A Whorl-less Wonder: The Traditional Scottish Spindle

Spinners know that spindles are addictive. Most new handspinners start with one, but spindles soon multiply in the quest to produce a variety of yarns. And before you know it, you’re a collector seeking out special spindles with a unique history and purpose, such as the Scottish spindle or dealgan (pronounced jal-a-gen), which lacks a whorl.

Spinners have several options for whorl-less spindles, most famously the Russian supported spindle. The French spindle, generally a hand- or lap-supported spindle, becomes a suspended spindle with the addition of a hook for plying.

So what sets the Scottish spindle apart? Its mobility.

Scottish spindle

Spinner Catherine Gillis uses a traditional dealgan at Baile nan Gàidheal (Highland Village, http://highlandvillage.novascotia.ca). Photo courtesy of Highland Village

The traditional Scottish spindle was designed with spinning on-the-go in mind. In the article “Scottish Spinning Traditions in Cape Breton,” featured in the Winter 2018 issue of Spin Off, Dr. Annamarie Hatcher explains, “The dealgan can be used while walking or herding sheep, then stored in a back pocket or in a fold of the kilt.”

Urban spinners rarely herd sheep today, but a sturdy Scottish spindle might be just the tool to have stashed in your bag for spinning while herding a brood of children about town. Plus, in a pinch, Scottish spindles can also stand in for a nøstepinne, a tool for winding a center-pull ball of yarn.

Wisconsin spindle maker Scott Snyder noticed an uptick in the interest of Scottish spindles back in 2016, and since then, the curiosity hasn’t waned. Scott typically spins fingering-weight singles on his Scottish spindles and uses it for plying, too. He says, “You can get a surprising amount of fiber on these spindles. I have put more than eight ounces on one.”

Try your hand at spinning on a Scottish spindle with our handy step-by-step guide, You Need to Try Spinning on a Scottish Spindle, excerpted from the article “Rediscovering the Scottish Spindle” by Kiersten Flannery, which was also featured in the Winter 2018 issue of Spin Off. The Scottish spindle just might become your favorite spindle when you’re out and about this summer.

—Elizabeth

Featured Image: Scott Snyder’s Scottish spindle in Ash. Photo by George Boe


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