How to Spin Yarn on a Drop Spindle
Using the Park and Draft Method
Introduction to Spindle Spinning
by Cynthia D. Haney Spindle Maker
This tutorial uses a top (high) whorl drop spindle. A spindle has three main parts shaft, whorl, and hook. The shaft, running the length of the spindle, is where you grip the spindle to make it spin and where you wind the yarn for storage. The whorl is the round wood part on the shaft, it provides momentum, and has a notch to help guide the yarn from the shaft to the hook. The hook allows the spindle to hang from the yarn while spinning and keeps the spindle centered to prevent excessive wobble.
There are many different methods of spinning even for just this one style of spindle, no one way is best. So long as you are forming yarn that holds together, like the result, and are not hurting yourself keep spinning. Learning to spin is a bit like learning a sport or musical instrument; you have to build muscle memory and strength by repeated practice. Please watch your posture and pace yourself to prevent injury. Most beginners find practicing fifteen minutes every day works well. As you build strength and skill try longer spinning sessions gradually transitioning from park and draft to suspended, not parked, spinning as your confidence increases.
The park and draft method separates spinning into steps making them easier to manage and learn. It starts with setting the spindle in motion either by flicking your fingers on the shaft or quickly rolling the shaft along your thigh. Then the spindle spins freely building twist in the leader yarn (from hook to your hand) until it looks like a spring. As soon as the spindle stops spinning it needs to be caught. Then the spindle is parked between the knees or under the arm (your body holding the spindle shaft). Drafting involves pinching fibers you want in your yarn at the fiber supply and drawing (pulling aka drafting) them away from the supply, but not detached. Then let the twist form them into yarn.
To start you need a spindle and fiber prepared for spinning. You want to learn the staple length (average length of the fiber). Pull out and off just a few strands from your fiber to measure the length. However long this is (hopefully over an inch) is at least how much space needs to be between your hands in the drafting steps to come. Keeping your hands more than a staple length apart allows the fibers to slide past each other as you work with them rather than tugging on both ends of the same strand.
Important sometimes your fiber will not draft these are the solutions. Always keep your hands further apart than the staple length, twice it would be good. Sometimes even then you will have trouble getting the fiber to draft in that case twist is in your fiber supply turning it into one very thick yarn. To remove the twist you pinch at the last point that resembles the yarn thickness desired and let go of the fiber supply allowing it to spin until all the twist is gone, sometimes you have turn it with your hand to get the twist out.
We begin using park and draft to spin a leader. Start with the spindle parked.
Fiber as purchased, if braided undo to find an end. This is a natural brown wool.
Part pulled off for working fiber supply about two to three staple lengths long is good. If it is very hard to pull apart, and your hands were further than a staple length apart while pulling, it may have gotten compacted. To help it slide you can gently pull it wider first or ask whomever prepared it for advice.
First draft of fiber, longer and thinner on right end. Draft by pinching some fibers at the fiber supply and pulling until they slide away, but are not detached.
Put the drafted fiber, thinner part, in the hook and fold it over itself.
For spinning the spindle you will need to pick one hand as your spindle hand and the other as the fiber hand. Spindle hand sets the spindle in motion and catches it when it stops spinning. Fiber hand holds the fiber supply, pinches at the top of the yarn, and the spindle hangs below it while in motion. My fiber hand is the left and spindle in the right.
*A note on direction, many spinners prefer clockwise for spinning a single, what you are doing. Constancy is critical to prevent undoing your work. Watching a clock as you spin may help.
Ready to add twist, fiber pinched at overlap before supply. Use the fiber hand’s thumb & finger for the pinch. This is a firm pinch.
Set the spindle in motion with a flick of your fingers. As soon as it stops catch it. Repeat until the fiber between your pinch and the hook is hard and looks like a spring. Then park it with the shaft held between your knees. Keep holding the pinch.
Parking the spindle frees your spindle hand. Use it to take over the pinch from the fiber hand’s fingers.
Draft pulling your spindle hand fingers away from the fiber supply held in fiber hand. Gradually release the pinch, letting twist into drafted fiber as you slide your fingers towards the fiber supply. Pinch with the fiber hand to halt the twist above the drafted area.
