Supported spindling: magic and addictive!

Grab a coffee, I’m being chatty tonight…

Once again, it has been a while since I last posted. Of course, I have excuses (who doesn’t?): I have been working on two designs that should be released soon (see at the end of this post for a picture of one of them), and I have been traveling. But that’s not all.

I have new toys. And they’re addictive. And fun. And magic. A bit like a magic wand, but even better than that. I am hooked, although there is no hook on these: I am now the proud owner of two supported spindles (and a spinning bowl), and I could see more supported spindles in my future…

But before I tell you about them, let me tell you a little about my “journey” as a beginner spinner (I still am a beginner, believe me). If you get bored, I won’t be offended, just jump ahead to the sections with pictures!

Once upon a time… a year or two after I started knitting, there was this knitter at knit-night who was more and more often bringing her spinning instead of her knitting. And I was captivated, watching her spin, and  asking question about how it works. And she taught me about staple length*, and twist*, and I kept watching her transforming fluff into (lovely) useable yarn. [For those of you who are not (yet) spinners, you may not know about all the spinning terms. So I’ll try to add a little glossary at the bottom of this post]

One day, she talked me into trying with a drop spindle. Somehow, it clicked pretty much immediately, and soon I too was turning fluff into yarn. Not as pretty as hers, but definitely useable. She said I was a “natural” spinner. I didn’t believe her, but it sure was a nice thing to hear when one expect to just make a big mess of that yummy fluff.

Now, she also had a wheel… And one day, she invited me over at her place to knit and chat… and to have a go at her wheel. Just like for the drop spindling experience, I first spent a good while watching her treadling and moving her hands and asking questions about how the flyer* and the bobbin* work, etc. And then she told me to give it a try. And I sat at the wheel, and… it clicked too.

I didn’t know about all the different types of wheels, “castle” or “Saxony” type (with the bobbin and flyer above the wheel, or on the contrary, to the side). I didn’t know about the different brands, about ratio*, intake*, about single or double drive*, about single or double treadle. I didn’t know where to buy a wheel either, and I simply gave a call to the shop where I had bought some fluff and they were really kind and indicated that they had a lady who contacted them, as she was looking to sell her wheel since she was not spinning anymore. I had no idea about the fact that it’s better to try a wheel first, to try many wheels before making a choice, to look for potential issues on a second hand wheel… So what did I do? I drove South an hour or so from home, met the lady in the middle of nowhere. We had a little chat. And I bought her wheel without trying it or anything. It turns out it’s one of the earliest versions of the Ashford Traditional, and certainly needed some maintenance (and still needs some). But I was happy, and took it home, and learned some more about spinning.

And then, spinning got put aside for a few years as I was knitting every free minute. And also doing other crafts and arty things. But last year, as I needed something to empty my little brain and at the same time, find a way to relax, I came back to it. I took care of my old wheel (which turns to be older than me, how fun!). It certainly has some temper and a mind of its own, but so do I. And so far, I think we’ve managed to cohabitate pretty well. And we make yarn together.

Ashford Drop Spindle and HilltopCloud pin-drafted roving

Ashford Drop Spindle and HilltopCloud pin-drafted roving

I also dug for my drop spindles, and got reminded how portable they are. For sure, it’s slower to spin on them compared to the wheel, but just like a plain stockinette sock: they are great to work on every now and again, everywhere, any time. And so progress can be quite quick too in the end!

Pictured on the left: my current spinning project on my drop spindle: some heavenly soft pin-drafted roving (a dream to spin) which is a mix of llama, merino and shetland. Hilltop Cloud is amongst my favourite shops for fibre; she also focuses on British breeds, and it’s great!

And one day, I was looking at pretty pictures of people spinning fluffy little batts* onto spindles that didn’t look like my drop spindles at all: they were supported, and their tip twirled in a curved bowl. This time, there was no one I knew for real, to ask for details. Only a few people online, and the maze of Internet. And I found these, and watched them a couple times:

This one: Fleegle spins on a Russian spindle

and this one too: Fleegle spins on a Tibetan spindle

No need for words really. I was speechless (and believe me, it doesn’t happen that often) just watching the spindle twirl endlessly and the yarn magically forming from the fluff.

You may now guess what happened next: in the next hour, I had put an “ad” on Ravelry, in the “UK Classified” forum, which read as follows:

Well mannered spinner in spindle-friendly home (lots of yummy fluff!) looking for well balanced supported spindle for long evenings together.
Ideally Tibetan or Russian type (I’ve got a thing for oriental-type spindles I guess!), the elected supported spindle needs not be too selfish, as some fluff will have to be shared with the 3 resident drop spindles and the granny wheel. However, it may well become The Favourite Spindle… and so will get all the yummy fibre in priority!
All applications will be considered. Supported Spindle with a spinning bowl in their luggage might be given priority.

While I was eagerly waiting for a reply, although I didn’t really believe anyone would want to sell a supported spindle to me, I looked for Russian or Tibetan spindles handturned in the UK. I didn’t find any. And ended up eyeing one from a US Etsy shop (TexasJeans), which seemed to have great reviews.

And someone replied to my ad above. And I bought a second-hand Russian type spindle, which came with its little bowl.

Russian type spindle with its spinning bowl. Imagine it a little slimmer under the little bit of yarn spun on it.

Russian type spindle with its spinning bowl. Imagine it a little slimmer under the little bit of yarn spun on it.

