How to Spin on a Turkish Spindle with Judith MacKenzie

Fantasize about taking a spinning vacation? Judith MacKenzie’s dream textile adventure would be an excursion to Istanbul in March. In “Spinning in Turkey” from Spin Off Fall 2016, Judith explores the history of spinning in Turkey and explains how to use one of the country’s most recognizable contributions to the spinning world, the Turkish spindle.

The most common spindle I saw in use in Turkey is similar to what we have available in the marketplace today. The lovely curved crossbars of a classic Turkish spindle are quite distinctive. These spindles can be used either as low-whorl spindles or as support spindles. The arms allow you to wind a very clever center-pull ball.

I have a much-loved Turkish spindle that I found while traveling in Izmir Province and have spun with it for many years. Very simple, handcarved out of dense olive wood, it is such a pleasure to spin with. Originally, it had a shaft that was hollow and came apart in two pieces. The entire spindle would fit comfortably in a pocket. The top of the shaft was more tapered, increasing the twist that could be inserted with each flick. (The smaller the diameter of the shaft of a spindle, the more twists per inch it produces in the yarn.) I’ve spun many pounds of boot sock yarn on this spindle and many ounces of laceweight as well. Sadly, the shaft finally shattered, and I have had to replace it with an interim shaft—a wooden double-pointed knitting needle—until I have a new shaft made. My spindle is from Göreme and is about two hundred years old.

Judith MacKenzie

Judith MacKenzie with two sisters who have spun for traditional men’s Turkish socks all their lives. Photo courtesy of Judith MacKenzie.

Spinning on a Turkish Spindle as a Supported Spindle

1. To spin woolen-style yarns, assemble your spindle with the arms pointing up.

2. Attach the leader and arrange your fiber as you would for worsted spinning.

3. Set the spindle bottom end down on a flat surface.

4. Lay the leader on top of the fiber, then twist the spindle. As the fiber catches and starts to form yarn, draft away from the spindle, pulling the thickness of fiber you need. Let the twist run into the fiber to form the yarn.

5. Be a bit more careful when winding the woolen-spun yarn onto the spindle. The singles are more delicate.

Plying on a Turkish Spindle

Most of the plying I have seen with spindle-spun singles is done on the Turkish charkha-type wheel. These are spun holding the balls in one hand and drafting back, as you would in woolen spinning. This yarn is often put back through the wheel one more time for added twist. I have also seen two or three-ply yarn spun from balls in which the singles were wound together, then plied. I have plied with my spindle to make a two-ply yarn and it was comfortable; three-ply is trickier for me. I might succumb to the Turkish technique of plying multiple spindle-spun yarns on a wheel, if possible.

—Judith


JUDITH MACKENZIE is a world-renowned textile artist, spinner, and teacher with a love of traditional fabric and technique. She is the author of The Intentional Spinner, The Practical Spinner’s Guide: Rare Luxury Fibers, and dozens of articles. She lives in western Washington State.

Featured Image: A contemporary Turkish-style spindle by Norm Hall; at right, Judith’s much-loved antique Turkish spindle (with a makeshift shaft). Photo by Joe Coca.


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