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What is Spindling?

Tile of Mayan woman spinning:


Spindling is the ancient craft of spinning yarn on a spindle. This is a skill that has been with human beings since long before recorded history. Many of us overly-enthusiastic spindling buffs are of the opinion that the spindle has been with humanity for 20,000 years or more. That's a lot of spindling!

Evidence of spindling has been found in archeological sites throughout the world.

Spindler in Ecuador

The spindle was used to spin yarn long before the spinning wheel was invented. Compared to the spindle, the spinning wheel has only been with us for a blink in time. Until three hundred years ago all yarn was spun with this humble tool. Think of all that yarn: sails for ships, tents, clothes blankets: all spun on a little stick with a whorl.

There are many places in the world where people use the spindle as their main yarn-spinning tool.

Victorian Statue


My daughter went on a trip through the British isles and found this statue of a woman spinning in a museum.  She's really getting some extension with that upper arm!

This used to be a regular sight in homes throughout the world.  Up until the 14th century (and later in undeveloped countries without spinning wheels) all cloth was made with a spindle.  Just think, that\'s a lot of yarn!

Many types of drop spindles

Different cultures invented spinning independently and they came up with many different ways to make and use spindles. The only thing these spindles have in common is that they are a whorl put on a stick.

The different types of spindles can be put into two basic categories. The first category is the drop spindles which spin suspended in the air, hanging from their created yarn.

Cotton spindles & bowls

The second category is the supported spindle which is usually spun in some type of a bowl. Because the supported spindles are not hung in the air, they do not create any tension or weight on the yarn and can be used to spin very fine fibers such as cotton and silk. These spindles are usually small, with the exception of the Navajo spindle which is spun supported on the knee and ground.

Akha spindle and yarn

Quite of bit of yarn can be spun on the humble little spindle. It is probably slower than a spinning wheel because the operator must stop with each draft and wind the newly formed yarn onto the spindle. But a well balanced spindle can actually achieve greater revolution speeds than any spinning wheel built.

Spinning with a drop spindle

Spinning yarn on a spindle takes a bit of practice, but is really quite easy to learn. The first few days of operating a spindle will be a little awkward as you gain the skill of letting the spindle twirl in the air without breaking the string. But sticking with it will gain you a skill which is pleasant and meditative.

Yarn is attached to the shaft of the spindle, and then, while the spindle is spinning, loose fibers are drafted evenly into the spin to create yarn. It looks like magic while you are doing it.

Spinning cotton



The cotton spindle is used while sitting. The right hand keeps pumping a constant spin into the spindle while the left hand drafts back on the roving letting just the right amount of loose fibers into the spin.

One nice thing about this skill is that you have to drop all concepts of time and schedules. The yarn will get done when the yarn gets done.

A Navajo spindle



The Navajo spindle is a very interesting invention in the spindling world. It is a large spindle used to spin wool, and yet it is spun supported on the knee and ground. It\'s a very easy spindle to learn to spin with because it does not have such a tendency to break the yarn.



For more information on all of these spindles see Spindle Spinning: From Novice to Expert, by Connie Delaney. Available for $12+3 s&h from SpinCraft