I haven’t forgotten doing a series on knitting and spinning techniques, I promise, just been busy and then tired and then busy and there’s never any light to record anything. But I can do an info post for the curious on drop spindles!
Like all things fiber arts, there’s a lot of muscle memory that has to be built up first—but that’s not a bad thing. I sure as heck still have my first yarns I spun and they might be lumpy but I love them anyway.
Spindles come in a huge variety of flavours the world over, and are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get into spinning. A quick google will show you how to make one out of a CD, and sticking a heavy bead on a dowel (or some clay) and you can get a support spindle too.
I’m just gonna do a quick overview with the spindles I happen to have on hand, but there are plenty more (tahkli for spinning cotton, for instance, or turkish drop spindles that make center pull balls when you’re done)
Are basically a dime a dozen if you go spindle hunting. If you’ve only seen spindles offhand, this is probably the kind you’ve seen. I’ve got a few of them myself.
Drop spindles come in two main flavours — top whorl or bottom whorl. Top whorls have the world toward the top, and have a hook for you to put the single on while spinning. The yarn gets wound on under the whorl itself. Bottom have it at (you guessed it) the bottom, and may or may not have a hook.
When picking out a drop spindle, you’ll want to look at weight foremost—everyone likes different style whorls, but most people can agree lighter for thin singles and heavier for thick. Like most drop spindles, the more yarn you add, the heavier they get.
Most people learn to spin on these by doing what’s called ‘park and draft.’ You put a little twist in, you ‘park’ the spindle between your knees, and then you draft (stretch out) the fiber to allow the twist to enter it. As far as introductions go, this is a very good way to start provided you remember to let yourself try other things. Eventually, your muscle memory gets good enough that you’re able to ‘drop’ the spindle as you draft. A lot of people start doing this without realizing it at first.
Here’s a quick video on park and drafting; hopefully I’ll have some time to do one myself soon.
These are spindles that are ‘supported’ as you spin on them. They have a pointed shaft and you set them in a bowl or shallow dish while spinning. You can literally just sharpen a stick and have a support spindle if you want one—though sticking a bead or some weight on there helps it spin better! It’s a bit like a top.
Bottom whorls with a pointed shaft can function as a support spindle as well.
The biggest advantage for support spindles is that—since they’re supported—weight isn’t a factor and you can load on as much. With drop spindles, at a certain point you’re singles will snap as you spin because it’s simply too heavy. It gets harder to maintain the same evenness. With support spindles, since they don’t have that weight, you don’t have that as an issue.
Some (like tahklis) are designed to spin the short fiber of cotton. On drop spindle, the short ‘hairs’ are very difficult to get enough twist in fast enough to keep it from drifting apart before it turns into a thread. On a support spindle for the task, though, they spin very quickly and you have as long as you need to get all that twist in there before it gets away from you.
Since most support spindles don’t have a hook (barring bottom whorls that get coopted into supported spindles)(*cough*), there’s a different way they get spun on.
Drop Spindle or Supported?
It’s really up to what you want to spin and what you like! Supported spindles are great for cotton, as I mentioned, but they also do well with making very soft and fluffy yarns and often get used to spin fluffy and/or slick fibers (like quivut, cashmere, alpaca).
Drop spindles, meanwhile, are very good at doing lots of different yarns based off their weight, and you can build a small collection—some for sock yarns, some for plying your other yarn on, some for lace, and so on.
Supported have the advantage of being able to just set it in your lap and not pay too much attention once you get the hang of it. They’re also more car trip friendly. Drop spindles, on the other side, have the advantage of being very ‘on the go’ friendly once you get the hang of them—there’s no walking and spinning supported!
It ultimately comes down to trying them out, especially since it’s a different set of muscle memory for each.
If you’re really curious to get started, I highly recommend Respect the Spindle, which is a very good introduction to hand spinning. It covers a little bit of everything, and for the visual learners there is a DVD you can get with it if you want.