Yarn has been spun on spindles for thousands of years. With a little fiber and a spindle, you too can participate in this oldest of alchemies. This instructable will show you how to spin a single from wool roving, using a top-whorl spindle.
Step 1: materials
Just about anything that is vaguely fiberlike can be spun. The most common fibers used for handspinning are sheep's wool, cotton, silk, alpaca, mohair (from angora goats), and angora (from angora rabbits). In my opinion, the easiest to learn to spin is sheep's wool, although the principles are the same for spinning any fiber.
You'll want to work with prepared sheep's wool, known as roving, which has been washed to remove excess lanolin (grease) and carded or combed to orient all the individual fibers in the same direction. You can find roving at your friendly local yarn store, or from several online retailers. I like to peruse etsy.com for handpainted roving, myself. Try to avoid "top" for now, which is wool that has been combed to leave only the longest fibers, which makes things more difficult for the beginner, although it is delightful to spin with a little practice under your belt!
The wool pictured in this instructable is a Romney and Merino blend (these are breeds of sheep.)
At it's simplest, a spindle is really just a stick with a weight on it somewhere (aka a whorl.) Drop spindles come in two main flavors: top whorl, and bottom whorl, cleverly named for the location of the whorl on the spindle. Spindles also come in many different weights, but I recommend starting with a spindle that is around 2-3 ounces.
The spindle pictured is a top whorl 1.5 oz spindle, although you could also use a bottom whorl, or even the spindle that stores your CDRs. Here is an instructable that will show you how to make a spindle from a CDs, a dowel, and a hook: http://www.instructables.com/id/Drop_Spindle_Constrution
. You can also find spindles from online retailers or at your local yarn store.
Step 2: pre-draft
Play with the roving. Break off a piece of roving about a foot long, and pull gently on either end, noticing how it stretches out and gets thinner as you pull. (You might also notice that if you pull hard enough, it will break. If this happens, don't worry, just set aside the smaller pieces and use them later after you've read about joining.) Try stretching it with your hands 6 inches, 4 inches, 2 inches apart. You will notice that there is a threshold distance where the roving will no longer stretch because your hands are too close to each other. This is because this distance is less than the staple length, which is the length of the individual fibers in the roving.
Keep gently stretching out the roving until it is at least twice as long as the original length.
Step 3: fiber management
Wrap your pre-drafted roving around your left (or not-dominant) wrist. I find it handy to have a yarn bracelet for tucking the end of the roving into. As you spin, you'll unwind the roving from your wrist.
This is essentially serving the same purpose as a distaff, although for our purposes and small amount of fiber, a wrist will do just fine.
Step 4: attach a leader
Using a plied scrap yarn (more than one strand, which is typical of yarn) tie a piece about a foot long to the shaft of your spindle. I've used a half-hitch here, but any old knot will do. Bring the leader around the edge of the whorl (many spindles have a handy notch in the edge for this purpose) and under the hook at the top of the spindle shaft.
Before introducing any fiber into the equation, you can give your spindle a (clockwise) spin by twirling the shaft below the whorl and letting it hang from the leader. Look how the spindle keeps going for some time before the twist in the yarn fights back and slows it down. High Tech!
Step 5: join fiber to leader
Tease out a few fibers from the end of your roving and hold them together with the end of your leader using your left hand. With your other hand, give your spindle a good clockwise spin, and let it hang, keeping your left hand pinching leader and fiber together. You should notice the fiber twisting onto the leader. Let the leader build up a good amount of twist, then "park" your spindle by holding the shaft between your knees.
Step 6: park and draft
We're going to cheat a little and learn with training wheels first. Spinning is really just adding twist to a controlled amount of fiber, but you'd be surprised how challenging it can be to do both things at once (that is, adding twist, and controlling the amount of fiber getting said twist.) It's kind of a pat-your-head and rub-your-tummy maneuver, so we will remove half the challenge by using the "park and draft" method. The "park and draft" is easiest to do when sitting in a chair so that you can hold the spindle between your knees, leaving both hands free for fiberwrangling.
