Small PleasuresThe Finer ThingsThings to Make and Do

Spindle spinning is fascinating, Using a wheel may be much faster when comes to actually producing yarn. But using a spindle is a great way to start. It’s portable. And it’s cheap.

It can be so cheap!  It’s basically just a stick with a weight attached.

This was an exercise in 2 things

  • Make a usable spindle and whorl with minimal expense.
  • Make this spindle with a removeable bottom whorl that works spinning in the medieval manner.


The always look so elegant! Standing and sitting so poised, and their fingers held so delicately. They are spinning flax in these images by the looks of things, but the same technique applied to wool.

Most spindles sold today are top whorl drop spindles. But these ladies are using spindles with the whorl at the bottom, with the yarn stored above it. And their method is different to the usual drop spindle technique.

Firstly. the fibre is stored on a distaff, acting as a third hand. This leaves the left hand to draft the fibre and control the twist, whilst the right hand spins the spindle.. The freshly spun yarn is suspended below the right hand. The hands don’t come together except when each new length of yarn is wound up on the fingers of the right hand prior to winding it onto the spindle. Then they move apart again as new fibre is spun. In this way the spindle is ‘suspended’ rather than ‘dropped’. For spinning nerds it has some similarities to English Long Draw spinning.

Back to the experiment.

The spindle was a length of dowel, about cut to about 11″  (28cm) long, this was just knocking around the house. A small block of Polymer Clay cost 3 quid from ebay was bought to fashion a whorl.

The dowel was shaped at each end with a vegetable knife and sand paper, with a notch at the top to stop the yarn slipping off. About 25g of the polymer clay was shape into a ‘whorly’ shape and the dowel used to make a hole the right size before it was baked.

Bottom whorls are designed to fit tightly and not drop off, but be removable. Different weight whorls can be used for spinning different weight yarns, or a heavier whorl can be changed for a lighter one as the weight of yarn builds up on the spindle. Historically they were made of clay, stone, metal – basically anything that could be fashioned into the right sort of shape. But in this instance the polymer clay did the trick and there’s enough left to make another or a different weight.

Onto the distaff – which is the stick that holds the store of fibre.

An old broom handle – that’s a stick! With a plastic flower pot stuff with newspaper, a hole made in the bottom and taped upside down near the top of the broom handle and wrapped with a little more paper. This was just to stop the fibre slipping down. Then wrap around the fibre and hold in place with a length of ribbon.

All set.

Medieval spinning kit ready to go!

Now just to road test it.

Far from perfect. But not bad for a first attempt. The tip of the spindle needs to be finer to get more revolutions, but it works!!!! The rest comes down to technique.

Lessons learnt:

  • Fibre preparation is crucial. With just one hand to draft there are no spare fingers to pull out snags or stray bits of rubbish.
  • The drafting is the key to it all. Get that right and the rest is ‘easy’.
  • It requires a light delicate touch. And holding your fingers like a medieval lady really does help.