The Spindle And The Wheel

Sunday, I was cleaning up all the browser tabs I’d left open from the past week. Most of them were longer articles I wanted to read, not skim, and videos that actually seemed worth watching. One of those unwatched videos was a 10 minute talk by Clive Thompson, The Pencil and the Keyboard: How The Way You Write Changes The Way You Think. He details the differences in how handwriting and typing affect your brain and why each is suited to different tasks, say note taking vs writing an article. It’s worth a watch. Near the end of the speech, around 9:25, Thompson says, “There was no individual tool that is perfect for any situation. What we really need is a lot of different cognitive tools in our tool kit. We need to be able to move back and forth between one mode to another…”

A week before watching said video, I felt the urge to spin. Not on my wheel, but on my turkish spindle which is a bit of a change. Since I got the Sidekick in September 2013, I have spun zilch on any of my spindles. Zero, nada, zip. Why the sudden change of heart? One of my spoils from Stitches West was 0.7 ounces of roving from Wonderland Dyeworks. The fiber was soft with beautiful color, and I wanted to enjoy spinning it for more than an a tv episode. So, out came the spindle instead of the wheel. This afternoon, I finally finished the single. Tomorrow, I’m plying back on itself with a spindle of course.

Looking at this single after taking such a long break from spindle spinning, I am very sure of one thing: the yarn I make with a spindle is entirely different from the yarn I make on a wheel. My spindle spun yarns are much the same, smooth and shiny, while my wheel-spun yarns are hairier and lacking the same luster. This all comes down to drafting. The only drafting method I’ve used with the spindle is the inch-worm forward draft because it’s only one that kept the spindle in the air. It isn’t called a drop spindle for nothing. The wheel let me try other drafting methods until I settled on a hybrid long-draw as my default. Just like in writing, in spinning there is “no individual tool that is perfect for any situation.” Sure, the wheel allows me to spin lots of different yarns - bulky or fingering, dense or airy, smooth or haloed - but I haven’t been able to replicate the yarn I spindle spin. To be fair, this is probably more my doing than the wheel’s. 

The reactions I get from both tools are fundamentally different. When working with a spindle, there’s an immediate knowledge of whether or not there’s enough twist. With the suspended spindle, either the single holds together or the fibers pull apart and the spindle hits the floor. There’s not much warning. Sometimes though, as the fibers slip, enough twist builds up in the thinned section to keep the spindle in the air. I’ll take it. Spinning at a wheel, the single is pulled away from me instead of towards my feet which makes the question of twist a little harder to answer. I’ve spun plenty of yardage that had enough twist to make it onto the bobbin but too little to actually hold together. Some of my most frustrating spinning moments have been pulling a single off the bobbin only to have it to fall apart over and over again as I’m feeding it though the orifice.

I once read a blog comment but where writer said they couldn’t wait to upgrade to a wheel from a spindle so that they could be a “real” spinner. With all the tutorials and articles focusing on wheels over spindles, I can understand where they’re coming from. Still, don’t discount the spindle. It’s been a valid tool for millennia, and it’s not going away any time soon. Just like the pencil and the keyboard are suited to different tasks, so are the spindle and the wheel. Being able to use move between them and use both, will allow us to do so much more than we could with just one.  

Spinning Blues


Thanks to birthday gifts and great sales, I’ve been expanding my spinning library. The most recent additions are The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson and Spin Art by Jacey Boggs. Both books are wonderful, inspiring resources and I’m reading them cover to cover. My fingers have been twitching to start spinning but I’ve kept reading on for more info.


It was until last Friday I realized that I haven’t spun in weeks! My most recent project was half of the pencil roving I bought during Tour de Fleece. What’s the hold up? The roving was turning my spindle and hands blue. After I cleaned the spindle, posted a tutorial about it,  and the dye finally faded from my hands, I wanted to find a way to protect the spindle from more dye. I thought I had found a solution in a hardy strip of paper. Friday, before the arms went on my favorite turkish spindle, I wrapped the shaft completely with a piece of heavy paper. I could finally spin again and finish this yarn.  The problem was that every time I set the spindle turning, I was slowly unwrapping the paper. Not even tape held it in place. Eventually, I ripped off the paper and wound another strip in the opposite direction. That strip wouldn’t stay in place either. Completely fed up with the whole attempt, I ripped the paper off and just kept spinning.


