Note: Some of the information here is for beginners and some is for those with spinning experience. Hopefully, it’s all interesting. And more notably, that it’s all helpful in your spindle decision-making.
Choosing a spindle is really a two-part process. First, you’ll want to know about Straddle Creek Spins spindles, the different types, how they work in general, and what kinds of yarn they’re useful for. Second, you’ll want to consider your spinning needs, desires, and style. In Part 2, we have some good questions to ask yourself so you can figure all that out.
Table of Contents
- 1 Part 1: Spindle Types
- 1.1 Supported Spindles
- 1.2 Drop Spindles
- 1.3 Drop/Support Spindles
- 2 Part 2: How to Decide
- 3 Final Words
Part 1: Spindle Types
There are two types of spindles, or hand spindles: supported spindles and drop spindles.
At Straddle Creek Spins, we also offer some spindle types that fit into both the support and drop spindle categories. These are Peruvian Chac-Chacs, Akhas, and spindles from John’s Interchangeable Whorl System.
Supported spindles sit in a bowl as you spin, which means you can sit back and relax while spinning. We offer our exclusive spin cushions which stay put wherever you’re spinning. (Except in the air or water; they don’t fly or swim. Well, if you’re a toddler with a good arm, they may fly, but only briefly. And we don’t recommend that.)
Tibetan Spindles Style No. 1
At Straddle Creek Spins, we have two styles of Tibetan spindles. We very creatively call them style no. 1 and style no. 2. Pretty clever, huh?
Our style no. 1 Tibetans spin slower, yet longer than any of our other supported spindles, giving you less immediate twist and more time to concentrate on drafting. This also makes these Tibetans a good choice for beginners to supported spindling.
While any weight yarn can be spun on a Tibetan, they are usually used with medium staple fibers for fingering to worsted weight yarns.
Tibetans have a shaft (the long, stick part) with the flicking tip on one end and the spinning tip on the other. The whorl (the round, disk part) sits low on the shaft, anywhere from about ½” to 2” above the spinning tip.
The flicking tip is “flicked” or quickly twisted between your fingers to set the spindle spinning. It ends in a taper of varying widths (some nearly needle-like) or in a contoured crown point that follows the curve of your fingers. Some feel that the pointier the tip, the better the flick and spin the spinner will achieve. Others prefer the contour and find it more comfortable.
The spinning tip is a tiny stainless-steel ball-bearing. The ball-bearing keeps friction to a minimum as the spindle spins in the bowl and keeps the tip from wearing down or becoming dull. Also, since it’s a ball-bearing, it’s not sharp and won’t mar the wood bowl.
The whorl of style no. 1 Tibetans is circular and disk-shaped with an approximately 2 3/8 inch diameter, give or take. They are usually rim-weighted (most of the weight out towards the rim), but they can also be center-weighted where most of the wood weight is near the shaft.
Tibetans in this style are usually between 0.85 ounces and 1.20 ounces.
Straddle Creek Spins rim-weighted style no. 1 Tibetans have minimum spin times of 45 seconds, but typically spin for over a minute. John likes to challenge himself to get super-long spin times and has made a few that spin for over 2 minutes.
Tibetan Spindles Style No. 2
Our original style no. 2 Tibetans were loosely styled after a Greek spindle that John found a picture of when he was doing research. He modified the design into a Tibetan spindle. Since then, he has continued to modify the whorl shape for artistry’s sake and for achieving longer spin times. There’s a lot of variance in the shape of these.
Tibetan style no. 2 spindles have a long, bell-shaped whorl. The whorls are about 2 inches long, give or take half an inch, with the diameter around 1.5 inches at the widest point.
Like style no. 1 spindles, the spinning tip has a ball-bearing.
The spindles weigh anywhere from 0.65 ounces to over 1 ounce.
These spindles spin faster than style no. 1, making them useful for spinning fine yarns and short staple fibers in addition to the usual medium staple fibers. They’re not quite as fast as Russians (see below), but their spin time is longer. They’re sort of an in between of style no. 1 and Russians.
Tibetan style no. 2 spindles spin for at least 30 seconds, with many going to 45 seconds to a minute and more.
Russians spindles are the standard for creating the finest, lightest weight yarns. Think Orenburg lace and gossamer threads. The fast spin time means the twist enters the fiber very quickly, preventing the shortest and finest fibers from drifting apart. Russians are probably not the best support spindle on which to learn supported spinning, but they are awesome once you’ve gotten the hang of it!
And, while Russians are noted as the tool of choice for lace-weight yarns, heavier weights are certainly possible. If you’re a fast drafter, you might like the quick spin for productivity.