But I have also been weak, and I bought this Tibetan spindle I was eyeing from TexasJeans’s shop. Coming from across the pond, it was going to take a while to reach me…

TexasJeans Tibetan and Nunoco batts (2 x 50g) awaiting to be spun

TexasJeans Tibetan and Nunoco batts (2 x 50g) awaiting to be spun

Luckily, the Russian came really quickly, and I started playing straight away, trying to do a little like I remembered from Fleegle’s awesome videos. Did I watch the videos again? No. I was too busy doing my usual “trial and error” method. And it clicked. And a few minutes after, I was making a nice, quite even, single. It’s magic. Just magic, to see the spindle turn and turn and do its little dance, and the fluff elongating and turning into a nice length of yarn. Magic, I tell you.

Russian spindle and FondantFibre rolags

Russian spindle and FondantFibre rolags. Here is where I am at the moment. On the spindle is one third of the fibre. The bunch of rolags pictured above are another third, to give an idea of how spinning is magic.

Now, as much as I’m having fun with the Russian, I got a little frustrated that it doesn’t swirl for very long each time (although it’s definitely spinning for a lot longer as there is more yarn added around it). And then, I received the Tibetan spindle. I gave it a quick try and…

TexasJeans Tibetan and Nunoco batts

TexasJeans Tibetan and Nunoco batts

I’m in love. This thing spins forever. I still need to mate it, as it seems to have a mind of its own too. But like I said, so do I.

Picture on the left: my first spinning project on the Tibetan spindle: 2 x 50g batts from Nunoco (my favourite place for squishy batts, with a great sense of colours), in a lovely grey/yellow combo to die (dye?) for. Fibre content: merino, silk noil and soya.

I am just a beginner at spinning, and a very early beginner at supported spindling. But I’m loving it. I am now the proud owner of two magic wands, and a little wooded “cauldron” to spin into. And I’m loving being a spinning witch, with the amazing power of turning fluff into yarn.

So, if you’re not a spinner (yet), are you itching to try your hands at some magic now???


Oh, and I was about to forget… Do you still want to see a (progress) picture of one of my two designs to be released soon?

©Aurelie Colas - 2014

©Aurelie Colas – 2014

A little (humble) glossary for those who may not know the vocabulary of spinning (yet). I don’t pretend to be literate in spinning, but I hope this can help understand how things work:

staple length: the length of fibre, determined by the length of the fleece at sheering time. It can be determined by pulling on a bit of fluff by the tip of the fibres: the length of the piece of fluff that gets loose is the staple length.

twist: the twist in the fluff is what makes the fluff “stick” together and form yarn. With no twist, the fibre would pull apart as the lengths of fibre slide along each other.

flyer: a U-shape piece that is set in motion by turning the wheel, and which turns around the bobbin (which is where the spun fibre is stored on the fly as it is being made).

ratio: the number of times the flyer turns around the bobbin when the wheel accomplishes one full revolution.

intake: how much the wheel “pulls” on the yarn being spun, determined by how much friction there is on the bobbin and/or the braking system.

single/double drive: defines whether the bobbin is directly connected (with a piece of string / the driveband) to the wheel just like the flyer (double drive), or independent from the wheel, and controlled by a braking system (single drive)

batts: a type of fibre preparation that looks like an tidy little pillow. It is created usually by using a drum carder. There are many ways to spin from a batt. Most ways produce a very airy yarn.

rolags: a type of fibre preparation that looks like “sausages”. It is created usually by using a blending board and a dowel to roll the fibre onto. Spinning from the end of a rolag produces a very lofty yarn as the air is trapped between the fibre which lay more or less perpendicular to the axis of spinning

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6 Responses to Supported spindling: magic and addictive!

  1. How fun! I just got a TexasJeans tibetan from a destash that I’m learning to use, as well. I kind of just twirled it until something worked, haha. I couldn’t find too many step-by-step instructional videos but I think I’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

    • spinnygonzalez says:

      Isn’t it fun? I’m playing with it just now too. I am starting to have a nice tidy little cup of pretty even single now, and it fells great!
      Please let me know about how you’re getting on, and share pictures of your yarn!

  2. Gillian says:

    Really enjoy reading your emails Aurelie. So interesting and fun to read!
    I have never spun but I did do a project on it at college…. a long time ago!
    A lady just joined our knitting group here in Florida and she spins her own yarn. We are all hoping to go for a demonstration soon. She also knows of a Scottish lady in the area ( we are everywhere!) who spins! Sounds like a lot of fun. Have you knitted something with the yarn you have spun?
    And your blanket is beautiful. Can’t wait for the pattern..

    • spinnygonzalez says:

      Awww thank you very much, Gillian. You’re too kind to me.
      Yes, indeed, Scots seem to be everywhere! If you have a chance to have a go at spinning, don’t hesitate. It is a new skill to learn, and can seem awkward at first, but it is even more relaxing than knitting in my opinion… As for knitting with my handspun, yes I have! Not as much as I should though. But the piece of knitting I’m most proud of is a pair of socks I knitted last year from my first 3-ply handspun yarn. And I had to darn a hole in them not long ago… I need to strengthen my yarn I guess!
      Aurelie x

  3. Jessica says:

    I had a similar experience with a slowpoke Russian… my Tahkli was faster, and spun longer. Last month, I won a TJ spindle from a Ravelry group, and it is wonderful! I had it done as a custom flower in the Tibetan style, and it spins forever, and can handle spinning more thinly than my Turkish spindles…

    • spinnygonzalez says:

      Oh wow! How lucky of you! I bet it is a wonderful spindle. TJ has got great talent and skills with his spindles. Wishing you and your flower spindle many many hours – or even years! – of happy spinning together!

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