My fingers and spindle are blue again but the spinning is easy and it isn’t as hard to draft a heavier single the second time around. I’m pretty sure using paper to protect a spindle can work but not for bottom whorl or turkish spindles. The method would probably be best for top whorl spindles if you left enough of the shaft unwrapped; there would be room to flick the spindle without touching the paper and releasing the wrap. 

Well, my first idea for protecting my spindle from extra dye didn’t work. The second attempt might involve latex gloves. Any suggestions or ideas to save my spindle and hands from unset dye?

How to Clean Dye Off Spindles


Dye bleeds. It’ll cover your hands, your clothes, and perfectly innocent yarn. Not even spindles are immune. The pencil roving I started spinning last week has been great to spin except for the fact that it’s been turning my hands and favorite spindle blue. Once the first single was finished, I finally had the chance to take my spindle apart and see how drastic the color change had been.


Blue, very blue. My blue “Smurf” fingers clued me in that the change would be severe but it was still disappointing to see the difference. It’s pretty, I’ll admit that, but the shaft is not the amazing amber color that it was when I first received the spindle as a gift a year ago. I’d rather have the amber back and, if fiber has turned your spindle an unwelcome color, you probably want it looking like its original self too. Plus, I want to get rid of any dye that might rub off on future projects. Here’s how I removed the extra dye.


Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap to the rescue. I keep Dr. Bronner’s around because it’s a gentle, mild soap that can still get the job done. Plus, you can use it for cleaning just about anything.


Wet a paper towel and squeeze out the excess water. Add a few drops of soap and start rubbing the stains. If the dying was recent, you should see a difference right away. Switch to a clean, damp cloth or paper towel to remove the soap. Pat dry.


 The shaft still has a blue tint along with a few blue spots where the dye got into the grain but the spindle is much closer to its original color. Now I just need to find a way to keep the roving from turning the wood blue again. 

August Break, Not

No worries. I’m not taking a break for the month of August. I already had enough of a blogging break during May and June. August Break is a photo-a-day prompt by Susannah Conway. The idea is that for the month of August, you skip the words and let a photo do all the talking. I liked the idea but skipping posting for a month didn’t sound like a great idea. So, I took the photos to Twitter instead. It’s been a nice change. For the last week, I’ve ignored the prompts but went on the look out for interesting details to document from my day. Things that I would ordinarily pass by with a smile, got a little more recognition.

For daily updates, follow me on Twitter


My favorite spot for summer knitting.

My favorite spot for summer knitting.

Doing a different kind of spinning today.

Doing a different kind of spinning today.

Sometimes, this is what designing knitting patterns looks like. 

Sometimes, this is what designing knitting patterns looks like. 

Making tiny, adorable mini skeins!

Making tiny, adorable mini skeins!

So far, reading subtitles while spinning singles has not been a bad idea.

So far, reading subtitles while spinning singles has not been a bad idea.

Another day, another walk on the beach.

Another day, another walk on the beach.

Found a beautiful shell at low tide. 

Found a beautiful shell at low tide. 

What's up, pencil roving?


Tour de Fleece may be over for the year and I’ve finished the Tour’s spinning but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving my goals behind. I’m spinning most everyday and I’m working up to spinning in public again. I’m still eager to try new things too. The closest, new thing at hand was the pencil roving I bought during the Tour. Time to satisfy my curiosity.


Once I got the label off, the roving was packaged just like a skein of yarn unlike other bumps of roving that come braided or chained. There’s no need to put it on a swift before it can be used though.


Looking closer, the roving is actually 2 smaller strands that were easily pulled apart. I’m not sure if this is how all pencil roving is packaged or something unique to Pagewood Farms but I like it. The strands were obviously dyed together and have the same color variations. Being able to easily split the strand in half makes it easier to spin color matching singles. This hank is a semi-solid blue so being able to spin matching singles doesn’t matter much but it would be a big help with a more variegated hank. Having 2 strands is also less work too since I don’t have to figure out where to split the fiber in half. 


Separating the two strands seemed like the right thing to do, so I got right to work. Then I wound the strands into cakes for easy access during spinning and for pre-spinning storage.


I’ve often read that pencil roving is great for beginners since the fibers all run in the same direction and there’s not a lot of excess fiber to worry with. These reasons make pencil roving easy to draft for the beginner and advanced spinner alike. I’ve only spun a bit over an ounce of the stuff so far, but my experience is that both of these things are true. The spinning it is quite easy and I’d recommend it if you’re still trying to teach your hands how to draft. Muscle memory is such a large part of spinning that can easily be overlooked in the beginning for the theory of adding twist to fiber. Making yarn is a physical process that uses your hands but also entire body. You must train yourself well.


