Quick Basics – get spinning

on a spindle

A first note:  there are endless possibilities to the kinds of yarn you can make by hand.  There are no wrong yarns. The beauty of handspun yarn is the texture, twist, slubs etc.  Our handspun does not have to (and shouldn’t) look like a machine made commercial yarn.  Free yourself from expectations.  Whatever you make is going to be beautiful, fun, useful…  Also, withhold judgement of your yarns until you get through the entire process of spinning, plying (if you choose to), washing, drying.

Direction of twist: 

The direction that your spindle whorl is moving.

Z twist is clockwise

S twist is counter clockwise


Pulling, loosening, or slightly separating a small amount of fiber from a larger amount of fiber. 

Basic drafting:  pinch your fiber and move it forward one inch at a time.  Yes, only one inch, that’s important.  Later, you may learn other methods of drafting but learn this Inch Worm method and you will be set to do anything.  Inch worm will help refine your ability to move in the increments you choose.  It is also the best way to get a consistent yarn.  This method of spinning is worsted style.

Don’t forget, always hold your fiber with a gentle loose grip.  When spinning, you will need to hold your hands just beyond the actual length of your fiber for smooth drafting.  Refer to staple length below for more info.

Park and Draft:

A method for spindle spinning.  I like to use this especially for supported spindles.  As a beginner, you may want to use this for drop spindling.  With this method, you are drafting while the spindle is not in motion.  You will flick your spindle to add twist but no not draft while it’s spinning.  You will keep the twist from entering your fiber supply with your fiber fingers pinching your fiber.  Add some twist, not a ton.  Stop the spindle, park it under your arm or between your knees.  Switch to pinching the twist back with your drafting fingers.  Now you are ready to draft the fiber as you let the twist move up into the fiber.  Go back to pinching with your fiber hand.  Go again.

Checking the twist:

Stop and park your spindle (under your arm or between your knees).  Move your fiber hand forefinger and thumb down the yarn about an inch while using your spindle hand to pull up several inches from below as if you are forming a loop.  Before you let go, pull that loop close to itself by pulling outward at the middle point and let both sides of the yarn twist around itself.  This is what your yarn will look like at your current rate of twist for a two ply.  Gently pull this apart and resume spinning or plying.  If you want a tighter yarn add more twist before winding onto the spindle shaft.  Check your twist often.

To Ply: 

Spinning two or more plies together.   Spin in the opposite direction of your original spin.  For a balanced yarn, put a similar amount of twist into the ply as you put into the singles. Check your balance occasionally as you ply to maintain a balanced yarn.

a note here:  you can also ply a singles yarn by doing an Andean ply or Chain ply.

Checking the balance:

Stop and park your spindle (under your arm or between your knees).  Move your fiber hand forefinger and thumb down the yarn an inch or so, use your spindle hand to pull up a length of 6-8 inches from below your pinchy fiber fingers.  Pull your hands close to one another, let the 6-8 inches hang.  You are letting the yarn form a dangling loop.  Technically, a balanced yarn will hang with no twist.  BUT, we want it to hang with 2 or 3 or 4 gentle twists.  This will give it just a little bit of nice hold together energy.  This will also balance when set (washed).

a note here:  If you didn’t put a good amount of spin into the original singles, then adding more twist at the point of plying will over twist your yarn and it will come out energized and twisty instead of balanced.  An over twisted yarn will have a whole bunch of twists in it when you do the balance check.  It will wrap tight around itself instead of a making a loop.

Staple length:

The length of the fiber as it grew on the sheep. 

a note here:  roving and top are overlapping staple lengths of fiber.

Find your staple length by pinching the tip/edge of your roving, pull a small amount of fiber out.  Grab each end of what you pulled out, pull on it again.  If it is solid this is your staple length.  If the fibers split again, just keep doing this until your fiber doesn’t separate.

Knowing your staple length is important.  You should do this little test each time you start spinning with a new fiber.  The length of your fiber will determine how much twist it needs to hold it together.  Shorter needs more twist, longer needs less.  It will also determine how close or far you want your hands to be when spinning.  Closer for shorter fiber, farther for longer. 

An example, if you are working with a longer fiber and your hands are close together, your hold on your fiber supply is basically preventing you from drafting easily because you are trying to move fiber that your other hand is still holding on to.  Basically you are grabbing the same fiber with both hands, therefore working against yourself.  Think staple length test.

Happy Spinning!!