Day 78


Firstly, a purple-ish rectangle. This blanket is going to be enormous if I do all 365 pieces as a single blanket….

day 78

So, hand spindles. There are 2 main types of hand spindle – supported and unsupported – and most spindles will fit into one of these categories. Many of the differences are because of the unique qualities of different fibres but all handspindles are based on the same principle – using a weighted stick to twist strands of fibre into a thread. I almost exclusively spin wool so I can only speak about some of these spindles from what I’ve read.

Just to clarify, I am speaking exclusively of spindles that are not attached to a wheel-based machine.

We’ll talk about unsupported handspindles today (because they’re the type I use). These are often called ‘Drop Spindles’ and generally fall into 2 categories – top whorl or bottom whorl.

The handspindle is a very simple machine that can be made with as few as 2 parts – a shaft and a whorl.

If you take a straight piece of wood, like dowelling or a chopstick, attach a length of thread to it and try to make it spin, you will notice that it will twist in the direction you turned it maybe twice before turning back on itself without making any difference to the length of thread. To make this shaft continue to turn, it needs a weight on it. It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight but the weight, or whorl, will give the spinning shaft momentum and keep it going for long enough to make a change to the fibre or thread you are trying to spin.

Where you put the whorl can make a difference. If you put it in the middle, it won’t spin. This has to do with the shaft’s centre of gravity. If it is placed toward the top or bottom of the shaft, it will work as a spinning device.

I have never noticed any difference to how the two function and consider it a matter of personal preference but we know that the bottom whorl spindle has long been used in Europe (seriously, it’s depicted in use on Greek pottery) and is better suited to spin thicker yarns that need less twist.

The top whorl spindle is thought to come from the Middle East and produces thinner yarns more easily.

Whichever you choose, the weight of the whorl will make a big difference to what you produce. A heavy weight will snap thin yarns, a light weight won’t twist thick strands so keep that in mind when choosing the spindle for a project.

A variation on the bottom whorl spindle is the Turkish spindle.

spindle-turkish2This spindle is made of three interlocking pieces – a shaft and 2 arms, where one arm fits through the other spindle-turkish1then the shaft through both to hold them in place. The clever part is that you can wrap your spun yarn around the arms to make a ball of yarn. When you are finished, you remove the shaft, then the arms and there you are, a ball of yarn all ready for use. I confess that it always feels a bit magic when I finish spinning with mine, take it all apart and have a ball of yarn.

There are many styles of whorl and as long as it’s balanced with the shaft running through the centre, it doesn’t really matter what you use.

spindle - lilianpar

The most elaborate spindle I have has a whorl made of layers of plastic and beads. (made by Tilt A Whorl on Etsy. go and look!)




spindle - rainbow whorl


I have one with a whorl made by AYarnLovinMama from baked modelling clay.






I made this one with an old knitting needle, some beads and some wire (based on something I saw online).




handspindle - chopstick


I even made one with a chopstick and a small plug, which I made when I needed a light-weight spindle and didn’t want to wait for an order to be delivered.


As you can see, all of them except the Turkish spindle are top whorl. The technique I have unconsciously developed for making the spindle spin works best with top whorl spindles so that is what I use.

The Joy of Handspinning website has videos and more information.

And now for the history lesson…. sort of. I was going to share a boyband type ballad by Kings George 1- 4 but my friend J suggested this one…

Now compare that with Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’….

Yes, the dancing confuses me…


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