I’m taking advantage of pencil roving’s qualities to spin a heavier yarn. After spinning so much fingering weight, I want to make sure I can still spin a worsted weight or thicker yarn. It was a bit of struggle to get my fingers to relax and not keep such a death grip on the fiber. The beginning of the single is pretty fine but has gotten thicker over the following yards. Only the plied yarn will tell, but it seems like I can still spin a worsted weight yarn. If only my fingers weren’t turning blue in the process.

Spinning Targhee


I bought some hand dyed Targhee wool from way back in January. Having never heard of the breed before it I saw it on the site, I was curious about how it would spin. The internet wasn’t very forth coming on the matter and I haven’t yet invested in a weighty tome about fiber type which meant that the best way to learn about Targhee wool would be to actually spin some. 


For the learning process, I fell back to my default yarn, a woolen spun 2-ply. The only prep I had to do was to split the roving in half lengthwise. Then it was time to spin. The first single was a little wild and inconsistent because I had to get my spinning fingers back. The second single was much more consistent. Due to these differences, I made the executive decision to ply each single back on itself though that probably wasn’t necessary. In the end I came out with 2 wonderful skeins and about 300 yards.  

Now that I’ve spun up about 4 oz of Targhee wool, I can type that Targhee is some of my favorite wool to spin. Definitely top 5 along with Falkland, Corriedale, and Blue Faced Leicester. It was easy draft and has a wonderful, soft hand. The staple length was several inches long and easy to work with. Whether to the specific breed, woolen spin, or how I finished the twist, the finished yarn bloomed significantly. During spinning, the second single was between a fingering and sport weight. After finishing, the yarn bloomed up to mostly a heavy worsted and lengths of super bulky.  

Looks like a super fun yarn to knit and I can’t wait to actually knit with it though I have no idea what to knit with it. I do know it will be warm and cosy. 


Simple DIY Wrist Distaff


It was Saturday and I was following my usual springtime routine of staying inside to avoid as much foul pollen as possible while also enjoying the internet. My routine may be simple but it works for me. During one of the many internet enjoyment portions of the day, I was catching up on Twitter when someone linked to a blog post about basic spinning vocabulary from Clean Cup, Move Down. Reading through the post, which is solid and worth reading if you’re new to spinning or need a refresher, inspired me to pull out a neglected spinning project

I had no problem with the single, the spindle, or the wool except that I put them away and promptly forgot about them. The spinning was wonderful and kept me inside and away from the pollen which is always a bonus. Also, I like to pace while I’m spinning and the roving was still long enough that I had to be careful not to step on it. I know I could torn off a chunk but I don’t want to join any more than I have too. It was at this point that I remembered such a thing called a distaff exists and I went back to the internet to figure out how to make one work for me. Distaffs, at least in relation to spinning, are cleft staffs which hold large quantities of wool or flax ready for spinning with a spindle. Not quite what I needed. Turns out that what I was looking for was a variation, called the wrist distaff, which is worn on the arm opposite the drafting hand. Most wrist distaffs hold just a few grams of fiber though and I wanted to have room for much more. The solution was simple.


All you need for a simple wrist distaff is a drawstring bag with ties long enough to fit around your arm. The bag should be large enough to hold a few ounces of fiber and the spindle. I’m using a Pretty Cheep project bag but any drawstring bag will work. Just put the roving or top into the bag so that it can easily feed out a little at a time. When it’s time to spin, take the fiber and spindle out of the bag, hang said bag from your arm, and get spinning.

Now you can pace to your heart’s content or go spinning in public. Plus, when you’re finished spinning, just put the spindle in the bag are you’re good to go. 


Spring 2013


It’s officially spring. Thankfully, there’s no snow on the ground but there’s enough pollen floating around to make up for the lack of flurries. 


To celebrate the budding leaves and try to forget about coming pollen apocalypse, I pulled out a hibernating project. Back in the beginning of February I really wanted to spin some beautifully dyed Targhee from I split the roving in half and even spun a few yards before having to put the project aside for something else. I kept meaning to come back to it again but didn’t actually grab it until yesterday. Know what? The spinning was great and my fingers hadn’t forgotten what to do. 

My goal is to enjoy working with Targhee, finish spinning the singles, and ply everything together before summer. Then I might do something wild and actually knit with my own handspun.  

