Beginner’s Info: Part 4
To my mind, a drop spindle is the cheapest, easiest, and most versatile way of getting into spinning. There is something so cool about being able to make yarn with a piece of carved wood that hovers in midair. But, although I love them to pieces, drop spindles aren’t for everyone. They require the ability to raise your arms until your hands are on a level with your head and hold them out there for longish lengths of time. Sound too strenuous? I’ll cover wheel types in the next post.
But, for those of you who don’t mind a little productive exercise, a drop spindle provides the perfect opportunity to learn how to handle fiber and twist without worrying about bobbin tension, wheel treadling, and the price tag. (Did I mention I love drop spindles?)
Kinds of Drop Spindles
There are two basic kinds of drop spindles. Top whorl and bottom whorl. The “whorl” is that big lumpy thing on the stick (which is called a “shaft”). The whorl is what gives the drop spindle the momentum it needs to keep it spinning around for awhile. If you didn’t have the whorl you’d be there forever. It’d be similar to spinning with your bare fingers. Ho hum. (There is also a “middle” or “center” whorl variety, but I’ve never tried one, so I can’t help you there.)
I strongly recommend getting a drop spindle that can be used as a top and bottom whorl. Why? Physics, of course! Well, sort of. Top whorl spindles spin faster than bottom whorls. Something about having the weight on the top makes them fly. You want a faster spindle if you’re spinning a thin yarn. The speed puts in the large amount of twist thin yarns crave, with a minimum of effort and time lag on your part.
Now, if a top whorl is fast, what do you think a bottom whorl is? Slow. Actually, it’s slower, not “slow.” You still get pretty good momentum, but the bottom whorl is best suited for thicker yarns. Slower means it isn’t yanking the yarn out of your hands, and thicker means that you don’t have to move your fingers quickly. In short, a perfect beginner contraption.
Ways to Get Your Drop Spindle
As I mentioned earlier, this is a great tutorial for a quick and easy way to make your own drop spindle. There are also places all over that have them. Etsy has gorgeous ones; just do a search for “drop spindle” and you’ll see what I mean. Paradise Fibers has a good selection, as does the Woolery. The Bellwether is also very nice. Goldings are just plain gorgeous. Look around, do price comparisons, see what you think.
A Few Buying Tips
There are some things you want to watch for when you buy or make a spindle.
- Does it have a hook?
A top whorl spindle should have a hook sticking out of the short section of shaft. Rather like this one. This hook gives you added stability while you’re spinning. And up until a little while ago I hadn’t realized it, but apparently some low whorl models have hooks on the long ends. You don’t have to have a hook on a low (a.k.a. bottom) whorl spindle, but you might like having that option.
- How much does it weigh?
Weight is a factor. My two best spindles weigh one and three-fourths ounces each. They’re a great weight for your everyday yarns. When you get into the one ounce area you’re looking at very feathery light yarns, which means fast rotations, which means not easy. Two ounces, or maybe two and half and you’re getting pretty big and heavy. Not only will you have to spin thick yarns with lots of twist, but they can hurt more if they get away from you and land on your toe. I have a big one that is just over two ounces. I use it strictly for bulky weight yarns.
- How Big Is It?
Size is also a factor. Although it’s not quite so much of a factor as weight. My smaller spindles are thirteen inches long with two-and-a-quarter inch diameter whorls. My mega one is fourteen inches long with a four-inch whorl. I don’t have any spiffy rules of thumb here. Just don’t get a spindle that looks completely out of whack. If it’s two inches long with a five inch whorl, something is screwy. And if it’s long for its whorl size you’ve gotten into the tahkli or navajo section. Run, unless you want to get drawn into the world of really cool, less common stuff.
- Is It balanced?
And the last, most important thing, is balance. This is very hard to judge when ordering online or by mail. A balanced drop spindle will rotate without wobbling back and forth. I’m going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that most of your commercial drop spindles will have been checked for imbalance. If you want to go to Etsy, look to see if the buyer says they’ve checked for balance. A wobbly drop spindle is not fun. I know because I have one that occasionally acts up.
Whether you make or buy one, find one that inspires you. I was so excited about my first drop spindle that I didn’t care that it didn’t look like a Golding. It was homemade from unfinished wood, but my dad had made it for me and it was wonderful to me. It still holds a special place in my heart.