Quick Basics – get spinning

on a spindle

Some Things to Know

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, all the things you put in with your own hands.  Our handspun does not have to (and should not) 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 one inch at a time.  Yes, only one inch, that’s important (refer to staple length below for more info).  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.

Park and Draft:

a note here:  when spinning, one hand is your drafting hand and the other is your fiber hand.  If you are a right handed spinner, your right hand is the drafting and the left your fiber hand.  The opposite if you are spinning left handed.  Of course, you can switch that up if spinning the opposite is more comfortable for you.

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 do 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 hands, use your drafting hand to pinch the twist back.  Move your fiber hand back enough so you aren’t grasping the fiber you are trying to draft.  Now you are ready to draft the fiber.  Draft the fiber while you let the twist move up into it.  When you have exhausted the built up twist, go back to pinching with your fiber hand.  Go again.

Checking the twist:

Stop and park your spindle.  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.  If you want a tighter yarn add more twist before winding onto the spindle shaft.

To Ply:  

Spinning two or more plies together.  

Spin in the opposite direction of your original spin.  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.  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 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:  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.  Overly energetic yarn is okay!  Lots of that twist will subside when you wash it.  I just want you to have a foundation of information so you know what you are looking at, dealing with, and spinning… a mental tool to keep handy.

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 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 you can pull it apart again you have not yet found the staple length.  Keep doing this until the fibers cannot be pulled apart when you tugging while holding each end.

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.  

When spinning, you will always need to be aware of how far apart your hands need to be.  Hold your hands just beyond the actual length of your fiber for smooth drafting.  If you hold to close together, your grip on the fiber supply is basically preventing you from drafting easily because you are grabbing the same fiber with both hands.

Happy Spinning!!