Years ago, when I started spinning we hunted the internet to find what and how. I remember trying to find a living person in my country who actually spins, I went to the Skanzen in Szentendre (a museum of folk buildings and crafts), where Saturday’s program was „spinning and weaving” but I only found a crumbly non-working spinning wheel, and a distaff packed with hemp. The weaving loom was in a room closed off with a chain, but that’s another story. Today it is easier, as much information is available in Hungarian as well, there are a few blogs, spinning wheels can be ordered, there even will be a book in Hungarian pretty soon. So, what to do when the urge to spin hits?
Start to look for info what kind of a tool can be used to make yarn out of some fibers… Every one heard about the Sleeping Beauty, so the first obvious choice is the spinning wheel. They can be found in flea markets, on second hand internet sites… I heard about successful buy, and/or successful restorations, but the truth to be told, I had no such a luck. My old wheels do work, they can be threadled, but they don’t really work well, and I am not too good in „barn tuning”, I even wanted to give up on spinning all together.
New wheels can be ordered…if we already decided that yes we do want to spin, in a long term, nota s a passing fancy, and we can finance the buy. Choosing the first wheel is not simple task either, but I am going to write about that later. BUT, the price of new wheels makes everyone consider very carefully if they really want to spin. THERE IS a solution.
The signs of the first spinning wheels were found in the Far East (not clear if it was China or India) in the 12-13th century. How yarn was spin until then? How was the yarn for spun for all those linen the mummies of Egypt were wrapped in? The Greek and roman togas? The textile for medieval clothes? The sail of Columbus?
With the hand spindle.
Our ancient ancestor realized if they sweep animal hairs off their skin or the floor of their cave they get twisted together, the fibers stick together, and gets a lot stronger than they were separately. At first yarn was spun by hand against their thighs, and only later they figured out that they can spin longer threads if it is wrapped on a piece of stick. These sticks must have been stuck in the ground when not in use to keep them out of the way, and then someone realized that the mud stuck on them actually helps them spin better, longer, faster, so some weight (firs a piece of rock, then some kind of a whorl) was intentionally put on the stick, and the drop spindle was born.
Drop spindles are very simple tools, consisting a shaft and a whorl. If the whorl is closer to the top of the shaft we get a high/top whorl spindle, if it is closer to the lower end we get a low whorl spindle. In Europe, the mid and south Americas the low whorls spindles were used mostly, in Egypt and the middle east they used too whorls. On the top/high whorl spindles on the upper end of the shaft there is a little hook to hold the yarn, in low whorl spindles this is often substituted with one or two half hitch.
searching the internet you can see what is called „supported spindles”, these are either bigger and used to spin thicker yarns, or smaller, spin fast and can be used to spin really thin gossamer yarns, because gravitation is not pulling the fibers apart causing the yarn to break. (Picture from here, used with permission)
Why else? Because you don1t have to spend half/one/two/three month worth of wages on a wheel when we not even sure we really want to spin in a long term. The most important part of spinning, the „drafting”, which means pulling the fibers out of the roving or batt, can be practiced on t eh spindle the best. When spinning with the drop spindle the movement can be taken apart to steps (if you want to search on it: it is called the „park and draft method”), and you can concentrate on one thing at the time. A tool like this can be bought for a few dollars, or crafty persons can make one (or more) themselves from toy wheels old CDs, or stones found in shops. It is important thouhg that the spindle is the appropriate size and weight, properly balanced, therefore at the first time (to avoid unnecessary added frustration) it is worth to buy from a trusty source. they don’t cost that much, even if you add the international shipping cost, and a couple of types available in Hungary as well.
How to select a spindle? The big spinning goddess, Abby writes somewhere that theoretically you can spin any kind of yarn with any kind of spindle. I do suggest, at least in the beginning to select the appropriate tool for the job.
Basically, we select the spindle to what kind of yarn we plan to spin. Thick yarn is easier to spin in a bigger heavier spindle, for thin lace yarn a smaller, light spindle is better suited. Fr beginners i usually suggest a medium weight (1.5-2 oz) spindle. In my experience it is better if the whorl is not too big, about 6-7 cm in diameter. Of course this might be a question of personal preference, some might like the bigger better, I prefer the smaller ones, they spin better, faster, and lose their speed slower. For plying I do have a lovely gigantic star shaped spindle though.
A spindle can be easily moved, transported, fits into a handbag, a smaller one even into a pocket. They can be easily picked up and a meter or two spun while doing a boring phone-call, one can easily walk over with it to a different room and spin while checking the kids progress on their homework, or they can even be used while walking (or dancing for that matter)
I will write later on the advantages of spinning wheel, next time I will come with what to spin into a yarn.