Less Noise, More Green: Guest Post: Learning to Spin with a handmade drop spindle, plus video tutorials!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Post: Learning to Spin with a handmade drop spindle, plus video tutorials!

This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts from my best friend, Roda. She is a talented fiber artist, something I am very far from being, and has agreed to share with us some of her knowledge and in the  process hopefully inspire some creative Holiday gift making. That last bit was aimed at myself. Roda has two alpacas in her backyard, which will be supplying her with fiber once they are sheared.

When I was a girl growing up in Alaska, I had an english angora rabbit named Odie. I was a fan of the cartoon strip, Garfield, which featured a fat orange cat who mercilessly tortured a dorky dog named Odie. My rabbit was a little dorky himself, but very beautiful. The fringe that tipped his ears fell forward in a lovely umbrella over his head, thus reminding me of the ears of Odie the cartoon dog. I was fascinated with his superb, soft wool coat, and spent many hours brushing him. This childhood pet marked the beginning of a lifelong passion: learning to spin that luxurious, soft fiber into yarn.

English Angora Rabbit                                                    Betty Chu/Wikipedia

My mother helped me find a spinning shop that offered lessons. There I was at 11 years old, probably 40 years younger than the next youngest student. What a treat it was to sit with smiling mothers and grandmothers on a cold winter evening and learn to spin. 

Many new spinners begin with a hand-made drop spindle of some sort. My patient teacher, who become a friend and mentor for years to come, taught our class how to make our first drop spindle. We used half of a potato and a large-sized knitting needle. This type of simple drop spindle is still used in many parts of the world today, but with a stick rather than a knitting needle.  It was great fun and very simple, however, the potato did not last long

My next drop spindle was also hand-made and quite simple, but lasted for many years. I’d like to share how you can make a wonderful spindle for a couple of dollars from your local craft store. This makes a beautiful gift for a crafty friend as well, when combined with a roving of wool. Without the expense of purchasing a spinning wheel, you can make your own yarn! A great way for beginners and children to get started.

Items you will need:
1 inch diameter wooden dowel
4 inch wooden circle with hole drilled in center to snugly fit the dowel
open hook with screw end to secure on the top of the dowel
roving of wool, fiber or cotton for spinning

OPTIONAL : wood stain to make your spindle more attractive and last longer

Place the dowel through the center of the wooden round so that it fits snuggly. Screw the hook into the top of the dowel so that it is fitted tightly. Stain your spindle using a soft cloth and wood stain. Be sure it dries completely before you begin spinning.

Using the fiber of your choice (a soft wool roving is the easiest to start with, as seen in the picture below), pull out enough to hook at the top of the spindle and a little extra to ‘take the spin’.  With your fingers, spin the spindle from the bottom of the dowel. Pinch the top of your wool and use your other hand to pull the wool out to keep taking the spin. 

As the fiber wraps around itself, continue to ‘feed’ it from your skein of wool. Don’t worry about it being lumpy, and if it breaks off, just reattach. As your 1 ply yarn is made, stop spinning, unhook from the top of the spindle and wrap it around the dowel for keeping. Just pinch and feed the yarn into the spin and stop to secure it on the spindle when it is long enough. You can fill the spindle with as much wool as you like to make a ball of yarn for your project.

Once you have enough 1 ply yarn, wind it up into a ball and start again with a second 1 ply yarn. 1 ply yarn will simply unravel for most projects, unless it is plyed with another. Take a look at any commercial yarn or string, and you will see that there is more than 1 strand, or ‘ply’, for strength and cohesion. Sometimes there are 3 or more.

I used white and gray to show the contrast of the 2 plys.

After you have made 2 balls of yarn, try attaching them both to the top of your drop spindle and plying them together. It’s the same process where you pinch the two strands together and feed them together to take the spin. Wrap around your spindle and you will now have strong, 2-ply yarn made yourself. It will be time to get out your knitting needles for our next project!

We would love to see your homemade spindles and yarn, if you want to share.



  1. Hi roda..i enjoyed your blog about making a spindle and yarn. This looks like something i might try and share with my grandchildren! I will have to refresh my memory on how to knit!

  2. Hi roda..i enjoyed your blog about making a spindle and yarn. This looks like something i might try and share with my grandchildren! I will have to refresh my memory on how to knit!

  3. Hi Mary Ann! So great to hear from you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm working on a knitting project for my next post...something quick and simple and fun! Merry Christmas to you and your family : )

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