on to using Lizbeth size 20 crochet and tatting thread and the dreaded 2.10 hook.

Be careful… these might become addictive.

 

Crochet Stone 15

-MF

Increases and Decreases in Tunisian Simple Stitch

Ahh, Tunisian. It’s like the bastard child of knitting and crochet. Like knochet… critting … I guess we’ll stick with Tunisian.

Tunisian simple stitch combines all the solidity of crochet with the flat smooth feel of knitted fabric while creating a dual texture: woven-looking on one side and nubby (somewhat garter-stitch-esque) on the other. If you have never tried Tunisian crochet I highly recommend experimenting with it. If you need a good guide to learning it, check out this tutorial from the Crochet Spot.

The best crochet washcloth I ever made was with Tunisian Simple Stitch and a vintage terrycloth boucle yarn. I will never again crochet a washcloth that is not Tunisian stitch. That’s how good this thing is.

You don’t even need to run out and buy a special Tunisian hook, at least not for experimentingI made that washcloth using a regular crochet hook with a wine cork jammed on the end. After all, the cork already had a hole from the corkscrew.  What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Tunisian Increase

I had some trouble locating a quick photo guide to increasing and decreasing in Tunisian simple stitch the other day, so I jumped to provide. The extended instructions are below. Hope it inspires you!

Tunisian Increase 1

Both increases and decreases are made on the forward pass of Tunisian simple stitch.

Tunisian Increase 2Increases are placed between two vertical bars (shown highlighted in green) on the forward pass. Insert the hook into the gap (shown circled) wherever you wish to place the increase.

Tunisian Increase 3

After inserting the hook through the gap as shown, draw up a loop to keep on the hook as you would if you were working one of the vertical bars.

Tunisian Increase 4

Continue to work the row as normal (make sure you don’t miss the vertical bar right after the increase!)

Tunisian Increase 5Shown above is the forward pass, with the increase stitch highlighted in blue. Once you finish the forward pass, work the return pass as normal.

Tunisian Increase 6Shown above is the swatch with the increase stitch highlighted in blue.

Tunisian Decrease

Tunisian Decrease 1

Decreases are placed by combining two vertical bars on the forward pass.

Tunisian Decrease 2

Insert the hook under two vertical bars at once.

Tunisian Decrease 3Yarn over and draw the loop through both bars. Continue the forward pass as usual.

Tunisian Decrease 4Shown above is the swatch with the decreased stitch highlighted in green.

You can also make a decrease in Tunisian simple stitch by merely skipping one vertical bar, but I don’t prefer this method. Enjoy knitchet croshit … uh, stitching.

-MF

Picture Dump Disguised as Content

Again with the documenting old stuff. This time it’s crocheted T-shirt rugs, in three different flavors…

MERRY PRANKSTER

CATHEDRAL

CANDY SHOP

I made all of these small-ish circular-ish accent rugs by crocheting around strips of upcycled cotton t-shirt. The method of using worsted weight yarn to crochet around the t-shirt is a lot more effective, time saving, and economic than just trying to crochet the t-shirt yarn itself. I have tried to crochet t-shirt yarn. My wrist and arm end up screaming and the product is bulky and unwieldy, plus you need like a zillion t-shirts to finish one decent sized rug.

This way is flatter, prettier, and doesn’t give me carpal tunnel (much).

-MF

The Sweet and the Sass

 

Recycled Sweater Yarn shawl 2

Yep, used to be a boring, unwanted, lonely, sad white sweater. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that sweaters aren’t good enough. Some of my best friends are sweaters. But I could see this sweater was suffering, yearning for a transformation, wanting desperately to better itself.

So I pulled out the lovely yarn (a cotton / wool / synthetic blend) and dyed it in a self-striping colorway, which I have named “Silk and Cherrywood” because the soft, delicate tones remind me of a fancy, old-timey boudoir.

Thinking about how long I spent on this gives me the vapors.

Givin’ me the vapors!

I lightly freestyled Make My Day Creative’s “Atlantic Lace Shawl” pattern, a wonderful free pattern that I featured in my Spring Scarves Pattern Gallery.

The color change lengths came out almost perfectly for this particular pattern, not too patchy as I feared (I don’t usually like that “camo” look in variegated yarns). I also happened to already have beads that matched! Joy!

SCW3

 

 

-MF

Pattern Gallery: Scarves for Spring

Spring Scarves Gallery

Maybe you live in a place where the changing climate has already settled into a warm, sunny paradise of April breezes and bright flowers and days stretched out in the sun. Congratulations. I live in Indiana where ‘spring’ is normally a three month long epic battle between Cold and Hot that always dumps you on the other side of May, sweltering and wishing you could crawl inside your air conditioning unit. We still need scarves ’round here.

Although I’ve picked this collection for their springtime look, many are also great for autumn if you live in the southern hemisphere!

atlantic-lace-shawl-034

Atlantic Lace Shawl from Make My Day Creative – I happen to be working on this one right now, and it’s a fantastic pattern – looks super fancy but with a relaxing repetitive stitch pattern. And it’s FREE!

mountainscowl5

Mountains Cowl from Gleeful Things – Fringe is so in style right now that we might have already outpaced the 70’s. Also FREE!

bloomingvine

Blooming Vine by Yumiko Alexander on Ravelry – Gorgeous concept for a scarf that makes a statement rather than just sits on around your neck in boring rectangle form. 6.50 USD.

Lesmiserables

Les Miserables by Cynthia Parker on Ravelry – One for the ambi-crafters. This FREE knitting pattern is a fantastic, gritty urban detour from the usual flowery lacy spring shawl fare.

sundayshawl

Sunday Shawl by The Little Bee ~ Alia Bland on Ravelry – I love the bright colors on the version of the shawl pictured, but it would look just as nice in sleek neutral tones. Awesome spring wrap, especially if you make it in a cotton blend. 6.50 NZD.

crystalchandelier

Crystal Chandelier Shawl by Maria Magnusson on Ravelry – Sweet lace knitting pattern so airy it goes right on into summer. Only 4.00 USD!

cascadefree

Alpine Shawl from Cascade Yarns – FREE crochet pattern, nestled amid a bunch of other free patterns on the Cascade page. Get in on the forest-y, elf-y style with this sweet leafy green shawl.

-MF