How To Start Spinning Without A Leader

If this post could have a subtitle, it would be Process: Part 2. This series has taken a complete 180 from what I thought it was going to be. Take a few pretty photos of my process, write a few snippets, wax poetic about the whole thing, and put it on the blog. Turns out, I was making tutorials and didn’t even know it. I think this a lot better than my original idea.  

The first post in this series was all about how to prepare fiber (combed top in this case) for spinning. In this post I’m getting down to business of spinning, well, starting to spin yarn without a leader. I’ve used a leader in the past but there is something magical about making yarn out of thin air. Just add a bit of twist to some fiber and BAM! Yarn. Plus, drafting and spinning this short section of fiber helps me understand the characteristics of an individual batch of fiber which helps me spin better yarn.

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The great thing about about starting without a leader, a length of already spun yarn that helps put twist in fiber at the beginning of the spinning process, is that you don’t need any extra material to pull it off. Also, if you’re a beginner and can get started without the leader, you’ll already have the basics of spinning under your belt.

To start, you’ll need a drop spindle - high or low whorl - with a hook and a bit of fiber. 

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Pick an end and slowly pull the fibers straight out bit by bit using both hands. One hand pulls and the other holds the top. The top between your hands should get thinner and longer. This is drafting.  You can draft out just a few inches now and start spinning, drafting as you go, or draft large sections now to make it easier to handle.

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Once at least 6” have been drafted, it’s time to put the fiber on the spindle. Place the drafted fiber through the hook and fold back the first 2-3” to form a loop. Pinch the two ends together. When you pick the spindle up by the fiber, it should hang without falling.

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Time for twist! Singles, un-plied yarn, are traditionally spun in a clockwise direction and plied together counter-clockwise. So, give your spindle a clockwise spin - rotating to the left - with your fingers. There should be so much twist that the fiber kinks up on itself. To keep the spindle from spinning back and removing all the twist, catch it in your hand and hold it between your thighs. 

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Loosen your grip and slowly pull back the hand pinching the fiber to let the twist move into more and more of the drafted fiber. If the newly spun single starts to give out, give the spindle a few more turns to add more twist.

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Once there’s 1 to 2’ of single on the spindle, wrap it around your pinching hand until you get back to the hook. Keeping your fingers pinched and the everything tight, carefully take the single off the hook.

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Wrap the single around the shaft close to the whorl. A few wraps should keep everything in place. 

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If spinning on a low whorl spindle, wrap the single around the shaft and tie it off with a half hitch or pass through a hook. For a high whorl spindle, just pull it up over the whorl so that it comes up behind and then through the hook.

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All there is to do now to keep spinning, is repeat the process with both hands this time. Pinch. Twist. Draft. Pinch. Twist. Draft.

This video by Abby Franquemont and this one from TheArtofMegan.com really helped me get handle on the process. Of course, there’s no substitute for actual practice.

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Up next in the Process Series, is joining fiber and fixing breaks.