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What to Look for When Buying a Spindle

A basket full of fiber and wood-whorled spindles beckons with its spindling options

Have you ever wondered why it is that so many wheel-proficient spinners also choose to spin yarn using a spindle (or even a grouping of spindles)?

There’s a reason for that: while the spindle is a time-honoured means for teaching new spinners all about drafting fiber and learning to control twist, it’s an equally excellent tool for more experienced spinners who are looking to up their handspinning repertoire with what can be an even more mindful practice.

But with so many beautifully crafted spindles to choose from today, where do you start? And should you be choosing a suspended, or “drop,” spindle or one that spins supported (with its bottom rotating while supported by a base—usually a small bowl)?

You definitely should. Try both kinds, that is. There’s no one spindle that can serve your every yarn- spinning need, nor do we all possess the same physical dexterity. More so, finding the spindle that you love is a personal experience—one that may take you several attempts. That said, there are basic starting points to help you in your quest…

While these two spindles couldn’t look more different, both are solid performers in terms of balance and spin time

While these two spindles couldn’t look more different, both are solid performers in terms of balance and spin time

Starting Considerations for Choosing a Spindle

  • If you’re looking for a drop spindle to love, start with the basics: a plain, wooden, notched, top whorl spindle in the 1 oz range. If you use one that’s too heavy, its weight, plus the weight of the spindle’s growing cop, will invariably cause your singles to snap (not to mention, cause hand and/or arm fatigue), as well as a growing sense of frustration. If you get a suspended spindle that’s too light for you, you’ll find that the spindle doesn’t have enough torque to allow you ample time to attenuate and control your fiber supply before the spindle begins turning in other direction, causing your yarn to start unspinning.
  • Drop the term “beginner” from your search, as most spindles marketed this way tend to be both too weighty and far too large to make spinning anything more than a chore.
  • Until you know more about your preferences, a smooth shaft is a good choice; it is easiest to build a cop on a smooth surface.
    Speaking of shafts, it’s nice to have a spindle with one that’s long enough for a thigh roll without disturbing your neatly wound cop.
  • There’s no need to break the bank on your first spindle. It’s going to be hitting the ground a good bit, especially if you’re a new spinner. There are plenty of spindles to choose from in the “under $50” range.

Keep practicing and before you know it, you’ll be ready to start experimenting with whorl sizes and their placement on the shaft (mid or bottom), including cross-armed (Turkish) spindles and even the whorless Scottish dealgan.

Here’s a bit of surprising and unscientific data: Of all the people who have come to my home in order to learn how to manage a top-whorl (suspended) spindle, every single one of them became frustrated by it and left having effortlessly tackled the supported spindle instead. (Maybe this is an option we should start offering to new spinners?)

A basket full of fiber and wood-whorled spindles beckons with its spindling options

A basket full of fiber and wood-whorled spindles beckons with its spindling
options

Here are a few tips for finding a supported spindle that suits your needs:

  • Start out with a Russian (wand-like) or a Tibetan (or here again, both). The whorl on a Tibetan makes for an especially gentle, balanced, and very long spin time. It is my preference when teaching.
  • You’ll need a spinning bowl. My favourites are deeply hollowed wooden ones, though I also like my ceramic pinch bowls. Prior to owning these, I used small cooking ramekins (fingertip bowls) and empty, glass candle votives—items found around my home.
  • The weight of a supported spindle is bottom-centric. This, along with the cop you build, assist in the duration of the spin itself, so you may be able to get by with a slightly heavier spindle when spinning supported. Still, I prefer my support spindles in the .9–1.25 oz range. A spindle that’s too heavy can cause hand pain and muscle strain. One that’s too light needs near constant flicking, which can also lead to hand strain.
  • For the most part, these spindles range in length from 9–12 inches, tip to tip. Take note of the height you most prefer. A spindle that is too tall for you can be difficult to manage. Shorter ones are easier to take along in your daily travels. “Pocket-sized” Russian wands can make for excellent travel companions.

(Note: For many more tips on using your supported spindles, please watch my class on the topic on the School of SweetGeorgia platform.)

Finding the right spindle is a process, and one to be enjoyed. I like to try each new-to-me spindle several times before making a decision on whether or not to keep it. There are destashing threads on Ravelry and Facebook, and most spindles can be rehomed easily and without issue. I hope that the information above can be useful to you in your search for the spindles that bring the most joy to your spinning practice.

Go forth and spin,
Debbie

SPINDLES & SPINNING

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About Debbie Held

Debbie Held is a freelance writer and international fiber arts educator who almost always has a spindle in hand. She’s a recurring contributor to Spin Off magazine, PLY, Schacht Spindle Company, and more, and she’s the writer behind the Interweave column, Her Handspun Habit. A truly contented spinster, Debbie lives on an urban farm in Atlanta, Georgia, with an enormous Persian cat named Stanley. Both enjoy watching the spinner’s flock of Shetland sheep living in the yard below their windows. Write to them (all) at www.debbieheld.com.

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One thought on “What to Look for When Buying a Spindle

  1. Elena says:

    Interesting. I’m the exact opposite when it comes to spindle bowls. I like a nice, flat one with a tiny depression in the center – too many of my spindles don’t work with a deeper bowl, but instead rub the sides or bounce around a bit if there’s a bit of wobble.

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