Tutorial: How to spin with a drop spindle…

Ahhh, today is wonderful…dark, rainy, gloomy! Just the right kind of day to do some spinning! What’s that, you say? Don’t spin? But you’re dying to learn? *rubs hands together* Eeeeeexcellent…

Don’t be frightened–spinning is easy to learn and takes very little money to start. By now you probably have a nice little spindle you’ve made, all by yourself, with instructions from my last tutorial. Or you can buy them online–there’s all kinds of gorgeous spindles out there for beginners for reasonable prices. Wool is also easy to come by on the net–before long you’ll have your favorite suppliers to stock you up on demand, but I started out with the mother-ship of spinning acoutrements, the website at Halcyon Yarn. They have everything you need, and I do mean everything. But for a starter yarn, go easy and cheap–no alpaca or camel or angora or yak, not yet. Blue-faced Leister is a great beginners wool, as is Icelandic and Romney.

Beginner's tutorial
A simple drop spindle and a handful of fiber, waiting to be transformed into something wonderful.

The first thing you’ll want to do is fluff up your fibers. If you bought roving in long strips or braids, untie the braids and gently tear the roving into nice, manageable strips. If you have a batt, you can tear off chunks as you spin. Or you can just take locks of wool and use your fingers or a dog comb to make a nice fluffy pile. And take a minute to roll a little fiber around in your fingers. How does it feel? Twirl some around with your hands, and see what feels good to you. That’s how you’ll want your yarn to feel. Now, tie some leftover yarn to your spindle, under the whorl, and loop it through the hook on top. (This is called, the ‘leader” yarn.)Put a slip knot in the top, then thread a little fiber through the loop and pull nice and tight. This will anchor your fiber for spinning…

Spindle ready to spin
A spindle, all ready to spin!

Now, hold the yarn loop with your dominant hand, and let the spindle hang down from the leader yarn. Spin it with your fingers, counterclockwise. Let the twist go up into your fiber. You can stop your spindle anytime and use your fingers to smooth out your yarn. One hand will end up controlling the twist by pinching off the yarn, and the other hand will end up “drafting”; basically pulling at your fiber until it’s the thickness you want. Don’t be too worried about drafting right now–you just want to get the hang of the twisting from the spindle running up into your fiber the way you want.

Spindle with yarn
Spinning up the first bit of yarn. Let the twist from your spindle run up into the fiber.

How’s a good way to tell how your yarn is going? You can let it loop back on itself to see if it feels soft and comfortable. If it feels too tight and harsh, it has too much twist, and you can fix it by letting the twist run further up the fibers. If it’s coming apart, twist it a little more. But trust your fingers; they know what they want your yarn to feel like. You can always stop, untwist all the fiber and start over if it’s not the way you want it.

Looped fiber
This fiber looped onto itself really nicely. it’s not too tight, not too loose.

Running out of fiber? Add a little more! Just take your next bit of fiber and layer it over the end of your yarn. Give your spindle a spin and watch the twist run up into the new addition. Wool wants to hang onto wool, and you can keep adding on and on until your spindle is full or you’re tired of spinning, whichever comes first.

New fiber!
New fiber added onto the first bit of fiber. The twist holds everything together!

Now, while you’re spinning and spinning, you’ll make mistakes for sure. Your wool will be lumpy. You’ll drop your spindle a dozen times or more. Your hands won’t know what to do. Just keep at it–eventually your hands will find a rhythm that makes sense, and things will get much easier. My rhythm goes like this: “Spin the spindle, pinch the yarn, pull the fibers”. The pinching is to stop the twist going further than I want it too, the pulling is to even out the next fibers to be spun up. And you can stop whenever you want, start back up whenever you want, and keep going until you can no longer fit anything onto your spindle.

Very full spindle
A very, very, very full spindle…

So what do you do with your spindle full of yarn? You can wind your new yarn into a ball as it is and knit with it. I usually prefer to set the twist–I wrap it around a niddy-noddy, a wonderful tool used to measure and skein up yarn, then take the yarn off, give it a good gentle soak in lukewarm water, *very* gently wring out the water and hang it in my shower to dry. (I use clothes hangars to weigh down the bottom of the skein so the yarn doesn’t kink.) When it’s dry, it’s nicely balanced and much easier to use. You can use that first yarn to make a funky potholder, or a headband, or a little bag to put in spinning fluff for later. But be proud of that first wonderful, lumpy, blobby yarn, and be proud of yourself!! Not everybody sticks it out with something new, and you just did!!

