Does spindle weight matter?

At the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild Annual Sale, I added two Turkish spindles to my collection — a 20 gram Pacific Yew and a 35 gram Arbutus. They are beautiful tools, lovingly and carefully made by a high level spindle maker and crafter – Ed Jenkins.

I am often asked the question – what effect does spindle weights have on the yarn we make? Or more specifically – what weight of spindle should I buy?

So I felt a bit of an experiment was in order. I lined up three Turkish spindles – of three different weights — 20, 35, and 50 grams. I used the same fibre to spin yarn on each spindle, trying to keep the yarn weights similar.

For clarity in this discussion, let’s call them spindle 1, 2, and 3 from smallest to largest. Here are my observations:

When spinning spindle 1, the smallest one, I noticed that it didn’t keep a spin for as long as the others. It was easier to set into motion than the other two, but even so, I had to flick it twice as often to get enough twist into my yarn. It was also hard to keep the yarn the thickness I wanted. This spindle wanted me to spin fine yarn. The thicker the yarn, the more it slowed the spindle down.

Spindle 2 kept a spin going for a long time. It needed a bit more of a flick than 1, but kept the spin going. It was easy to draft the fibre and keep the yarn density the same throughout.

Spindle 3 kept a spin going the longest, but it was the one that needed the most effort to flick. Once the spindle got the weight of fibre on it, it got harder to flick.

Once all the spinning was done I made plying balls from each turtle – that’s what we call the singles yarn that is being stored on the spindle. I marked them with removable stitch markers so I would know which yarn belonged to which spindle.

I plied the singles with my Snyder Steampunk spindle and then washed the yarn.

I’m having trouble with my camera, so photos of the washed skeins will follow later.

LESSONS LEARNED:

The main thing I learned from this exercise is that it is difficult to spin yarn of equal weight with different weights of spindles.

The smallest and lightest spindle (1 – 20 grams) wanted the yarn spun fine. When I spun fine yarn on it, the spindle kept the spin. When I made the yarn thicker, to meet the grist of the other two spindles, the spindle slowed down quickly and need more effort to spin. The resulting yarn is not as consistently spun as the other two.

There wasn’t as dramatic a difference between the two heavier spindles, despite there being 15 gram difference between them also. What was noticeable was for the heaviest one how much more effort it took to put the spindle into motion once it started to accumulate spun yarn. A 50 gram spindle with 15 grams of fibre on it means 65 grams you are putting into motion.

So what weight of spindle should you buy? Whatever one you want to make the kind of yarn you want. Just know that it is more difficult to spin thick yarn with a light spindle, and more difficult (but possible) to spin fine yarn on a heavy spindle.

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