Russians do not have a whorl. They are a straight piece of wood decoratively turned and wider towards the bottom.
Like all supported spindle shafts, Russians have a flicking tip and a spinning tip with a ball-bearing that sits in a bowl or on a smooth surface.
Below the flicking tip, Russians can have a slight ridge that some spinners prefer for yarn control. Other spinners like a smooth taper.
Russians are generally between 0.60 ounces and 1.0 ounce with a few going over an ounce.
Since there is no whorl to create a rim weight, all Russians are center-weighted by design. The spin is very fast, yet spin time is much shorter than Tibetans. Straddle Creek Spins Russians generally spin for 10-30 seconds, with some longer.
Drop spindles hang suspended as you spin, allowing you to stand and even walk around while spinning your yarn.
Top Whorl or High Whorl Spindles
Top whorl drop spindles have a shaft with a whorl that is towards the top of the shaft. Among drop spindles, top whorls are the best choice for spinning finer yarns and shorter staple fibers. Yet, any weight of yarn can be spun on a top whorl drop spindle if the weight of the spindle is not too light or heavy for the project.
Straddle Creek top whorl drop spindles generally weigh between 0.90 ounces and 1.25 ounces. This is a good range for most yarns and also for beginners. John has made lace weight spindles weighing less than half an ounce and heavier spindles closer to 2 ounces.
The shaft has a hook on the top for securing the yarn. The other end is rounded. The length of the shaft may be completely smooth or have any amount of decorative turning. Speaking of length, the shaft is usually around 11 inches, but can be special ordered for a customized length. 9 inches is nice for purse-sized.
The whorl is designed with most of the weight towards the outer edge to maintain longer spin times. (rim-weighted). However, if a spinner is looking for a faster spin, the whorl can be custom designed with most of its weight towards the center (center-weighted). All whorls are well-balanced to ensure smooth, long spins.
Some spinners like a notch in the whorl to keep the yarn from slipping. John says: Let me know if you’d like a notch and I can add one, or two.
Bottom whorl, or low whorl spindles have a shaft with the whorl close to the bottom. With so much weight at the bottom of the shaft, bottom whorl drop spindles are more stable and less bouncy than top whorl drops. They are the preferred drop spindle for plying and are also good for heavier weight yarns. Of course, depending on the total weight of the spindle, they can be used for finer yarns, as well.
The top of the shaft usually has a hook, but can be made without one, if requested. Without a hook, it can come to a thin point or have a contour. The bottom of the shaft is usually rounded, but can be made with a point if a spinner is looking for a drop spindle that can also be used as a support spindle.
The shaft can have decorative turning or be made smooth. The length is usually around 11 inches.
The whorl of bottom whorl drop spindles is much like top whorl spindles where the whorl is rim-weighted and well-balanced. And also like top whorl spindles, a notch can be added to the whorl, if requested.
Chac-Chacs are a Peruvian variation on their traditional low whorl spindles. Though technically a drop spindle, they really deserve a category all their own. The coolest part of Chac-Chacs is the whorl. It is made with a single piece of wood, yet a ring of wood – a captive ring – is carved out and spins freely from the rest of the piece. This captive ring makes a soft whirring and clicking when the spindle is flicked.
Authentic Peruvian spindles were created by whittling a stick. To keep things towards the authentic end of the scale, John usually does not decoratively turn the shaft except for necessary shaping, but often incorporates some decorative burning or dying.
The flicking end of the shaft does not have a hook. Rather, the yarn is secured with a half-hitch knot. The tip is not very pointy. It ends with a width of about a size 8-10 knitting needle. John also makes them with a contour. Of course, custom requests are welcome too.
The bottom end of the shaft ends in a point. With this construction, Chac-Chacs can be used as a drop or supported spindle. Chac-Chacs do not have ball-bearings in the tip unless requested.
Peruvian Chac-Chacs weigh around 1 ounce. Being fairly light for a drop spindle, they can be used for nearly all weights of yarn. However, shorter staple fibers may be a bit more challenging (a challenge an experienced spinner might enjoy!) since the spin is not very fast. Being Peruvian, the Chac-Chac would be very happy spinning alpaca, but it likes wool and other fibers too.
The Akha spindle is used by the Akha people who are a hill tribe in Northern Thailand. They use the Akha to spin cotton singles for weaving. They will ply colored threads that are used in embroidery.
The Akha women are the spinners. They wear very short skirts and use a thigh roll to get the spindle spinning. Bare skin really gets the spindle flying; the construction of the spindle keeps it going fast. Their method is unique in that they do not fully wind on which allows some of the twist from the spun yarn to enter the freshly drafted fibers. In addition to the thigh roll, the spindle can be held sideways and turned by hand, supporting the spindle to keep the short fibers from slipping apart. The fiber is drafted with a long-draw.
