Kathryn of the Hills'


drop spindle

In the very beginning, prehistorically, spinning was done without tools. The thread was drawn out of a bundle of fibers and twisted between the palm of the hand and thigh of the leg. The length of the spun or twisted fibers was wound onto a short, straight stick. The process was then repeated. The hand spindle developed from the short straight stick.

Over time the stick was notched to hold the thread and a weight was added to give momentum to the stick as it whirled. The weight, known as a "whorl" was made of clay, a round piece of wood, or a flat rock. Thus was born the hand spindle or drop spindle.
great wheelMuch later the wheel was added to the spindle to keep it spinning. It was found that the larger the wheel the faster the spindle would turn. The size of the drive wheel grew to 6 feet and larger. This type of wheel became known as the "Great Wheel" or as the "Walking Wheel".

flax wheel

Even later the foot peddle or "treadle" was added to the wheel. This allowed the spinner to sit instead of walking back and forth to wind the spun woolen fiber onto the spindle. With a treadle on the wheel one could also keep the wheel going without using ones hands. With ones hands freed one can spin more smoothly.

Until the mid 19th Century, most households kept two wheels: a great wheel for the household woolens and a smaller treadle type for the linens. This was so one would not get the natural grease of the wool on the flax making it more difficult to spin.

How to Use a Low Whorl Drop Spindle

Tie the "leader" tightly around the spindle at Point A. (A leader is a length of pre- spun yarn. ) See Figure 1: Point A. Bring the long end of the leader down and under the whorl. Wrap the leader around the pointed short end of the spindle. See Figure 2. This acts a tensioning device. Bring the leader up and tie in a half hitch around the hook at the top of the spindle.


If you are right handed, Balence the loose fibers on the back of your left Hand. The leader is held between your left thumb and pointer. You twist the spindle with your right hand and then pull the loose fibers through your left thumb and pointer. If you are left handed, reverse these instructions. Hold the wool in your right hand, leaving your left hand free to twist the spindle and draw the loose wool fibers out of the fiber bundle.

Lay your loose fibers next to the end of the "leader". Twist the spindle. The leader should spin also. Twisting the spindle in the clockwise direction will give you a "Z" twist yarn. Twisting the spindle in the counter-clockwise direction will give you a "S" twist yarn. Either works, but be consistent. If you are not consistant, you will be unspinning your work. As you twist the spindle the loose fibers should be caught and twisted around the leader.

Draw/Pull the fibers out of the fiber bundle . Watch them spin together. Let Go of the twisted fibers. Twist the spindle again. Some people chant: "Twist, Pull, Let Go." as they learn to spin using a drop spindle.

When the yarn is long enough to make the spindle drag, untie the half hitch and wrap the spun yarn around the spindle next to the whorl. Re-tie the half hitch and spin your next length of yarn.

Fibers spun with a drop spindle are attenuated (drawn out of the fiber bundle) by your hands as well as the weight of the spindle. If the weight of the spindle and the whorl pull the yarn apart and the spindle falls, don't be discouraged. Just pick it up and try again. Many people will tell you that it is called a drop spindle because it just dropped. Take your time and practice, you will get it with time. It only looks easy after you have learned how. It just takes a few minuets to learn how to spin; it takes a lifetime to perfect the skill.

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