A simple spinning on a stick demo for shows

In my previous rant about the student spindle, I pointed out you’d be better off showing people to spin with a CD spindle, and showing them how simple it is to make one, than giving them a way-too-heavy spindle.

You really can spin with anything, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money.

And spinning with a stick is a great way to teach anyone the power of twist.

How to give a simple handspinning demo with a stick

I did this demo when we went with my guildies to the Rare Breeds Show & Sale recently. This is basically a very condensed version of Abby Franquemont’s Make yarn with a pencil demo. I found I could make it shorter, because you I had lots of takers coming over and waiting to have a go!

Probably all of the terminology will go over someone’s head when you demo this. But the idea of adding twist to keep fibres together will be clearly understood at the end. It looks long, but takes about 7 mins do the demo with groups of 3-4.

Supplies: Good combed top. I used BFL, and it was nice and not compacted. Very important. Sticks. I used sticks from cat toys, chop sticks, etc. Stick should be somewhat smooth if possible?

  1. Set up the challenge: Using combed top, show how to take the very end of the tip and pull a tiny bit out from your fibre supply. Everyone gets a tiny floating piece, which they pull out from the end.
    • Explain this grew from a sheep.
    • Staple length: You can’t pull it apart if you keep your hands close, but if you put your hands at the ends, you can slowly draft out, and pull it apart. Let them see how gently they pull it until it comes apart.
    • OK now we have a challenge! We don’t want it to pull apart. We need twist.
    • At this point they understand that the top is made of fibres that would come apart if you pulled them.
  2. The fibre: Using combed top, rip down a thumb’s width strip about 16 inches long. Give one to each kid, and one for you! (this will come in handy later.)
    • Drafting: Show how you can gently pull the fibre again, but don’t pull too hard because you will pull it apart. Move along the length, and show how you can draft.
    • If someone breaks theirs, hand them yours.
  3. The stick: Now add the stick.
    • With your thumb holding down on the end of the fibre, show how you take the other end and wind it around the stick.
    • If they run our of space they can push it down.
  4. The magic reveal: Check the twist!
    • Take someone’s example, and unroll it. Show how the twist was added when they wrapped around the stick, and it’s not lost when you unroll it.
    • Show you can tug it and it won’t come apart.
    • Ask: Why is that? At this point they can see they added twist and the fibres won’t come apart.
    • You might need to add a little twist as you unwind, to help it along!
  5. Plying and tying
    • You hold both ends and ask them to hold the centre point. Then you bring two ends together to fold it. You can explain this is “plying” which means to fold.
    • And you tie the two ends together to lock the twist.
    • Then they can see their little fibre strip now looks like yarn!
  6. Let them take it home. They are delighted to have something they can take with them. So simple 🙂

Below you can see all the lovely new yarn they made. Usually, the kids were automatically comparing and could see some were better than others.  If they start comparing, you could ask what they think they could do to improve – and they can usually figure it out!


In this example, where mum is helping, they are wrapping it the wrong way, letting the fibres slip so they wrap flat.  She was leading the fibre to wrap around the stick without adding twist. You can see the fibre is flat against the stick. We spotted that and then the kid got set up and was able to do this on her own. She was 4!

Handspinning with a pencil

Abby Franquemont breaks down a demo of teaching spinning on a pencil. You can learn enough in this demo to understand staple length, drafting and the power of twist.

Handspinning from the tip of a stick

This technique is an upgrade from that would be to spin off the tip from a stick. This is nearly how the Navajo Spindle works, except without the whorl. It would work if you had people sitting down, so they could get to their lap easier.




The scourge of the heavy “student spindle”

For the third time in as many weeks, on Saturday a would-be spinner told me of her woes trying to spin on a spindle. I diagnosed her problem: a way-too-heavy spindle.

I have been delighted recently to demo spinning and learn more about how to break down the steps and condense my tutorials down to get people spinning happily as quickly as possible.

I’ve learned that giving students the right tools can make this much faster and easier. I also do think the beauty of a spindle is part of the joy of the craft. I’m delighted to share handmade tools with beginners. I don’t think they should be relegated to using something brutally plain.

So why, please tell me, is the first spinning experience most people have (including me!) with ugly, heavy, lumbering spindles that take two twirls before they conk out?

