Drop spindling is one of the most ancient forms of spinning, and is certainly popular in our modern spinning communities. Often at fiber fairs and wool shows there are free classes and workshops offered to teach drop spindling. Drop spindles can be constructed of very easily found, recycled or repurposed materials which makes it an inexpensive means by which to try spinning. If drop spindling becomes your passion, there are also numerous exotic spindles available for the spindling enthusiast.
Drop spindles come in numerous varieties, but they can be broken down pretty easily into top whorl and bottom whorl types. These can then be further separated into types such as Turkish, Russian, French, etc. I was amazed after doing a bit of research into drop spindling just how many different types, and what a culture there is to drop spindling!
To begin spinning with a drop spindle, you must have fiber, roving would be best for a beginner, a spindle, and a short “leader” of finished yarn. At this point, I will be addressing the use of a top whorl. Later on, we will explore bottom whorl spindles. The leader is tied into a loop which is then secured to the spindle using a slip knot below the whorl. The leader loop is then brought above the whorl, wrapped once around the spindle, then threaded onto the hook at the top of the spindle.
Prior to use, pre-draft your fiber so that you can easily see light through it. Plan ahead as to what type of yarn you want to create, the finer the yarn, the more you want to pre-draft it. Also, take into consideration the fiber that you are using. A short wool is not going to spin the same as long llama fiber.
Thread your pre-drafted fiber end through the loop of the leader on your spindle. Begin spinning by using the “park-and-draft method. This means to hold the yarn leader with one hand. Roll the spindle from your hip to your knee with your other hand. “Park” the spindle between your knees. Gently draft, or pull, backward on the roving, using a pinch with the front hand and a pull with the back hand to permit the twist created by the spindle to travel only into the finely pulled fiber in the drafting zone but not into the rest of the roving. Repeat the park-and-draft until you have reached the extent of your arms, or your comfort zone, unhook the yarn leader, and wind the newly created yarn onto the spindle. Re-hook the yarn, and begin the process again. As you become more accustomed to the movements, you can graduate from the park and draft to the flick method. This synchronizes the motions of spinning and drafting to speed your production. However, as you begin flicking, keep an eye on your spindle. As you create more yarn, the spindle travels downward, but if it stops spinning, and begins to spin in the opposite direction, it will create a weak spot in your yarn, or it may un-spin your yarn altogether.
A bottom whorl spindle works in much the same way as it’s top whorl cousin. They often get a bad rap as being too heavy, but I think that as you gain experience as a drop spinner, there are some benefits to a bottom whorl. The Turkish spindle has a crossed bottom which forms the yarn into a neat ball that can be easily removed from the spindle for plying, or finishing. Another difference between the two spindle types is the absence of a hook on the bottom whorl spindle. This can be a bit intimidating if you do not know how to secure the leader yarn. This is done by gently winding the leader around the spindle in a candy cane stripe manner. When you reach the top, wind the yarn once around your finger, and place that loop over the top of the spindle to form a half hitch. The bottom whorl spindle may oscillate more than a top whorl, but this is negligible, and will not affect the quality of your finished yarn.
Now that we know how to use a drop spindle, grab an old compact disc, or a wooden toy wheel, a 12 inch length of dowel rod big enough to fill the hold in the disc or wheel, a cup hook, and give it a try!
Remember: “Spinning makes the world go round!”