Why Spindles?

I love being of an age where every question no longer feels like a criticism or something I need to get defensive over. Most questions feel more like general curiosity and while I never quite feel like I explain things particularly well, they do make me think about what choices I make in my craft. Sometimes one question triggers quite a bit of thinking. As was the case last week.

Last week a friend of mine stopped over to the house after work with his son. Our kids played around the house a bit while we had a quick after work drink. Now, this is someone who understands fiber arts. His wife went to school for it, and he can sew like nobody’s business. However, after glancing at my mason jar full of spindles, he commented that he thought I was going to need another mason jar. And then asked the question “Why spindles? I mean, if you already have a wheel, why have spindles too?”

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Even knowing that this question was genuine curiosity, I fumbled with my answer. I think I’ve touched on it every once in awhile even here on the blog. But it is a question that keeps coming back to me. I explained I’d been a spindle spinner less than a year. That I started with my wheel and was quite satisfied with it for 5 yrs or so before I started to get it in my head I should learn to spin with a spindle as well.

In all honesty, it was trindles that did me in. I’d seen them a couple years prior, and I’d seen people who were quite happy with them, but it took the fact that I was going to be away from home much of the summer with no ability to bring my wheel that threw me over the edge. I bought a trindle. And, I spun yarn that I was quite proud of. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t too awful either. So I bought a few more trindles.

Then I discovered support spinning. It fascinated me. The people who do it look so zen and calm and comfortable with what they are doing. I also loved the look of support spindles. I loved the beautiful wood combinations and I couldn’t get them out of my brain either. After borrowing a thakli and having that go rather horribly, I purchased a tibetan spindle and learned on that. This was a complicated process for me. It took a long time to get usable yarn. Even longer to feel comfortable with it. However, I couldn’t let go of the quietness to spinning on a support spindle and I persevered.

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I then learned that different types of spindle spinning could serve different purposes. I also learned that I often spun faster on a spindle than on my wheel. More than that, I did more spinning on my spindles than I did on my wheel. There’s something about the relaxed, feet up on the couch feeling I get to spindle spinning that I can happily spin all evening without my back getting sore, or getting the spinning stitch in my side I often get from my wheel. It is easy to put down and pick back up. And even more wonderful? While I had always been a one project at a time spinner while working exclusively with my wheel, I now felt like I could have a number of different projects going on at a time. I mean, I often had an open spindle, all ready for my next fun little project. I spin a ton of samples on a spindle. It is a great way to get a feel for a new fiber before throwing the entire thing on my wheel. It is also a great way to take a particular fiber, prep it a few different ways, and then decide how it best spins.

I also choose to spindle spin for the same reasons I fleece prep. I want to know my art fully. I want to understand how one particular fiber works in different situations and I don’t feel I can do that without using different tools. I want to understand how the tools of our ancestors were used. It rounds out my knowledge, it beefs it up, it continues my learning, inspires me and makes me feel less stagnant of a learner and a person. Every time I pick up a new type of spindle and learn to use it, I get to hold on to, and ideally pass on, knowledge that is interesting to me but is, to some extent, in danger of getting lost in our increasingly intangible world.

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I choose spindle spinning because it feels like it gives me roots.

Why do you spindle spin? Or, why do you wheel spin. Or why do you choose both?

4 thoughts on “Why Spindles?

  1. I spindle spin for a number of reasons, really.

    Foremost of which is that I’m poor, and £15 for a spindle is a lot more manageable than whatever a wheel costs!

    But I do love my spindles, so much that I know when I do have an income that will stretch to a wheel, I’ll still wait a long time before getting one. I need a better sewing machine more than I need a wheel. I need an embroidery machine more than a wheel. I need a new computer far more.

    Because the big thing for me is, my spindles work. My cheap sewing machine causes me LOTS of problems, limits what I can sew and is too unreliable to risk using with expensive fabrics. But my spindles? I can create beautiful, even, lovely skeins on them. I can spin at my own pace, leave a spindle with a half-finished project in my crafting box for a couple of weeks and go back to it whenever I want. I can sit in front of my computer and watch stuff while I spin, and I can take it with me when I visit family, to give me something to do when they’re all watching TV.

    I also feel so closely connected to what I’m doing when I work with a spindle. Mine are just top drop spindles, as simple as you can get. If I spin in public (which I can with a spindle!) people are always stopping to watch because they can’t believe such a simple tool can transform fuzz into yarn. Kids are always especially interested, and I love that I can let them hold the spindle and have a go at it in seconds, rather than having to be taught how to work different parts at once. It’s a fantastic tool to share crafting with.

    • I bet you’ll continue to feel that way even if you do get a wheel. You can either take out the wheel, oil the wheel, change out bobbins, spin on the wheel, put it away, etc. OR, you can pull out a spindle and spin for awhile. I dunno, I love my wheel. It makes things like plying easier and it is a great tool. But as of right now, I am primarily a spindle spinner. I identify with every thing in your comment!

  2. My first attempts at spinning were on a spindle (to be fair a very cheap wooden dowel and toy wheel) and could not get the hang of it. I felt like a new born deer trying to walk when it came to spindle spinning. I was able to get my wheel thanks to a generous holiday present and have been learning on it. I find the wheel easier, despite the extra movement required. Perhaps if I were to try a quality spindle it might be better. Great post as usual.

    • I truly believe that good tools make a learning experience more rewarding. Thus I really lean away from wooden dowel/toy wheel spindles. Even though I have one and taught my daughter on one. That being said, there’s so much to maneuver that grabbing a spindle and a chunk of fiber, even when one has done research, isn’t often a good learning experience. (Unless you are using Shells’ patented 3 step spindle spinning program, but that’s a post for another day.)

      But, now that you’ve got the point of drafting on a wheel, I suspect spindle spinning would go quite a bit better for you. Would there still be a learning curve? Sure. But it wouldn’t be as frustrating. That being said, you’ve got a wheel, so for awhile you will probably think “What’s the point?” Which is totally valid.

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