One of the most important tools of the historic agrarian family was, and continues to be, the spindle. It’s beauty is only surpassed by it’s usefulness. For centuries, this simple and classic tool has spun fiber for the domestic economy. The spindle when properly used can easily turn wool, hemp, flax and cotton fiber into yarns that can be used to make everything from socks to sweaters. Once a common tool found on every homestead, the hand spindle is making a comeback. More and more people are finding it an affordable and easy way to learn the art of spinning, without buying an expensive spinning wheel. In our household, even though we have a wheel, Leah still spins with her many hand spindles because they are lightweight, portable and fun to use.
There are two basic kinds of hand spindles, the drop spindle and the supported spindle.
Drop spindles are a weighted spindle. The weighted portion of the spindle is called a “whorl” and drop spindles are classified by the position of the whorl. There are top whorl, bottom whorl and mid whorl spindles. We have several top whorl and bottom whorl spindles that are used in our home. (You can click on the images below to enlarge.)
Above is an example of a Top Whorl Spindle. These spindles have the whorl located close to the top of the shaft, which causes the spindle to spin very fast. A hook at the top of the shaft secures the developing yarn. The spun yarn is wound around the shaft under the whorl in a conical shape called a cop. Top Whorl spindles are very common and popular among hand spinners and are easy to use. (The spindle pictured has a whorl made from Cocobolo and a Wenge shaft)
This is an example of a Bottom Whorl Spindle. These spindles have the whorl located at the bottom of the shaft and spin slower but longer and more consistently. This particular spindle is a Turkish Spindle that we had custom made out of spalted tamarind and east indian rosewood. The Turkish spindle is unique in that the whorl is not a solid round piece of wood. The whorl of these spindles are two wooden arms that the finished yarn is wrapped on as you spin. To remove the yarn in one convenient “turtle”, you simply disassemble the spindle. The fact that Turkish spindles can be broken down and stored flat, makes them a great tool to use when traveling.
Supported spindles work with the tip on one’s thigh, on the ground, on a table, or in a small bowl while rotating. These spindles are excellent for the elderly and folks who have limited mobility, because with this type one does not need to stand for long periods of time while spinning. Supported spindles come in a variety of sizes. The Navajo spindle is very large at 30″ long. There are small, extremely fast, tahkli spindles for spinning cotton, And the tiny Orenburg spindle, which is only 20cm, for spinning gossamer lace yarns. The spindle pictured below is a Russian-style spindle that was crafted from bird’s eye maple.
Here is a short You-Tube video on how to use a top whorl drop spindle
Here is a video on using a Turkish style spindle