Spinning Yarn





Introduction: Spinning Yarn

About: Hi, I'm the new intern here at instructables. So excited to be here!

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: https://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!



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    52 Discussions

    The real Name of the Creator is Hayah asher Hayah. (I wrote long explanation before, but it just disappeared and I have many chores to do now.)

    1 reply

    Also, thank you very much.

    You should try spinning from raw wool without washing and carding(or rovings). The lanolin helps the wool spin better and helps it stick without as much slipping as rovings have (lanolin is also good for the skin, have a look at the ingredients to natural skin creams and you will likely find lanolin there). It is best done when the lanolin/wool is warm. You wash the lanolin and dirt out at the end when you wash the single. The wool as a fleece is already all facing in the right direction, when you wash it you end up messing this up so carding becomes more important.

    The Peruvian women spin while walking around and they don't prepare or wash the wool. My wife also spins unprepared sheep and alpaca wool on a spinning wheel (ie. the raw fleece, she much prefers raw wool over rovings stating that it feels dead. She makes jumpers etc from our alpacas wool). You just pull the bigger bits of grass and and bugs out as you go (a lot less work than washing and carding before spinning). She does prepare the wool however if she is dying and mixing colours using the drum carder.

    Overall good introduction to using the drop spindle, I do think it is worthwhile however to try raw sheep fleece if you can get hold of it (alpaca and I suspect dog hair is harder because it does not have the lanolin).

    1 reply

    Often the option of spinning without any washing is dictated by difficulty in obtaining sufficient water. When I was in Kenya, women spun Romney wool (chiefly) "in the grease," but it often locked in large amounts of dirt in the process. Wool raised in dusty areas must be washed. In a YouTube video called simply "Dye" a Peruvian woman is shown washing a fleece in creek water. Very dirty, dung-soiled wool should be removed or "skirted" from the fleece. The wool can then be soaked in water. Some of the oils in the wool will react with the alkali sweat compounds in the fleece and saponify. This natural soap will clean a lot of the wool but leave some lanolin or "grease" behind. As this video also shows, wool can be spun without carding or combing, but often again that decision is dictated by relative poverty. Carded or combed fiber is much easier to handle and contributes to efficient spinning of quality yarns.


    it helped in making my project

    I have been looking all over for simple straightforward instructions on spinning....thank you for providing the best set I've seen so far! Please keep putting up this type of information on spinning. I'm a weaver and I am going to learn how to spin yet! ;-)

    thats cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks for the great instructable! I have bags of washed, carded wool from my big last year's lamb (i only sheared one - by hand. it was crazy). Now i have a lot more sheep, a lot more wool (already shorn and in a huge bag, ready to be washed and carded IF i can figure out how to spin what i already have :) - off to check the 'ible about making a drop spindle :)

    Thank you so much for this. It's really easy to understand. Hopefully I'll be able to get a drop spindle soon and be able to follow along.

    Could you do me a favor? I'm asking if I could try this with unraveled embroidery floss with some added wool roving floss? PS could you make an instructable on how to make a spindle?

    1 reply

    I made a drop spindle out of a dowel hot glued through an old CD with an eyelet hook screwed into one end. It's not perfectly balanced, but it does a great job. And you can add bits of embroidery floss or even scraps of fabric as long as you have a bit of roving to go with it...it ends up looking like this (the shiny bits are embroidery floss) : http://off--the--deep--end.tumblr.com/post/52177144515/ive-recently-been-introduced-to-drop-spinning-and

    Hope this helps!

    I've now completed several hanks of dog yarn, without carding or other fiber preparation. I am thinking about purchasing a pair of carders, but I am unsure whether they will give a benefit worth their price. Are they really necessary for spinning? If so, what is the difference in function between 5x5 cm carders and 10x20 cm carders? I don't want to buy carders, only to discover that the yarn in not altered.

    BTW, a friend tells me that dog grooming brushes make decent carding combs for small quantities.

    For what it's worth, I have successfully spun a 2' length of fairly strong four-ply string/yarn from the fur of my short-haired cats, on my first semi-uninformed attempt. The key for short fur seemed to be to keep it twisted tightly.

    I didn't card or pre-draft, so the initial thread was rather lumpy. But it worked...

    My plying technique was the primitive "twist hard, fold in half, and let the twist work against itself" approach, which obviously wouldn't work for longer lengths -- but it was adequate as a proof of concept, and it did demonstrate that plying helps to reinforce the yarn. I suppose I ought to learn the proper technique for this, so I don't have to think about knotting short lengths together.

    "If it happens, it must be possible."

    I'm thinking about using chinchilla fur (my chinchilla sheds all year round). Would that be too short to spin? I think it would make a soft yarn

    awesome instructable. I just tried this with uncarded dog fur and it has all kinds of bumps that shed easily. Is it normal for my spindle to only spin for about 1.5 seconds? That could be attributable to the uncarded fur wanting to untwist, or maybe the weight (a slice of a log) is slightly lopsided.

    What about a carder/ carding instructable next?

    Thanks, that was very well explained!  If I get good I'll have to try spinning some of this collie undercoat we have all over the place.  I have to ask - where did you take the pictures?  That spot with the twisty branches was really interesting looking.

    1 reply

    Yeah! My Collie housemate's fur sure is abundant. I'll have to try this, except she is a smooth variety, so she has only about 1.5 inch long fur, so I don't know if it will work.