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.


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.

Finding pink

This year I am joining in on Spin Off magazine’s Mitt Along. Despite living in the lower mainland of British Columbia where we rarely see below zero weather, I decided to make a super warm pair of mitts. So in my experience, that calls for a stranded knitted pattern.

Last weekend I experimented with several fibres and made the main colour yarn. That’s the skein of green you can see below. For the contrast colour, I want to pick up on the pink noil flecks I put into the green yarn, and so the search is on for the right pink.

I want the yarn to behave just like the green yarn – meaning I want it to be the same thickness and have the same bounce. To do this I thought that adding a small amount of the dark brown Friesian (that’s the name of the breed of sheep from whence the brown fleece came) to some pink and white rolags I had in my stash.

I carded up a sample on my hand carders and this rolag below was the second sample. The first sample is the small skein of yarn to the left of the rolag.

And here is what it looked like spun up. It turned out darker than I wanted it to be. But the brown fibre produced the bounce I wanted. Back to the drawing board to find some white fibre with similar properties of the brown Friesian and make another sample.

Stay tuned.

The fine art of sampling

Early in my spinning career I learned about fibre prep, drafting, and twist and how they all work together. What I didn’t truly appreciate until years into it, was that there are so many variations on the theme.

I thought that if you had a long-stapled fibre, you’d flick card or comb it and then spin it with a short forward draw for worsted yarn. If you had a shorter staple length fibre you’d drum or hand card into rolags and then spin long draw for woollen yarn.

But I was breaking the rules right from the beginning. I was hand carding long stapled fibres because that’s all I had at hand. And I spun the rolags I made from short stapled fibres with a short forward draw because I couldn’t yet do the beautiful and balletic long draw.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 – when I attended a three-day workshop with Abby Franquemont (Spinning for a Purpose – Taos, New Mexico) that I transitioned from being a recreational spinner into an intentional one. This means that I learned how to make yarn for a specific purpose, when and if I wanted to. And most importantly, I learned the fine art of sampling.

Here are two good reasons why sampling is something to check out:

  1. Sampling uses a small amount of  fibre – make your mistakes or confirm your plan using less than one ounce of fibre
  2. Along that same theme, sampling is a small commitment of time – make your mistakes or confirm your plan in under an hour (doesn’t count drying time!

When you sample you can explore a wide range of things including, but not limited to:

  • washing technique
  • fibre preparation
  • drafting technique
  • amount of twist
  • yarn structure
  • yarn finishing process
  • fibre and/or colour blending

In a series of samples shown above, I tested the dark brown wool (Friesian), decided I wanted to lighten it up with colour; tested colour and adding silk noil;  and played around making small samples and mini-skeins until I settled on the yarn I wanted.

And here is another series of samples as I experimented with colour and texture.

Trust me. Sampling has saved me from near disasters and has helped me really refine the yarn for a specific project. Try it out for yourself.