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Spinning Basics:
How to Spin Yarn with a Spindle
by Maggie Casey

Article reprinted from Spin.Off Magazine

Read Maggie's second article on how to spin yarn with a spinning wheel
Maggie Casey proudly shows her spinning

Several years ago at Spin.Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR), a friend and I took Rita Buchanan's drop spindle retreat session. During the class we challenged each other to make something out of our spindle-spun yarn.

My favorite mittens are the result of that challenge. Rita's retreat and those mittens renewed my love affair with handspindles, and here are some tips to make you fall in love, too.

click here for a special subscription discount to Spin-Off MagazineAdditional resources
How to Spin on a Spinning Wheel
All Fiber Arts
The Joy of Handspinning
Spin.Off Magazine

The Right Tool
choosing your spindle Your first spindle should weigh 2 to 3 ounces (or 56 to 84 grams). Many beautiful lighter-weight spindles are available, but wait before you try one because a medium-weight or heavier spindle will keep turning while you learn to draft out the fibers.

Don't choose one that is too heavy, however, or you will learn why they are called drop spindles. A well-balanced spindle is a delight, so check to see how well yours spins-tie on some yarn and give it a twist.

The spindle should turn smoothly without a lot of wobble and continue to spin for some time.

Step by Step Instructions
Once you have chosen a spindle, take a piece of plied wool yarn about 18 inches long and tie it onto the spindle shaft (leader).tie wool onto the spindle
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If you have a top-whorl spindle, tie the leader underneath the whorl, bring the leader up and over the whorl, and catch it with the hook. You can wrap the yarn around the hook once for security, if you like.tying a top-whorl spindle
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With a bottom-whorl spindle, tie the leader above the whorl, and then spiral the yarn up the spindle shaft.tying the leader on a bottom-whorl spindle
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On bottom-whorl spindles, some spinners tie the leader above the whorl and bring the yarn down under the whorl, around the bottom of the shaft, and then back up to the top. Both ways work; see which one you like best.tie wool onto the spindle
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If your spindle has a hook (rather than a groove), catch the yarn with it and you are ready to go. If you have a groove, you will have to make a half hitch to hold the yarn to the spindle.catching the yarn on your spindle
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Once the leader is on, start practicing with the spindle. Remember that most singles yarns are spun clockwise (to the right). Most spinners hold the fiber in the left hand and the spindle in the right hand, but try both ways and see which feels comfortable to you.

Hold the leader in one hand and with the other hand give the spindle a twist. Practice until you can get the spindle to turn smoothly. Periodically you will have to let the leader unwind so you don't accumulate too much twist.
Practicing your spinning
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Wool is the easiest fiber to spin; carded wool is much easier to spin than combed. A nice, clean, medium wool is lovely to work with. Before you use the spindle, practice drafting out the fibers.

Take a handful of wool in one hand and with the other hand gently pull some of the fibers away from the mass and then add some twist by twisting the fibers in one direction between your fingers.
drafting the fiber
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That is what spinning is all about—drawing out the fibers and adding twist until you have created a stable yarn. Continue to pull out the fibers (drafting) and add more twist.

If you don't have enough twist, the yarn will fall apart. If you have too much twist, you won't be able to draw out the fibers. Spend a few minutes drafting out the fibers and adding twist-you will need to be able to maintain a comfortable rhythm when you start spinning.
drafting and adding twist
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Once you are comfortable drafting out the fibers and twisting the spindle, put these actions together. Start by sitting down, if you're not already, because your lap will be a valuable tool. Before you start to spin, fluff out the end of the leader, Matching draft and twist
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then with one hand hold a handful of fiber and the leader together. holding the fiber and leader together
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With the other hand, twist the spindle clockwise. Watch the twist run up the leader and grab the fibers in your hand. You've just made a join.making a join on the leader
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After you have made the join, twist the spindle and then stop it in your lap so it can't go backward. Slide your twisting hand above the spindle, pinch the leader, and draft out some fibers.slide your twisting hand above the spindle, pinch the leader, and draft out some fibers
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Once the yarn is the right size, open up the pinching hand and let the twist run up and stabilize the fibers you have just drafted. Continue to twist the spindle, stop it in your lap by holding the shaft between your knees, pinch and draft.

You determine the size of the yarn by how much you pull the fibers out. A few fibers make a fine yarn; many fibers add bulk. If too much twist gets into the fiber, slide your fiber hand back a little and then draft out those fibers.
balancing pinch and twist
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When the yarn is longer than your arms, it's time to wind it onto the spindle. Keeping the yarn taut, wind it on the spindle clockwise and make a cone under the whorl on a top whorl and an upside-down cone on top of the bottom whorl.

The neater you wind the yarn on, the easier it will be to remove from the spindle.
winding your newly spun yarn onto the spindle
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Pinching the yarn keeps the twist from running up into the fiber source. The twisting/pinching hand keeps the twist under control while the fiber hand drafts out the fibers to the correct size.Pinching the yarn to keep the twist from running into the fiber source
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After you feel comfortable spinning the spindle and stopping it on your lap, it is time to spin with the spindle suspended in the air. Continue to draft the fibers out the same way, but instead of stopping the spindle in your lap, let it keep spinning.

When it stops of its own accord and starts to twist counterclockwise, add more clockwise twist. If the spindle keeps going backward the twist will come out of the yarn, turn it back into fluff, and the spindle will drop.
spin with the spindle suspended in the air
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Soon you will have a spindle full of yarn. Now you can wind the yarn off the spindle and into a skein. Use a shoe box with holes punched in either side to hold the spindle.

Niddy-noddys (pictured here) work for making skeins, but so does a chair with a straight back: Gently loop the yarn around and around the chair back until the spindle is empty. Tie the two ends of yarn together and before you take the yarn off the chair or niddy put a couple of figure-eight ties through the skein.

The yarn will probably be very curly in the skein, so you will need to set the twist.
Winding yarn off the spindle and onto a skein
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To set the twist: Fill the sink with warm water, add some mild detergent, and plop in the skein. Soak the yarn in the warm water for several minutes, take it out, and rinse. Remove excess moisture by wrapping the skein in an old towel and squeezing gently.wash your skein
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If a skein seems twisty and curly, you can put a weight on it to straighten out the kinks. I use a spray bottle as a weight. The handle hangs on the skein, and I fill the bottle with as much water as necessary to straighten out the yarn.

Once the yarn is hanging straight, let it dry, then stand back and admire your wonderful work.
setting the twist
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About the Author
Maggie Casey spends her days at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado, and her nights at home starting new spinning projects instead of finishing old ones.

This article originally appeared in Spin.Off Magazine. In conjunction with our reprinting this article, Spin.Off is extending a special subscription discount to Knitter's Review readers. Subscribe or renew and get an extra issue free.

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