To make yarn you need two things: a fiber to spin, and a tool or machine to introduce twist into the fiber.
Top whorl drop spindle
The easiest and quickest way to get started spinning is with a spindle. There are several different kinds of spindles, but the two main categories are suspended spindles, also called drop spindles, and supported spindles. These are further divided into subcategories. With drop spindles, you can get top whorl or bottom whorl spindles. Supported spindles have even more varieties, including the Russian, Tibetan, bead whorl.
For the sake of this guide, we’ll be dealing with top whorl drop spindles. All the students in our Beginning Spinning class receive one with the cost of the class, and that is what we recommend starting with. Some spinners and spinning teachers prefer bottom whorl spindles. It’s really a matter of personal preference. If you have a bottom whorl spindle available to you, there’s no reason not to use it.
Bottom whorl drop spindle
Drop spindles spin while suspended in the air by the fiber that you are spinning. Drop spindles are essentially a stick with a round part, or whorl, at one end. Top whorl spindles also have a hook on the end above the whorl. Some bottom whorl spindles have a hook on one end, but not all of them do because they aren’t necessary on a bottom whorl spindle.
If you want to be able to try both ways of spinning, the Schacht Hi-Lo spindle can be used in either configuration.
Schacht Hi-Lo spindle
Another great option for getting started is the Louet Learn to Spin kit. It has a good spindle and enough fiber to get you started.
We have over 50 colors of roving in stock
In the world of commercially spun yarn, you’re not usually given much detail about the type of wool in your wool yarn. The one exception is Merino, which is usually specified on a label. If it’s not, then it’ll probably just say “wool.”
When dealing with spinning fibers, they’re discussed by the breed of sheep the wool came from. There are lots and lots of breeds of sheep in the world, and their fibers aren’t all equally suitable for spinning. That said, there are lots of breeds with wool that makes good yarn.
Wool fibers are divided up into categories based on staple length. The staple is the length of one fiber or “hair” if you will. Some sheep naturally have longer or shorter fibers. The categories are, quite unimaginatively, called short, medium, and long. Fibers in each category that you may have heard of, or are likely to hear of once you get fully immersed in the world of spinning, are Merino (short wool), Corriedale (medium wool), and Bluefaced Leicester (longwool), or BFL for short.
When buying fiber for spinning you’ll also come across different terms that describe how the fiber was prepared. Wool that’s fresh off the sheep is called raw fleece. The raw fleece is then washed and picked to get the dirt, grease, and vegetable matter out of the fiber. The fiber can then be either combed, to create combed top, or run through a commercial drum carder, to create roving. Sometimes people use the term roving to describe any and all prepared spinning fiber. This isn’t particularly accurate since roving refers to a specific preparation. You can also purchase fiber in the form of batts, which is fiber that has been run through a smaller drum carder. There are a couple other types of fiber preparation, but those are the most common that you’ll find for sale. At some point in the process, the fiber is also usually dyed, though it is certainly possible to find naturally colored wools at any stage.
For brand new spinners we recommend using Corriedale or BFL. Corriedale isn’t nearly as soft as Merino, so if you start with that don’t plan on making a scarf for your first handspun project. It’s a bit scratchy when spun up. BFL is nice because, though it is a long wool and those tend to be less soft than short wools, BFL is an exception. It is nearly as soft as Merino wool, but it has a much longer staple length, which makes it easier to spin.
Do pick something that you think is pretty. A lot of the time beginners will pick up something inexpensive or in a color they don’t necessarily like because they think of their beginning efforts as less worthy of good fiber. But, you’re far less likely to put in the time and effort it takes to learn the skills if you don’t like what you’re working with. So, pick a pretty spindle if that makes you happy. And pick a pretty fiber.
Now that you know what you need to get, where do you learn to spin?
The best way to learn is to take a class. We offer a Beginning Spinning class in our shop. Included in your lesson fee is a top whorl spindle and fiber to get you started along with a two-hour class. We also have an Open Spinning group that meets on the second Friday of every month. Come and spin with us to get tips, tricks, and make new spinner friends. Wherever you are, though, finding a local spinning class and spinning group is a great way to learn, improve your skills and knowledge base, and make new friends.
If you can’t make it to one of our classes, we also have videos on our YouTube channel teaching how to spin with a spindle.
And finally, Abby Franquemont’s book Respect the Spindle is a must-have for any spindle spinner’s library.
Hopefully, now you feel more confident about what to get so you can embark upon your new
obsession hobby. Come join us down the rabbit hole and have fun making yarn!