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.
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.
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.
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.
Have drop spinning questions? Leave a comment!