Anyone else using the start of Spring as an excuse to pull out some languishing projects? What are you working on?


How To Tie A Turkish Spindle Leader


In the last installment of my spinning misadventures, I was trying to decide what to spin from a lovely bump of Targhee wool. Since this is my first time working with Targhee, I decided to keep things simple and go with a solid 2-ply yarn. The fiber gets to lead the rest of the way and do its wooly thing. The spindle of choice - a 33g Jenkins Swan which I haven’t used anywhere near enough. Time to fix that.

Turkish spindles can be tricky to start without a hook to help the process and leaders knotted to the spindle can be finicky when there’s a few yards of new handspun wrapped around your hand. I came across a solution quite by accident after I had the used the same leader, a piece of yarn or thread that helps add twist to fiber at the very beginning of spinning, to start several different singles. 


Tying the leader is simple. I used craft thread because I had it at hand but you can use yarn, twine, or any string in your junk drawer. Take a piece of string at least 18” long - length can vary based on the size of your spindle - and put the ends together. Tie an overhand knot near the end and a second knot about 2” from the first. That‘s it.


When you’re ready to start spinning, slip the larger spindle arm through the space between the knots. Insert the smaller spindle arm through the notch and the open loop at the same time. 


Once the shaft is in place, the loop will be secure around the arms of the spindle. Wrap the leader around the shaft and tie a slip knot at the top. To add fiber, draft out a few inches from your top or roving  and put it through the loop hanging off the spindle. Fold the roving back on itself and start spinning. It’s the same process as starting without a leader when the spindle has a hook which you can check out in this tutorial.


When it’s time to wind the single on to the arms, just wrap 2 over, 1 under as usual. No special treatment required. Nothing special to do when taking the single off the arms either. Just slide everything apart since the single isn’t tied, just wrapped, around spindle. 


The Targhee and I are getting along well so far. I’m still learning a lot from spinning it though and looking forward to the rest of the process. Hey, I alway look forward to new yarn.  

From Fiber to Yarn

I’m still fighting the good fight against the first and, hopefully, last cold of the season. So much for going for a run or even standing up for long periods of time. Thankfully, handspun yarn doesn’t need me to stand vigil while it dries or my latest skein would still be wet. Since it’s all new, fresh, and pretty, it gets to do the talking today. Take it from the top...

4 oz of Gale’s Art Polworth 85/Silk 15 (Indian Corn)


Split into quarters


Spun into 2 long singles


Wound into a plying ball


Plied on a drop spindle


In the bath


Almost dry


Glamour Shots!

All finished, the yarn weighs in at 396 yards and about 11 wraps per inch. It’s also wonderfully soft and bouncy. The colors are amazing and didn’t spin up anything like I thought they would. When I split the fiber lengthwise, the color repeats seemed really short so I expected to see short bursts of color. I was so wrong and could not be happier about it. The yarn has long dark, muted sections and long, bright, perky sections. I can’t wait to see what how it knits up. 

While I was spinning this, the plan was to knit the finished yarn into a hat for a christmas present but 400 yards is a bit of overkill for a hat. Even for a giant, extra long stocking cap. Any suggestions for 400 yds of 2-ply goodness? 


Getting To Know Each Other


Now that the commission yarn is finished, I’m taking the time for a little selfish spinning. I raided the stash and pitted the fiber against each other until there was a clear winner. I pulled them apart just short of felting. What came out on top was a lovely polworth/silk blend from Gale’s Art appropriately named Indian Corn. I had the loose idea of spinning a worsted weight 2-ply yarn. The colors get to do their own thing since the real purpose of this yarn is for me and my Jenkins Swan spindle to get to know each other. I’ve only spun a tiny little mini skein so far and it’s time that changed.


When I started spinning this single, my hands were still in lace weight mode and it took me a while to reset my fingers, so to speak. The spindle kept dropping but at least the singles were getting a decent thickness. As I was working and adding more singles to the arms, the spindle started to spin differently. It would still spin for a long time but at a much slower speed than when the cop (Is the collected yarn on a turkish drop spindle still called a cop or is that just on whorled drop spindles?) was smaller. I’m going to chalk this phenomenon up to the extra weight on the spindle from the singles and physics. Blast you, you increasing moment of inertia!

I really need to figure out how to build a cop upward on a turkish spindle instead of just outward. Any pointers?


