Skip to content
02/02/2013 / thriftomancer

Spinning 101

Now that you’ve made a spindle of your own, it’s time to learn to use it.

Thing is, while trying to write this tutorial it occurred to me that, since this is such an elemental and heavily-covered subject, there is really nothing new I can contribute. (Aside from my choice of materials to spin, but that has little to do with the actual act/method of spinning.) So instead of cluttering up the internet with yet another redundant spinning tutorial, I decided I’d make this more of a resource list collecting the best tutorials, videos, and sites I’ve found. I’ll give you some advice on the wibblier points, but the rest is up to them.

If you want to circumvent me entirely and go learn on your own (It’s okay- sniff, tear- I understand.) here’s a terribly legit site to start at:

You can also go trawl Youtube for tutorials. There are plenty of good ones out there. (But I’ve already watched them and collected the best ones below for you.)

Everyone else, listen up.

Spinning is simple. When you get right down to it, spinning is just the ancient technique of twisting loose fibers together tightly enough that friction holds them in place and they make a string. ‘Fiber’ can be anything that’s long and, well, fibrous.

Animal hairs and plant fibers (i.e. wools from sheep, camelids, yaks, goats; and bast fibers like cotton, linen, bamboo, ect.) are the obvious examples, but you can use anything that’s available. Pet fur and unspooled cassette or VHS tape are popular choices, as are materials that can be cut into long strips, like newspaper, plastic/brown paper grocery bags, and old sheets.

The main event though, no matter what fiber you’re using, is that twist. You’ve got to impart a considerable amount of twist in your fiber or it won’t hold together at all and you won’t get yarn. So, here are some twisty sources for you:

Spinning yarn with a drop spindle from The Joy of Handspinning(.com) Clear instructions with good pics and some accompanying videos.

Introduction to Spinning Part 1 and Part 2 by franquemont on Youtube. (She really focuses on the concept of twistiness, I approve.)

Knit Pick’s Learn to Spin videos, also on Youtube. (Noticing a pattern?) The info is good, even if they’re a bit hard to watch. (The lady sounds a little condescending, though that may just be nerves from being in front of the camera. I can’t tell.) Whenever she says “energy” in the vid that link leads to, imagine she’s saying “twist” instead. It helps.

Those sources all teach you the basics of spinning twisted strands of fiber that are called singles. It’s important that you impart twist in the same direction, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, for all your singles. It doesn’t really matter which direction you choose, just so long as you’re consistent about it. You’ll see why in a bit.

When you finish spinning a single, wind it off your spindle and onto a bobbin. A bobbin can really be anything vaguely stick-like that’s big enough to hold all the material you spun. I started out using long knitting needles, but switched to 3/4″ dowels from the craft store. They’re cheap and do the job well. (And if you’re using a spinning wheel and not a drop spindle, you can ignore this because your wheel spins the single directly onto a bobbin as it goes. Lucky you.)

Once you have all your singles (usually 2, sometimes up to 4), the next step is to twist them together to make a stable yarn. This is called ‘plying.’ (If you’ve ever wondered what the notation of #-ply on your yarn’s label meant, it refers to how many singles are twisted together to make that 1 strand of yarn. Note: “ply” in toilet paper is a different thing entirely, but I bet you could still spin with it if you tried.)

This is where the direction of the twist comes into play.

Plying is pretty much like spinning singles. It uses the same twisting techniques as before, the only real differences are that instead of spinning raw/loose fiber into a string, you’re using the singles you’ve made as your source of fiber. You also need to spin in the opposite direction of how you spun the singles. So, if you spun your singles using a clockwise twist, you need to ply with a counter-clockwise twist, and vice versa. If you don’t, your singles won’t wrap themselves together into a cohesive yarn and may even start to untwist.

Now, have some more sources:

Creating a 2 Ply Yarn, by TheKnitGirllls. This particular tutorial is done with a wheel, but the concept is the same as when you’re plying with a drop spindle. Spin in the opposite direction, keep the singles from twisting together prematurely, huzzah.

But if you really need to see it, here’s How to Ply Yarn on a Hand Spindle, by Spin 2Weave. (She shares some good ideas about spinning with a drop spindle in general and is a good example to follow as far as technique goes.)

Though that (and most) tutorials only show 2 plies at once, remember that any number of singles can be used to make a whatever-ply yarn.

You can also make a plied yarn with just one single that’s twisted back and plied onto itself. I prefer this style of plying since it means I don’t have to muck about with multiple bobbins or worry about making singles of comparable lengths. These are the two most common ways to do this:

Andean plying, where you take a single ply, loop it about your hand, then ply both of the ends together, treating each end as an individual single, to get a yarn that’s 1/2 the length of your original single.

And Navajo plying where your single is looped back on itself as if you were making a giant starting chain for crochet. This style creates a chunkier 3-ply yarn (that’s 1/3 the length of your original single, so spin extra) and is a very good technique if you’re spinning a multicolor yarn and want to keep each shade distinct. (You’ll note she mentions this in the tutorial.) It takes a little bit of practice to be fully comfortable with though, since it’s not as straightforward as the other styles of plying.

The final step in spinning yarn is ‘setting the twist.’

Up until now you’ve been manhandling the fibers you’re working with into a new and unfamiliar form, which causes all sorts of weird tensions and conflicting forces in the newly spun yarn. To reduce that weirdness and make the yarn manageable you wind it off your spindle into a skein, soak it thoroughly, and hang it up to dry under tension. (Sometimes the weight of the water is enough to keep the yarn stretched, but often you have to tie a rock/weight to the bottom of the skein.) This process is called setting the twist and works because wetting the fibers softens and straightens them enough that they’re able to settle into their new, twisted yarn-form and stay that way once dry.

This is a pretty simple concept, so I don’t really think that a tutorial is necessary, but for completion’s sake this one on unraveling sweaters (that I’ve used a lot by now) has good pictures of winding skeins and setting the twist down towards the end.

This step is obviously one that won’t work on materials that are impervious to water (unspooled cassette/VHS tape, plastic grocery bags) or would be damaged by it (newspaper, paper bags, TP).

And that’s the basics of spinning yarn. There are, of course, advanced techniques to produce specialty yarns that involve tricks like spinning with changes in tension, playing with singles of different thicknesses, and whatnot. It’s something to experiment with once you get used to the basics, but for now go forth and spin some yarn. Good luck and have fun!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: