Monthly Archives: February 2022

Learning about support spindles

Like many people, my world dramatically shifted on March 16, 2020. That’s when my work went 100% remote and distanced. All the fibre workshops that I had lined up to teach and fibre festivals I had planned to attend were quickly cancelled. People were getting sick – and our medical experts and scientists were just learning about the COVID-19 virus.

I learned early on that I needed to keep my overly busy brain and restless hands occupied on a task, or a series of tasks. One of the first tasks I fell into was to learn about support spindles and learn how to make yarn with them.

I’ve been a spinner since 2000 – and am confident and proficient making yarn with suspended spindles and on wheels. But spinning with support spindles had eluded me. I owned a few and had even taken a three-day workshop with Caroline Somerfeld on Spinning Exotic Fibres with Russian Spindles. But nothing stuck. So I started right from the beginning and treated myself with all the encouragement and support that I would give a new spindle spinner.

Even before that stage, I needed some support spindles. Where do you start? What size and shape and weight? What kind is best? [spoiler alert – there is no BEST spindle style] So I purchased some based simply on their shape. I love spindles that look like sticks or wands. It added to the mystique of using such a simple tool to make yarn.

In the photo below, from left to right: Tabechek Russian style spindle 35g (already owned – from the workshop mentioned above); Phang 34g (purchsed online – can’t recall any details); last two are from the same US maker (28g and 30g). I didn’t know anything about size and shape or weight so I just dove in based entirely on the look of the spindle.

Around the same time, I started playing around a lot with my blending board – experimenting with fibre and colour blends. These fun rolags were just the thing that I chose to spin as part of my support spindle journey. Because of the different fibres and blends, it creates a textured yarn. It was easy to focus exclusively on getting sufficient twist into the yarn, and less focus on the consistency of it. For me, that made it easier to develop the skills of flicking, drafting, winding a temporary cop, and then winding a permanent one.

I have learned that building a cop on a Russian spindle is different from building it on other styles. Because the Russian style is a narrow stick, the newly spun yarn is wound around it with no whorl edge to build against. In my early support spindle days, I wound my cop in a horizontal manner (around and around). It took me a while to figure out that it was that kind of winding that was causing me to have hand pain when support spindle spinning.

The photo below is the newly plied yarn from those spindles above. It looks like there could be more ply twist in many parts of it. But the best test is what it looks like after it is washed.

And this is what it looks like washed, where the yarn blooms.  Next part of the experiment/learning is to assess the quality of this yarn. May aim is to spin yarn to make mitts. I need about 100 metres/ 50g for a pair of adult mitts.

And here are the mitts I knit with that first spindle spun yarn. And below it is a swatch so I could hopefully remember and replicate (aspects of) this yarn.

Lessons learned will be in a subsequent post.