Why so HEAVY?

I remember teaching someone spindle spinning at a show, and an hour later she came back with the dreaded Student Spindle. That brute is 85 grams? Apparently it’s not just Ashford, because Kromski also makes a heavy student spindle at 80 grams. It spins reluctantly, and the weight means it’s physically limited in the size of yarn it can spin.

Can someone explain this to me?? Great for plying, I guess? Yes, I wish they sold it as a plying spindle. Does anyone actually use this beast of a student spindle?  Even the “Maxi”plying  spindles sold by Bosworth top out at 56g. I assume it’s for making bulky yarns?

I think it’s a terrible shame to give learners such as HEAVY spindle. These heavy spindles seem to be the only spindle on offer when someone is looking for an inexpensive spindle to learn on. If a vendor is going to only carry a few spindles to help people get started, they will tend to veer towards the only “student spindle” option out there.

In fact it is the one that was sold to me on the first spinning workshop I went on.  I tried to spin when I got home without a teacher’s help, and I created some horribly over spun heavy yarn. It was awful and I didn’t touch spinning again until years later.

This great article on Knitty.com about selecting spindles gives a helpful table. They recommend you would spin a worsted weight yarn on a 70 gram spindle.  Making a worsted weight single is a challenge on its own. Mechanically this means you need to draft out more fibre to make your yarn. You need a thicker fibre supply. If you have a compacted hand-dyed fibre, then you can’t do much pre-drafting. From my experience a lighter weight spindle will mean you have to draft less fibre and you can use a looser fibre supply, and even do some pre-drafting.

I would say you want to stay in the range of 28-50 grams for a beginner spindle. This will be in the range of spinning fingering, sport and DK weight yarns.

Trying to save money?

OK I can understand if people want to give learners a chance to learning spinning without having to make a major investment. Paying £10 or so for a spindle *seems* better than buying a handmade spindle for £30. But to me, that is money wasted.

If the cost is the main issue, I think a much better student spindle is one made of materials lying about the house. Handmade and simple.

Don’t have a spindle but you have a pencil handy? Yes you can spin wool with a pencil. Abby Franquemont has proven you can pretty much spin wool with anything. But the mechanics of a spindle with a whorl makes spinning much faster and more efficient.

There are some great tutorials about making spindles. Such as with CD and a dowel or toy-wheel spindles in this Spin Off free guide on DIY spinning equipment. Though even these requires a trip to the hardware store.  (oh! here you can make a CD spindle without the grommets if you have some blu-tac!)

How about making one out of a door knob and a chopstick! Or just whip a turkish spindle together with some twigs! These homemade spindles show that you can spin with anything, and if someone is inspired they can see this can be done with a low-cost and easily with what they have lying around.

Affordable spindles

I’m so keen on getting people to spin, I’ve given away some of my spindles in the past. Now I need to get new ones specifically for teaching and demoing spindle spinning, and I want something affordable but still really beautiful.

You don’t have to get a gem-studded Golding spindle for over $150 USD. (Though if you’re trying to figure out what to get my for me birthday, the  “BLACK EYED SUSAN” would be lovely, thanks!) There are lots of really nice affordable spindles.

My search is focused on spindles in the UK. Woodland Turnery has hand-turned bottom (approx 45-60grms) and top whorl spindles (approx 30-50grms) for £13.95. Kevin Rhodes has a beginner spindle at 35-40g and it’s only £13.95. Most of Adelaide Walker’s spindles are under £20.

Luckily, the UK Spinners for sale board on Ravelry  has come through.  Buying secondhand equipment can save you about 10-25%. The nice thing is, if you keep your equipment in good condition it holds its value better than most things you buy!

I got a great deal on two Kerry spindles. Even still, brand new, they are great value. Look at this one, a beautiful wood, and a cool 30g for £20. I think that is a great spindle.

In a search on Etsy for sellers in the UK with spindles £25 and under I found several vendors. ThomasWoodandWool has a 40g hand turned beeswax finished spindle for £8.50.

You can also check out the UK Spindlers group on Ravelry for some good deals.

Find a special spindle

The best place to choose a special spindle would be at a fibre festival. Ideally you could hold the spindle in your hands to choose it.

