Productive Spindle Spinning: Yes, You Can!

  A mirror-smooth bowl will help keep a supported spindle spinning. Photo from Practical Spinner's Guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephenie Gaustad.

For the past two years I’ve participated in Spinzilla, first as a team member and last year as a Rogue Spinner.  I spent the better part of a month prepping the fiber to ensure that my time spinning was stressless and productive and the yarn of good quality. I worked on producing yarn for several projects at once. My first year, on a team, was great fun, but I ran out of prepared fiber and dug into my stash. I was dedicated to not letting my team members down with low production.

Last year I signed up as a Rogue. I enjoyed the Rogue status; I could compete just with myself, not get too crazy with cranking out yardage, and enjoy the intense, intimate joy of spinning for a whole week.

This year I will go to go Rogue again, but with a new twist: Some of the time my wheels will be silent, and my spindles will take over. This means I can spin while traveling, in waiting rooms, or online.

  A tahkli is a speed demon, reaching speeds of 10,000 RPM in skilled hands. Photo from Practical Spinner's Guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephenie Gaustad.

The Speedy Spindle
Participate in Spinzilla with a spindle!? Yes! And you can too! In some instances, a handspindle is more efficient and faster than a wheel. For instance, in good hands, a tahkli can reach 10,000 RPM, which far outstrips a treadle wheel. And the tahkli isn’t the only “roadrunner”–there are lots of “speed demon spindles” available.

It is common knowledge that larger yarns take less twist and are quicker to produce. If you want yardage, spin large. However, the old adage “not all wheels spin all yarns” applies to spindles as well. Your handspindle performs in a range of yarn sizes. Let’s look at that tahkli again: For the size yarn that the tahkli produces (garment-weight fine singles), it is 3–5 times faster than a treadled wheel. Although you may be spinning fine yarns, your production rate can be 3 yards per minute or better.

Spindle spinning is not for the faint of heart. It involves coordination and practice to become familiar with the tool, but none of the movements are particularly difficult. You just have to allow yourself some time to get the “feel” of it, to learn by doing. Try spinning several fibers, preparations, and yarn sizes to get an idea of your spindle’s behavior and find its particular sweet spots.

Expert Advice for Spinzilla Spindle Spinning

  1. Pick the right spindle, the one with which you are familiar and comfortable. You should already know its balance, have learned to put in twist, and have found a simple, efficient way to get the yarn off it, so you can be ready to fill it again.  
  2. Doffing–taking the yarn off–the spindle can be time-consuming. If you don’t already have a spindle stand or lazy kate to unwind it quickly, consider what it would take to get yarn off your spindle quickly and efficiently. You could choose a Turkish spindle, which winds your yarn onto the spindle into the shape of a ball. The central shaft of the spindle slides out of the ball and cross arms, which in turn pull free of the ball. The spindle is reassembled in moments, and you are back to spinning in no time.

    If your spindle has no hook above the stored yarn and has a tapered shaft coming to a point, then the package can be slipped off the spindle when it becomes too large and unwieldy, easily freeing the spindle for more fun.

    I saw an old spindle holder from Hungary that contained 13 spindles, many of them plainly duplicates. Think of the mighty wisdom: a clutch of spindles the same dimension and weight! When you get on a roll spinning, the spindle fills quickly. How fine it would be to have another equal to grab and continue spinning! And how handy to have a rack to keep them safe and ready! I see a project for the future.  

  3. Put in twist efficiently. If you are using a suspended spindle, use your palm to put twist into your spindle, either with two palms together or with one palm on the spindle laid against your thigh (known as a thigh roll). This charges the spindle with twist more efficiently than flicking it with thumb and first/second fingers. For a real eye-popping view of this technique, see the video Andean Spinning by Nilda Callañuapa Alvarez. When using a support spindle, rest the spindle in a bowl that is mirror-smooth. It reduces the effort to bring the spindle to speed and increases its cast, or the length of time the spindle continues to rotate.

There are a lot of excellent spindle spinners out there. I’ve seen your work in classes and county fairs.

Put together a team of spindlers or join the fun as a rogue spindle spinner and join in the fun of Spinzilla! Whether or not you are already an accomplished spindle spinner, here is a chance to become familiar with the language of “twirl,” making yarn on a sound, friendly device that so easily comes to hand. There is little reason not to see Spinzilla as the best stay-cation retreat ever!


—Stephenie Gaustad is the author of The Practical Spinner's Guide: Cotton, Flax, Wool. Her video, Spinning Cotton, is available as a DVD and download.

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