(If you have any extra questions about spinning, or get stuck and need a little coaching, ask me in the comments section!! I’ll walk you through any fiber kinks you run into. But I think you’ll do better than you expected.)

Even in the darkest hour, you can always find me…

…Because I just bought some glow-in-the-dark spinning fiber!

It glows!! How cool is that?

I have always played around with glow-thread and it makes for some really fun Halloween yarns…but this looks pleasingly chunky and wonderful to play with. I can hardly wait to get my mitts on it!!
There’s so much opportunity for fun here.

Meanwhile, I’m almost done with a chemo cap for a friend of a friend…and a little more spinning here and there. I’ve been spinning more on breaks at the Mines, just to relax. It’s fun to watch my coworkers when the spindle goes around and around…sometimes I’ll laugh and whisper, “Sleepy…you are getting sleepy…ALL HAIL THE HYPNO-TOAD!!” and we’ll have a good chortle. This weekend I’d like to put up a nice spinning tutorial for beginners, so I’ll play with the camera a bit this afternoon. The last tutorial was so much fun, I want to do more…

Zombie Love…

People ask me all the time what projects I like to knit. Depending on who asks, I will stick to safe answers like, “Socks, sweaters, you know, knitful things.” But sometimes I’ll tell them the truth.”I love knitting weird things. Squooshy monsters with tentacles and guts inside them, tiny shawls for ghost dollies, cosies for things that don’t need them…You know, like you do. And Zombies!” I keep finding cool patterns for things like Sharktopuses, which I *have* to try. I have to! I want a Sharktopus, and I’m betting you do too!

Last year about this time I knitted up a zombie version of my sweetie. He sits on his shelf, with a detachable head, arms and legs, with his guts squishing out of his torso…

Zombie Sweetheart.
This fella’s got a really big heart. It’s just behind all those squishy guts…

It’s actually not a bad likeness, except for the green skin and detachable head and loose intestines. If I made him a tiny fuzzy sweater, he would look an awful lot like Robert Smith with glasses. But would that invoke The Dreaded Sweater Curse? Or maybe, since it would be small, the curse would also be tiny–maybe we’d just have a grumpy morning with burned toast instead. Anybody who’s made tiny sweaters for undead significant others please feel free to give advice…I realize that may be a very small advice pool.

My favorite month! At last!!!

It’s cooling off…the sky is darkening…the leaves are falling…and I love every second of it!!
Finally, the month I’ve been waiting for!! Delicious, wonderful October!

So to celebrate I’ve been spinning a cheerful Halloween yarn or two. Look at these happy, happy skulls!

Skully yarn!
A promising start to some happy, happy skully yarn!

While I love my spinning wheels to distraction, sometimes a spindle is ideal when you’re adding on loads of bulky things like beads or cocoons or scraps of silk and whatnot. I’ve also been using a cool trick for adding the beads: Stringing them into small bits of the roving with a needle-threader, then fluffing out the roving so it grabs on to the rest of the yarn. It doesn’t ladder like a thread can do with a heavy bead, and is remarkably stable!

Meanwhile, last night I just got back from visiting a friend who has an art studio at the Northrup King building in Northeast. I love those spaces, full of color and light. I kind of covet them, to be truthful. Studio spaces are so great. I never really used one myself, though. Why? Welllll, when you really get down to it; creatively I can be a bit lazy. When inspiration hits, the last thing I want to do is haul myself down through the cold, windry weather to where I put all my tools, paints, wool, etcetera. I’d just rather hop out of bed, have a wash, run downstairs or upstairs to the wool-bins and start mixing the fluff. These days I’m awfully lucky to have enough space at home where this is doable. If I was doing this sort of thing full-time, a space would make more sense,but I’m grateful at the moment I don’t need it. There are times though, when the paying job gets stressful and I think about starting a small yarn shop. There’s a bit of a yarn-shop gap in my neighborhood, and maybe , just maybe…