A turkish spindle is comprised of 3 separate parts: the shaft and 2 arms. I knew this and, yet, didn’t expect the arms to get stuck on the shaft because of how many times I dropped it. A high number that. Anyway, when I was unwrapping the spindle for the first time, there was a little slip of paper from Jenkins Woodworking that came to my rescue:

Ed’s Unique Compression Fit Shaft: Vertical slits for releasing pressure if the shaft becomes stuck when dropped. If the shaft seems impossible to remove, place the entire spindle in a plastic bag and place in freezer about 30 minutes. 

So, that’s what I did except I was distracted by the internet and left if in for another 15 minutes. The spindle still popped apart without any difficulty and none the worse for wear. 


Compression slits, you are both gentlemen and scholars.

I’ve only just started spinning the second half of my fiber but I’ve already learned so much. How building a cop affects rotation and speed. How much fiber I can comfortably pack on. How to rescue my singles if the spindle ever acts stubborn. What might be most important is that the pair of us will be spinning yarn together for a long time. Hmm, I think he needs a name now. 

The Jenkins Turkish Swan Spindle

I’m not going to lie. Once I decided that turkish drop spindles were amazing things and, having repeatedly heard good things about Jenkins Spindles, I frequented Once I decided I wanted one for my birthday, I stalked that site. I compared the different models, weights, and woods. There was always a tab open in my browser. I was constantly refreshing the page whenever there was the slightest chance of an update. So, when a spindle popped up that met all my requirements, I wasted no time clicking “Buy Now”.


Check out what arrived in the mail yesterday: a Jenkins Swan Spindle made from cherry and weighing in at 33g. When I first got a look at the pieces, I could tell the spindle was something special.  It was obvious that everything was made my skilled hands. The spindle had spirit and energy and power. Sounds silly, I know, but it’s true.


I was content to wait until I crossed a few things off my to-do list and finished another spinning project before settling down try this handsome devil out; however, included in the package was a few grams of BFL and some already started yarn. Who am I to resist such an invitation? The yarn was just tied right to the shaft. Why have I never thought about tying a leader on to a turkish spindle like that? I’ve usually settled for making a big loop and setting it underneath two of the arms before making a half hitch at the top. Just tying a knot at the bottom seems so much simpler and balanced.


So, I paced back and forth across my back porch and spun up every last bit of fiber. The spindle was balanced, long spinning, and acted as a single unit instead of three. It spun like a pro.


When the fiber was yarn, I pulled out the shaft and the arms. I didn’t have to push or pull to free the single which is a massive improvement over my last turkish spindle. Then there was plying after I let the twist set and briefly got back to my to-do list.  12 yard mini skeins are insufferably cute. I’ll knit you up one day. 


I could sum up everything I’ve written and do a formal conclusion but I’m going to keep things simple. Never before have I used a tool, spindle or otherwise, that felt like it was made just for me and me alone. Looking forward to spinning lots of yarn together. 

A Turkish Spindle

Thanks in part to an enthusiasm to try out new spinning tools during Tour de Fleece* and a healthy bit of curiosity, I bought a Turkish Drop Spindle. What makes a Turkish Drop Spindle special is that the yarn is wrapped around the “arms” instead of spindle’s shaft. Once the spinning is done, the shaft and arms are removed which leaves a handy center pull ball. A few days ago, I got to try this out. 


Here we have a bit practice wool I started spinning right after Tour de Fleece.


Just the arms now.


Look, Ma! No hands!

Besides from wrapping the single around the arms, spinning on a Turkish Drop Spindle isn’t much different than spinning with a typical drop spindle. Just have to remember the “2 over, 1 under” wrapping rule and you’re good to go. 

As soon as the arms were out and I found the other end, I started chain plying the single without having to make a plying ball or any other prep work. I could really get used to that.


I only had one real difficulty using a Turkish spindle over the usual, whorled spindle. Since the turkish spindle acts as two pieces - the shaft and the crossed arms -   the spindle didn’t always start spinning all at once. As I would set the spindle spinning, I could feel the arms slipping around the shaft and unbalance the spin. Since the wobble got really annoying after the nth time, I would wrap the singles tighter and closer to the center. I’m not sure that did anything other than making the arms harder to remove. Since I’ve only tried this one turkish spindle, I’m not sure how widespread the phenomenon is. Guess I’ll just have to try out a few more spindles to check.

*This is the last time I’m going to start off a post by mentioning Tour de Fleece. For now.