Congratulations you just made a few inches of yarn! Next pick up the spindle with the spindle hand, keeping your fiber hand pinched between supply and the yarn. Spin the spindle with another flick letting go, with the spindle hand, at the end of the flick and catching it when it stops spinning. Repeat until the yarn is springy and firm not fluffy. Park spindle still holding pinch.
Keep drafting using the stored twist. Then spin to build twist, park and repeat until the new yarn single is as long as you can easily hold your arms apart. Pause, with the spindle parked, and admire your success.
The next three steps are slightly fiddly. First we have to keep the yarn under some tension so the active twist doesn’t make tangles. However you end up doing this make sure you don’t cut off circulation to your fingers. I put the fiber supply behind my fiber hand secure the yarn coming from it between my middle and ring fingers. This keeps the fiber supply from getting tangled in the yarn. Then I stick out my thumb and little finger and make a yarn butterfly on them. First catching the yarn behind my thumb coming around it across my palm then behind finger and back across palm to thumb. Repeating the path until I reach the hook. Sounds much more complicated than it is and you don’t have to be this fancy about it. End result is fiber supply and yarn all tidy on your fiber hand.
Now take the yarn off of the spindle’s hook and hold onto the end. Then hold the end against the shaft of the spindle, you unpark the spindle for this step. We do this to protect the spindle in case it were to go flying as you practice.
Tightly wind your yarn over its end and the spindle shaft. Keep winding until you have about a foot of yarn remaining on your fiber hand.
Then take the yarn up along the whorl’s notch to back of hook, and though the hook. This is your leader of yarn, and the setup you will use each time you finish winding-on.
Then spin your spindle, hanging from the leader, to add twist until the leader looks like a spring again. Congratulations you have now learned how to spin! Continue by parking (with the hook opening facing away from you so the yarn stays in the hook), drafting, and repeating this step winding onto the shaft as needed.
Single fiber drafted and bound by twist. It is yarn. It also can become one strand of a plied yarn.
Plied yarn is made of multiple singles bound by twist. Plying the act of making plied yarn by spinning in the opposite direction from how the singles were made.
Leader is the yarn from the hook to your hand, what the spindle hangs from while spinning.
Cop name for yarn that is wound on the spindle shaft.
Staple length the average length of the individual strands of your fiber
What do you do when your single breaks?
First figure out why it broke. It either drifted apart from insufficient twist or snapped from too much twist. If it snapped the ends will look cut, often this happens in a thin area between two thicker sections of single. To fix take the snapped ends and untwist them with your fingers until they look fluffy. If it had drifted apart it already has fluffy ends. To rejoin you overlap the fluffy ends making sure to pinch with your fiber hand on the overlap closest to the hook. Then spin the spindle to get some twist, park, carefully using the spindle hand to help release the twist into the overlapped section. When it looks like yarn again pinch with your fiber hand above the join and give a gentle tug to make sure it is well attached. Now get your hands back in normal position and resume park and draft. If your single drifts apart often make sure you are catching the spindle as soon as it stops and have been spinning in the same direction each time. If it snaps often you may be forcing in more twist than the thin sections can hold, watch those areas and try not to draft quite so thin.
How do I add more fiber when I have used up my fiber supply?
Just like fixing a break. You pull off a new working fiber supply, draft the end of it thinner than you had been spinning, make sure the end of your single is fluffy and ideally thin. Then overlap and join following the directions above.
Can I set this project down?
Yes. You can stop at any point but may have a mess to sort out when you resume. To keep things tidy wind on all but a few inches. Bring the leader through the hook and wrap it around the hook an extra time. The fiber supply will then hang from the spindle and all your yarn won’t get tangled. To resume you just unwrap enough yarn for a normal leader and continue.
How do I know when the spindle is full?
The spindle is full when any of the following happen, your cop keeps trying to slip off (actually caused by not winding on firm and tidy), you run out of space to wind on, it starts to feel heavy or uncomfortable to hold, or breaks become unusually frequent (as the cop has made the spindle too heavy for the yarn thickness).
Ready to try for yourself?
Help! I bent my hook.
You can bend it back with your thumb. See the video on the About the Spindles Page.