Bring your right hand up to meet your left, and pinch where the twist ends, freeing up your left hand to move back. The fiber between your hands is called the "drafting triangle." The amount of fiber in the drafting triangle will determine the thickness of the finished yarn. If you want a thinner yarn, draft out the fiber in the triangle more. When you are satisfied with the thickness of the drafting triangle, release your front (right) hand, letting the twist run up into the triangle, and making yarn!
Repeat this process, moving the front hand up to the new end of the twisted section, moving your left hand back, drafting, and letting twist into the newly drafted fiber. When you want to add more twist, hold the yarn with your left hand at the bottom of the drafting triangle, where fiber turns into yarn - it is important to keep a leash on that twist. Use your free hand to spin the spindle, building up more twist, and park it again. Keep going until you have a foot or two of yarn, then go on to the next step.
Tip: If you find there is too much twist in your drafting triangle to comfortably draft, try untwisting by rolling the fiber in your right hand. You might also find that you do not have enough twist, and it feels like your yarn could easily be pulled apart, in which case you'll want to add more twist.
Don't worry about how it looks at this point, worry more about how the process feels, and just let your hands do a lot of the understanding.
Step 7: wind on
Your freshly spun yarn will eventually get too long to keep adding to comfortably. Unhook the yarn and wind all but 10' or so around the shaft of your spindle, then bring it around the whorl and into the hook again. Now continue with the "park and draft" method.
Step 8: add more fiber
When you run out of predrafted fiber, or when you break your yarn, you'll need to make a join. This is really just the same as when you initially joined your fiber to the leader, except that instead of a leader, you are joining to your own handspun.
Tease out a few fibers, hold them together with the fiber at then end of your handspun, and add twist until the fibers grip together. Twist is like glue for fibers, and they will magically grip onto each other. Now continue spinning as before.
Step 9: take off the training wheels
When things are starting to feel easy, try spinning without parking the spindle. You can also stand up and spin, and with practice even walk and spin. You might also want to give your spindle some more serious spin by rolling it against your thigh instead of spinning it with your fingers, but make sure you are giving it the same direction of spin (which should be clockwise.)
Keep spinning until you have a full spindle!
Step 10: wind a hank and block
Your finished yarn needs to be removed from the spindle for washing, also called "blocking." Blocking will set the yarn, and help it bloom a little. If you were to be making a plied yarn, you would first twist the finished "single" (that's the name for what you've just made) with one or more other singles before blocking. But since we are just making a single, we'll plow right on ahead to making a hank.
You could invest in a niddy-noddy, which is specifically designed for winding yarn into hanks, and is fun to say, but you can also just use your forearm. Wind the yarn off of the spindle and into a series of loops around your thumb and elbow. Tie the ends together, and use scrap yarn to make one or two ties around one side of the hank, which will keep the yarn from getting tangled. Your hank will be all wonky and squiggly. Do not fret.
To block your yarn, submerse it in lukewarm water, gently squeeze out the excess water, snap it between your hands a few times (or some folks even whack it against a hard surface) and hang it for drying. I hang my hanks on doorknobs, or shower curtain hooks. Since this is a single, and has a lot of active twist, you will also want to weigh it down it to help get the kinks out. A spray bottle full of water or other liquid works nicely as a weight, since you can easily hook it onto lower half of the hank. Alternatively, if you happen to possess a yarn swift, you could stretch your hank on that to dry.
You can turn a hank of yarn into a skein by twisting it a few times, folding it in half, and pulling one end through the loop at the other end.
Step 11: practice practice
I have been spinning for almost four years now, and I'm still refining my technique. Don't expect your handspun to be perfect right away, or ever - that is part of the charm of handspun yarn. Experiment with spinning different fibers and thicknesses, and try out different styles of drafting.
Most importantly, make things with your handspun! In the words of my spinning teacher, Maggie Casey, a spinner who doesn't use their yarn is like a baker who doesn't taste their bread. Knitting, crocheting, or weaving with your handspun will give you valuable feedback, and help you make informed choices during the spinning process.
Spin spin spin!