The Akha has a shaft with either a hook or notch on one end. The whorl is very thin and secured in the center of the shaft.
The Akha is a small spindle about 8 to 10 inches long. The whole spindle weighs around ½ an ounce.
While traditionally the Akha is a cotton spinning spindle, it can certainly be used for other fine and short fibers.
Interchangeable Whorl System
Interchangeables aren’t actually a different type of spindle. Instead, they’re a way to add versatility to your spindle collection.
The shafts and whorls are designed to be interchangeable with each other. The whorl can be taken on and off any time before, during, or after a project. Aside from versatility, this feature makes interchangeables particularly portable.
Originally, John designed the interchangeables to be Tibetan support spindles in style no. 1 only. Then, he made an interchangeable drop spindle at a customer’s request and found the system worked just as well as with the Tibetans. Now, both style no. 1 Tibetans and drop spindles are available with interchangeable whorls.
Shafts can be ordered at the length of your choosing, with the flicking tip that you prefer, and with or without decorative turning.
Whorls can be designed in varying weights, styles, and woods.
With one shaft and two whorls, you can go from a heavy spindle to a light one, or vice versa, right in the middle of your project. With a few shafts and one whorl, you can fill a shaft, move the whorl to the next shaft and fill it, then move the whorl to the third shaft to ply your singles. Talk about simplifying!
To change the whorl, simply give it a gentle twist to release it or secure it in place.
Part 2: How to Decide
What do you want to spin?
Consider the type of fiber you want to spin. If it has a long staple length, then most any spindle will work for you. On the other hand, if the staple length is very short, like cotton, then choose a spindle with a fast spin, like a Russian, Akha, or Tibetan in style no. 2, so that the twist will enter the fiber quickly and the fiber won’t drift apart.
Think about the weight of yarn you like to work with. If you love your size 8 knitting needles, then you probably don’t want to be spinning lace-weight yarn. A Russian can do the job, but a Tibetan in either style will be better suited for it. But if you plan to craft the next wedding ring shawl, go for the Russian.
So what if you want to spin worsted weight cotton? The best practice is to spin fine threads, on a Russian, Akha, or other fast-spinner, and then ply them until the final yarn is the thickness you’re looking for. Plying can be done on a Russian, but it’s easier on a Tibetan or bottom-whorl drop spindle.
How much experience do you have?
Did you just come from your first fiber fair with a mass of beautiful fiber, but no knowledge of what to do with it? Have you been spinning on a wheel for years, but keep hearing about the mysteries of productive spindle spinning? Or are you an expert spindler looking for your new favorite spindle, or something new and different?
If you’ve never spun before, it’s fairly easy – as spinning goes – to begin on a drop spindle with a hook. There are a lot of details to coordinate when you first start spinning. The hook on the shaft minimizes one of those details.
Of course, starting on a support spindle is not necessarily a bad idea. Cultures the world over have only had support spindles and little kids have been learning on them for thousands of years. So, don’t be shy if a support spindle catches your eye.
We recommend Tibetans in style no. 1 for beginners to support spindles. Since they spin a little slower and longer, it gives you more time to practice.
For those who know how to use all kinds of spindles, take a look around Straddle Creek Spins. John loves trying new designs, combinations of wood, and anything else that speaks to the artist in him!
What kind of spinner are you?
If your busy schedule keeps you on your feet, walking here, running there, then a drop spindle might be just the thing. According to ThreadsofPeru.com, in Peru, “Spinning is done while walking along the road, chatting with friends, or watching over your children or sheep.”
However, if you’re looking for a spindle to take with you in the car, or to spin with while relaxing on the couch or in bed, then a supported is what you’ll likely be happiest with.
Where do you want to spin?
All spindles are portable, but not all are easiest to use in certain situations. If you want to spin while waiting in line at the store, then a drop spindle is what you need. Same thing if you want to spin while speed-walking.
If you’re taking a long road trip and someone else is doing any of the driving, then pack your supported spindle.
This question is very related to the question above. Will you be on your feet while spinning? Relaxing on the couch? Choose a spindle that can go where you go.
You’ll never have to miss a moment of spinning again!
Keep in mind that choosing a spindle is a personal decision. While general rules are helpful and may direct you on a successful path of spindle spinning, along the way, you’ll discover your own preferences and nuances.
In the end, choose a spindle that’s beautiful and that calls to you. And have fun…and be happy spinning…and love it.