In my last Handspinning Technology post, I talked about spinning wheels. This time, let’s talk about spindles. A lot has been written about them, so I’m going to be linking to a lot of articles and videos. This post is just an overview and a place to start.

A spindle, when it comes down to it, is nothing more than a stick. Usually a whorl of some kind is added, which makes the stick spin longer and/or faster than without a whorl. Whorls have been made of many materials over the years: stone, clay, wool, terra cotta, precious stones, bone, and metals. The size, shape, and placement of the whorl affects the spin. Some spindles have hooks, notches, or spirals at one end to hold the yarn.

I have some prehistoric whorls that I occasionally pull out and use. These are about 5000 years old, from a cave in Ukraine. Ancient whorls are found in such quantities that they can be purchased for reasonable prices. These are terra cotta.

Whorl shapes and positions have varied wildly over time. The most common way to spin on a spindle these days is with a drop spindle. They come in both high-whorl and low-whorl versions. High means the whorl is at the top, low means at the bottom.

If you want to learn more about these, SpinOff (the magazine for handspinning) has a great article.

Here’s a drop spindle tutorial, if you want to see how it’s done.

Turkish spindles are also popular. These are a type of low-whorl drop spindle.

SpinOff, unsurprisingly, has a article on Turkish spindles.

But not all spindles are drop spindles. Supported spinning is another style. The spindle tip is placed on a surface, and… well, here’s a video. It’s easier to watch than explain.

There are many different styles, from different cultures. The tahkli, a spindle from India for spinning cotton, is what’s used in the above video. Tibetan, Russian, and Dervish styles are pretty easy to get as well. Here’s an article from KnitNatural with pictures of many styles.

Most modern spinners do drop or supported spinning. But there are other ways to spin. In medieval Europe, spinning “in hand” was the fashion. Reenactor Kathelyne has a number of YouTube videos about it.

I have done this quite a bit, and it’s difficult to do quickly if you’re learning as an adult.

Oh! I haven’t spoken yet about the distaff. Distaves are sticks to hold your fiber while you spin.

They basically act as a third hand. Modern drop spinners sometimes employ “wristaffs”, a distaff you hand from your wrist.

Distaves have varied over time and culture. Some are held in the hand, some are tucked under the arm or into your belt, and some require sitting down.

As I was saying, there are other styles as well. The dealgan, from medieval Scotland, is pretty cool. I haven’t had the chance to try one yet.

So that’s a very brief overview. Do you know of any spindle styles I haven’t covered? If so, I’d love to find out about them and add them there!

Categories: Textiles


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.