Using a Drop Spindle

A Drop Spindle is a great introduction to spinning. It's very portable, and is a relaxing and rewarding way to produce yarn. Just take your time as you go through these simple steps, and you'll be spinning in no time!

Drop spindles come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The position of the round disk on the shaft of your spindle determines whether you are using a "bottom whorl" or a "top whorl" spindle. As you spin you will be storing your yarn around the longest part of the shaft. The hook at the top is used to secure your yarn to prevent it from slipping as you spin.

Terms You Should Know

Leader - A leader is a piece of yarn used to anchor your fiber to the spindle.

Drafting - The process of pulling the fiber from the roving or batt to thin it out for spinning.

Single - The thread formed by spinning your drafted fiber.

Plying - The process of making yarn by spinning two or more singles together.

Fiber hand - The hand holding the fiber. This is the hand farthest from the hook of your spindle.

Drafting hand - The hand which is pulling or thinning the fiber. This is the hand closest to the hook on your spindle. Also sometimes referred to as the forward hand.

Getting Started

Using a piece of yarn approximately 36 inches long as your leader yarn, form a loop at one end by folding the yarn over a few inches and tying a knot. You do not want this knot to slip, so make it secure. Tie the straight end of your leader yarn around the shaft of the spindle, below the whorl. Bring it up over the whorl and wrap it around the hook a few times. You should now have a loop and several inches of your leader above the hook.

To get a feel for how your spindle works, let's first spin using just the leader yarn. Holding the leader yarn in one hand an inch or two above the hook, let the spindle hang freely below your hand. When your palm is positioned upward, your spindle will hang away from you, over your index finger. This will be your forward, or drafting hand. Your other hand will be positioned behind the drafting hand, also holding the leader. Your palms should be turned upward. To spin the spindle, use the hand closest to you to turn the spindle and get it spinning in a clockwise motion. Then bring it back to your leader yarn. This hand will eventually become your fiber hand. As the twist builds up on your leader yarn, begin pulling it toward the hook with your forward hand, letting your spindle drop closer toward the floor. As you increase the amount of yarn between your hands and the hook, you will want to remove it from the hook and wind it around the shaft of your spindle. Then start spinning close to the hook again, letting the spindle drop as you inch your way along.

Let's Take a Look At Our Fiber

Pull a few single pieces of fiber from the bundle. Notice the length of each. You will also notice that as you pull the fibers, they pull others along with them. The thickness of your spun yarn will depend on how many of these fibers are pulled or "drafted" at one time. You want to draft so that you have a consistent thickness in one continuous strand. This takes practice, so don't get discouraged on your first try.

Let's Spin

Your leader should be wound around your spindle so that the loop is just above the hook. Take the end of your drafted fiber and place it through the loop of your leader, folding a couple of inches of it back on itself. Now your fiber will be held in the hand farthest from the hook, and the drafting hand, closest to the hook, will control the twist and thickness of the fibers as you spin. Start your spindle spinning clockwise, with the hand that will serve as your fiber hand, as you pinch the fibers with the thumb and index finger of your drafting hand. Then gently begin pulling them from your fiber hand. You may want to reverse your hands to see which is most comfortable for you.

NOTE: You may find it helpful to rest your spindle on the floor or a table as you draft to keep it from back-spinning and untwisting your fiber.

Mending a Break

Occasionally you may need to mend a break in your single as you are spinning. This is often caused by a thinning of the fiber due to under spinning and not getting enough twist in the fiber. Don't worry, it's an easy fix. Just fluff out the broken end coming from your spindle, to open up the fibers. Then join your unspun fiber to it by overlapping the two, and draft them together as you spin. Continue spinning until you have filled your spindle, or until you have your desired amount. There are a variety of tools available for winding and storing your yarn as you spin. For now, you can just wind your spun single into a ball for storage while you spin another. When you have two or more singles you are ready to ply them together.


Take your balls of single thread and place them in individual cups or bowls to keep them from rolling away or twisting around each other. There is one very important thing to remember before we get started with plying. When plying, the spindle is spun counter-clockwise, the opposite of when you spun your singles. Now take your spindle, with leader yarn attached as before. Place the ends of the singles you are plying through the loop of your leader, folding the ends back, and begin spinning in a counter-clockwise direction. You will be holding your singles and guiding them in your hands as they twist. Keeping the tension even on your singles will result in a more evenly spun yarn. As you spin, your spindle will drop toward the floor. Just stop and wrap the finished yarn around the shaft of the spindle, and continue the process until you have finished plying.

Making a Skein

Now it's time to remove the spun yarn from your spindle and make a skein. There are a variety of tools available to help you to accomplish this, but for now, we'll just keep it simple and use something you may have on hand. A straight back chair works very well.

Just wind the yarn around and around the chair back. Once you have completed winding, you will have made a circle with the continuous strand of yarn. Cut some short pieces of yarn to secure the yarn in the circle in 3 or 4 places. This will help prevent tangling when you remove it from the chair back. Now you're ready to remove it from the chair back and set the twist.

Wet Finishing

This is the last step in preparing your yarn. wet finishing helps to relax and distribute the twist you have spun into the yarn. Soak your yarn for a few minutes in warm water. Remove it from the water, and squeeze the excess water out. DO NOT TWIST IT. Wrap the yarn in a towel and squeeze some more. Now hang the yarn up to dry, giving it a slight tug to straighten any extra kinks that might remain. You can place a light weight at the bottom to keep it straight.

Once your yarn is dry it is ready to use.

Copyright 2008 - Karen Poulakos Fiber Arts Studio