Pro-tip: Make sure to check the vendors at the shows you’re thinking about attending. I was disappointed after trawling all over Edinburgh Yarn Fest that few vendors were selling spindles, and of course there were no specialist spindle makers. The spindles available were too heavy, poorly made or uninspiring mass produced spindles. (Nothing wrong with mass-produced, but I’m talking about finding that beautiful spindle.)  But EYF aren’t claiming to be a fibre fest per se, it’s more of a knitting fest with a few bits of other things.

So check and make sure you’re headed to a fibre fest!

I had the best experience at Fibre East with all the spindle vendors. I remember seeing these crafts people’s hands all gnarly from woodwork. They also let you have a go! I felt a bit shy about trying them, but Ian of IST encouraged me to give a tiny Turkish spindle a try. It went on spinning and spinning and spinning. And I fell in love. SOLD!

The Interweave Guide to choosing a drop spindle mentions the option of getting either a low or high whorl spindle. I’ve noticed some actually have both possibilities. With hooks to spin high-whorl and notches to spend low-whorl on the other end. To me that seems like the best option, since you won’t know until you try which suits you best. I really liked a high-whorl spindle when started, but now that I have the half-hitch down, I find it’s easier to slide my hand along the thread, and flick the top of the spindle.

However if you can’t try it in person stick to some tried and true highly recommended spindle makers:

Conclusion: Stop the spread of The Student Spindle

OK my rant is OVER. If you can explain to me why student spindles are so heavy, please enlighten me.

If you know of some great, affordable spindles, I’d also love to hear!

Patterns for handspun part 3: Layering garments

The likelihood that you’ll reach your hand into the stash and come up with a sweater-weight of wool is highly unlikely. It’s more likely to find you have enough for a shawl or a cowl, and that would be a pretty clear solution. However, how many shawls can you wear? I’ve already rounded up some accessory patterns as well as using handspun as an accent yarn.

Another idea is smaller garments. (No, I don’t mean kid clothes.) It’s easy to find sleeveless vests, tanks, shrugs and boleros through Ravelry. There are also some examples using unique construction ideas and shapes. These smaller garments could be worn layered with other clothes.

This is my super favorite, L’Enveloppe by Sally Melville. She has made this work in a variety of gauges. Here’s a quote from the project page.

“Because I want everyone to knit this in whatever yarn they like, I offer this in 5 sizes, 4 gauges (13, 14, 15, and 16 stitches to 4” /10cm) and 2 stitch patterns (seed or the easier garter). AND, it is worth noting that I’ve seen swatches that combined yarns–from a shop or a stash: for eg, a light worsted + a lace yarn will give you gauge, a dk + a sock yarn will give you gauge. (You will need the full yardage for EACH of the yarns you combine.) Because of all these choices, the yarn amount (as shown above) is very inaccurate: the amount of yarn you use will depend upon a) your size, b) your gauge, c) your stitch pattern. All of this is clear in the pattern.”

It’s a funky layering garment, something different than a cowl or shawl. I love looking at the projects, people have taken different approaches to the length and size.


Here are some more interesting projects from my Ravelry faves. I tend to pick ones which use heavier weights because I’m not able to spin that thin yet myself. Handspun is more textural so it doesn’t need complicated knitting stitches, plain stockinette or a garter will do.


  1. VuxenVinkel by Yarn-Madness – freebie. Uses 350 – 580 yards (320 – 530 m) in Aran.
  2. Simplicity Cardigan by Mary Annarella
  3. Villeneuve by Espace Tricot – freebie
  4. Casablanca Side to Side Shrug by Cheryl Beckerich
  5. Verdant by Gina Bonomo. This is similar to the boleros, but without something that closes across the front.
  6. Alpinia by Claire Slade – There are many cap sleeve cardigans, I like this simple yoke pattern.
  7. All About The Yarn Jacket by Iris Schreier – This is only available in a pattern book purchase with yarn.
  8. Diagonal Shell by Laura Bryant – freebie

There’s some interesting ideas there!

Also see:

The talented Mr. Thayer Syme of TravelKate

My theory on Lazy Kate is that Kate was sick and tired of making plying balls.  She thought of a way she could pop the bobbins down on her a contraption so she could spin away. And boom, the Lazy Kate was born. Her sister, Lazy Susan was impressed!

