Spinning Yarn on a Supported Spindle

Amelia Garripoli of Ask the Bellwether fame is a familiar name in the spinning blogosphere. An expert fiber artist and knowledgeable teacher, Garripoli is passionate about drop spindles but especially about supported spindle spinning. In her new video from Interweave, Supported Spindle Spinning: Russian, Tibetan, and More with Amelia Garripoli, she encourages us to expand our world beyond drop spindles and spinning wheels.

Our global tour begins in the desert southwest of the United States with the Navajo spindle. Garripoli demonstrates the traditional leg-roll technique. With the spindle supported in a bowl to her right and the spindle shaft positioned 4 inches above her leg, she rolls the spindle toward herself, guiding it in the nook between her thumb and index finger. Using wool, the Navajos card rolags and spin them once into roving, then spin them a second time into yarn.

Amelia Garripoli spins on a Navajo spindle.

Amelia Garripoli spins on a Navajo spindle.

Next stop is the continent of Asia: with a flick of her fingers Garripoli finger twirls Tahkli, Russian, Tibetan, and Phang spindles, revealing which support bowls, fiber, and prep work best with each of these supported spindles: metal tahklis work best with a wooden bowl, and wooden Russian spindles perform their magic most effectively supported in a ceramic dish. These spindles are designed to work best with fiber that needs a lot of twist. Is your drafting uneven? Double-draft to smooth out the thick spots.

Garripoli finally ventures west into Europe, where she finger twiddles French, Portuguese, and Italian spindles creating thick airy singles. These lap-supported spindles require no bowl and all share a characteristic “belly” shape. However, their use differs from region to region. The Portuguese use a distaff to manage their fibers, and the French add a metal hook on the tip to ply, turning the lap spindle into a suspended spindle.

Amelia Garripoli exhibits a French lap spindle with a metal tip.

Amelia Garripoli exhibits a French lap spindle with a metal tip.

One nugget of advice I found most surprising was Garripoli’s recommendation to use cotton when beginning to spin on supported spindles—not animal fiber! Having always heard the recommendation that new spinners should use wool, I admit I had to rewind and watch that bit again just to confirm what I’d heard correctly. Her reasoning is sound: supported spindles are typically paired with fiber shorter and finer than wool. Cotton is much harder to spin, so cashmere, yak, and other exotics will seem much easier once you can spin cotton on a spindle.

Finally, she shares her own collection of antique spindles—it is illuminating to see how similar yet different they all are! With a straightforward manner, Amelia Garripoli covers the basics of supported spindle spinning and shares her tips and tricks to make these unusual spindles accessible. Admittedly, I am a wheel spinner, but after watching Garripoli’s video, I found myself eager—to flick, twiddle, and twirl—to try out some of her techniques and enlarge my own spinning sphere.

—Elizabeth Prose

Featured Image: A display of different supported spindles. Photo by George Boe.

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