I went to the US in December last year mostly for work, but also got a chance to see my family. And even met a very talented craftsperson, Thayer Syme of Travel Kate.

When I contacted TravelKate about purchasing a lazy kate and having it posted, he said it would be cheaper for him to just drive over to meet me!

Thayer Syme of TravelKate.com

Thayer Syme of TravelKate.com

He brought an array of the woods he had available.


Each of the woods was beautiful on its own, but I especially liked the shimmer of the Tiger Maple. If he didn’t have that, then the Black Walnut would have been awesome too.

I was worried about the heaviness of the hickory, but now that I’ve used it, probably the weight is a good thing. Depends on how you travel!

“Tool Based” Solutions

Something interesting I read the other day. On a beginner spinner thread on Ravelry, Abby Franquemont mentioned that people in the US tend to focus on a “tool based solutions” and they get really geeked out on technical aspects of the tools they use.

I find that kind of fascinating if something like that is true.

What I do see in the US is lots of invention and small scale manufacturing. I think it owes to the accessibility of manufacturing and even just the tools required for wood crafting for example. Anyway, something interesting to think about!

 Many lovely woods available Visit: http://travelkate.com/


Spin the bin 2015 – status update 1


I joined a group on Ravelry in the “Completely Twisted and Arbitrary Spinning Spin the Bin 2015” challenge. The idea with this challenge is to commit to spinning from your current stash. Plan future projects. Have intention and use what you have. I like it! To enter, you take a photo of your chosen stash in the place you store it. Here’s by bin.


Now to stick with it. That involves spinning daily.

#Spin15in15 to win the spin the bin challenge

I’ve had an Instagram account for a while, but I wasn’t in the practice of using it daily. So this year, I decided to do the #photo365 project, a photo a day. And while I was there I discovered another hashtag #spin15in15, which simply states: Spin 15 mins a day. Just do it! The organiser, @Baabonnybelle comes up with themes and challenges to keep it interesting, though the prompt alone is ensuring I get in some practice daily.

Here, Baabonnybelle has summarised some progress from #spin15in15 so far.

AND she is giving away lovely yarn tags, which would be so nice for gift-spinning.

I should say, we had a very sad run of events here, someone very dear to my husband passed away recently and it’s meant some travel and busy work catch-up. So there have been a few days I haven’t “spin 15”, but I just jump right back in an keep going. Overall, it’s been a helpful prompt, and sometimes I just squeeze in a quick session of spinning. I certainly don’t try to put it all away and clean up my spinning every day, so I have a nice fibrey corner in the living room now 🙂

Tally of progress spin the bin progress

Since my stash was just building, my bin selection included most of my complete batches of dyed wool. I didn’t include the raw fleece or odd bits and leftovers I’m saving for another go on the drum carder.

My Spin the Bin 2015 project on Ravelry.

  • One month completed
  • Completed 220g spun of 1300g = 16.9% spun! (Doesn’t count any sample spinning, or spinning on my fleece, etc)

Finished handspun

  • Manos Merino. My first attempt at a 3 ply, semi-failed. (Spun one of the bobbins the wrong way.) Came out as Aran weight.
    • Planned for Mmmbrot hat, but ended up making a cowl for hubs.
  • Hedgehog Fibres – Polwarth Combed top. I had to do this as a three ply since my first attempt don’t come out very well.
    • Still not sure what to use it on!
      IMG_1874polwarth IMG_1941

Sampling and planning

  • Corriedale fleece: My fleece doesn’t count for #ctaspinthebin2015 because I didn’t put it in the bin. But fibre prep does count for #spin15in15. Sample spinning and trying to get it clean before I decide what to do with it. Learning to spin from the lock with it. SO nice!
    2015-01-07 11.30.41 Clean Fleece
  • Fondant Fibre mystery batt: Planning on making a lofty woollen spun from this “mystery batt” by Fondant Fibres. I’m combining it with 100g of southdown (by World of Wool), which wasn’t in the bin, but I wanted to make a really lightly coloured wool, and I wanted to stretch what coloured wools I have.
    • It would be cool to make some more and some less combined with white so it could be knit in a fade.. Knit what? I have no idea!

 Completed knitted projects from handspun

I didn’t really use the yarn to its potential in this patter, but it’s exactly what my husband needed and I also had some similar weight yarn. I don’t think I did a good job of picking up the garter edge. If it wasn’t striped I don’t think it would show so bad. He seems to like it!








Opposing ply yarn

I was my FIRST TIME ever attempting a 3 ply. I weighed and divided up the braid of dyed wool. I spun one bobbin full and another. By the time I got to the 3rd bobbin, I spun for a while and realized that I had spun the 2nd bobbin the wrong way! I sought advice on Ravelry to unwinding and re-winding the singles. It seemed like an impossible task. Perhaps I’d just chain ply it, and forget the jumbled colour effect I was going for.

I went to my guild meeting, and told them my sad story. Immediately several people said: “Go ahead and ply it!” Apparently, sometimes people do this *on purpose*.

Yes, and it’s called Opposing Ply yarn. The singles twist in yarns generally relax when you ply them. If you have an opposing ply, then it gets added twist when you ply it. I’ve made a diagram to illustrate.

Opposing Ply Yarn Diagram - the ply twist adds energy to the opposing ply. Cool!

When I plied it, I could see indeed, the opposing ply was pulled tighter, and the two others sort of popped out.

Shows the opposing ply


Benefits of opposing ply yarn

In “The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs“, Sarah Anderson devoted a whole chapter to the technique. In her tests, the opposing ply added strength to sock yarn. The opposing ply added strength and durability and the two relaxed plies ensured the sock fabric was still soft and cushy. WOW! You can also use the technique to add elasticity to yarn because this opposing ply get “buried” in the finished yarn. This ply added energy into the yarn. She goes into way more detail of other ways you can use this technique. Pure genius.

The results

Before washing, I don’t think I could tell what the difference was.

2015-01-10 00.52.54

As soon as I added it to water it SPROING up into wee little curls.

2015-01-10 00.57.13

I didn’t add weight to it when I dried it.

2015-01-10 01.00.32

But it settled into a nice soft yarn with an interesting texture. I ended up using it in a garter stitch project, so I don’t think I really showed the yarn off to its potential. However, it’s always amazing to learn that something you thought was a mistake actually is a practiced and well known technique. 🙂

Nubbly yarn

Also for more Sarah Anderson awesomeness, I recommend the video Building Blocks of Spinning on Interweave.


Power scour v Dish washing detergent for washing fleece

I have LOTS of fleece to wash, and if I don’t get it all washed by Fibre East, I’m not allowed another one for a whole year. (My rules!) So I want to get it done quickly, effectively and create as little waste as possible.

I’ve come across people saying they use dish washing liquid for scouring wool because it’s cheaper. I got suspicious when I saw you have to use quantities such as 1/2 a cup of dishwashing liquid, whereas when I use Unicorn Power Scour, I use about a 5ml tsp per wash.

Washing fleece

Thankfully, someone else has done the math!

Both found the initial cost higher but overall the cost per pound was cheaper. They didn’t see a significant difference in the outcome. However Sockpr0n factored in being able to use less energy due to not needing to boil water.

Power Scour is effective at a lower temperature. The directions call for 140 degree water. Sockpr0n process involves more washing than mine. Three washes, three rinses. The Elusive thread uses 2 washes and 2 rinses. I do:

  • Two washes, rubbing tips of dirtiest locks.
    • An initial wash with about 5 ml to a small basin, and a second with slightly less. I don’t let these rest more than 12 mins, so the water doesn’t cool too much.
  • One rinse.

And for the particular fleece I’m focusing on now, a one year old greasy corriedale, it’s perfectly fine! I’ve tried more washes and it’s not needed.

It was interesting they both found they spend less and consume less product/bottles because of the tiny amount you need. And it doesn’t require you to heat water on the stove. So it’s more economical and energy saving.

I want to use as little water as possible, but I’m too much of a wimp to try the au naturale fermented suint scouring process. Apparently, nature provided for a self-detergent effect in wool, the main issue is space and well, neighbours. Suint fermenting will have an odour.

Anyway, I bought mine at WildCraft, and it came super fast and well-packed 🙂

Clean Fleece

After this batch I started being a little rougher with rubbing the tips, getting better at it.