Spindle sticks and spindle whorls

When I started I was using a carved wooden dowel with a bunch of hairties as a whorl.

What am I using these days?

I’m using spindle sticks from here.  They are fantastic! I’m not too good at making my own so these are perfect. They have a tapered end so with each twirl of my fingers the spindle turns several times. Also when I spin it I can get a nice fast spin. I have seven and I’m buying more (so I have plenty to let others use and have a try at spinning at living history events. No, seven is not enough to do that with. Factor two to spin wool spindles with and one to ply them onto and the same for flax only gives me one spare.)

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You can see the spindle stick here with three whorls. The right (top) of the spindle stick is darker because its absorbed the oil from my fingers as I’ve been using it. The corners on the top are starting to round and the stripe just above the whorl is where my handmade whorl sits. I tend to swap from my heavy whorl to my lightest to no whorl at all as I build up the cop.

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My whorls. The top left is one I bought from flaming gargoyle pottery at a medieval tournament. I was so busy at the event I didn’t get time to go shopping but one of our newer members told me they saw some whorls for sale and so on the last day when I went to get my first real coffee for three days right when the stalls were packing up (in the rain) I ran and found the stall. I bought three, their biggest, their smallest and one in between. The one pictured is the smallest.

The top right I’ve made myself and is significantly thicker in the middle and quite thin at the edges. This is my lightest whorl.

The bottom is from the reproduction spindle at The Woolery. It comes with a notched stick that I find useless. You can’t hold it out to the side of your distaff as the thread doesn’t stay in the horizontal notch and the top is so fat that every turn of your fingers only turns the spindle once. It works great as a drop spindle but the whorl spins it short and FAST. Like, REAL fast. Like, I couldn’t even start drafting before it went into backspin fast.

But for the style of spinning I’m doing the whorl works fantastic. Not surprising as it was based on medieval whorls and I’m trying to reproduce medieval spinning. This whorl is my heaviest. Unfortunatly, as fantastic as it is, because there is very little (almost no) taper in the hole it doesn’t stay too well on my spindle. I can wedge it on with a splinter of wood or wrap some yarn around the base of it to keep it on. It’s new so I haven’t experemented with it much yet.
Costs? Spindle sticks are seven euro.

The Flaming Gargoyle whorl was three for $10 (they were $4 each but they only asked $10 for the three without me even bartering. 🙂 )

My whorl was essentially free as I’ve had the clay lying around for years. Can’t remember how much the clay was but you can make a LOT of whorls from it so even factoring the cost of the clay into account it would by FAR be the cheapest.

The whorl from the Woolery was $17 plus postage from America (postage from America always seems more expensive than postage from anywhere else and often takes twice as long to arrive). Yes, that was for a complete spindle but as I said, I can’t use the stick.

My go-to whorl is the one from Flaming Gargoyle. I use my homemade one when the cop gets heavier then I just take the whorl off when I no longer need it. As I said, I haven’t had the one from the woolery long enough to do much spinning with but I wouldn’t want to use it walking around a reenactment event as I can see it slipping off and getting lost (and being dug up by archaeologists in years to come, lol).

What I really want is a whorl just like the one from the woolery, without the stick (I have perfect ones already) that has a tapered hole. Anyone got any sources?

So that’s what I’m spinning with now days.

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Recent Spinning

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I thought I’d share my latest spinning and plying attempts.

I’ve tried plying straight from two spindles. That worked ok. I tried winding off two spindles onto one spindle then spinning that together. That didn’t work so well because when one of the singles broke and I wanted to fix it by overlapping it… well, the lengths got uneven.

So I thought I’d try winding off onto two balls and spinning from those. I wound around some spare whorls I don’t use as they’re too large. They worked well as I didn’t have that much wool to wind off.

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Then I spun these together. I used a drop spindle because I’m told drop spinning is faster. Well, nope. I even was getting a real fast sin off my thy but I still had to hang around waiting for stuff to spin. Maybe it was no slower than using a hand spindle but there was more waiting around for sure.

 

Then I went to take the plied thread from my drop spindle to my niddy noddy. Well, didn’t work to well. Normally I just slip the whorl off and it’s all good but because it was a modern drop spindle I couldn’t take the whorl off and the HUGE whorl was just getting in the way. So I slipped the cop off the spindle and onto one of my hand spindles (with no whorl on).

 

Well, my spindle was narrower than the drop spindle and I was worried things would get tangled so I wound this all off AGAIN onto a whorl then wound it on my niddy noddy.

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When it came off it had less energy than my first wool attempt but more than my second.

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I washed it and hung it up to dry without weighting it. The excess twist settled in the wash (unlike with my first attempt) and overall I’m quite pleased with it.

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(most recent attempt on right, first on far left)

 

What I have to work on now is deciding how thick I want my thread and spinning at that thickness. I’ve just been spinning as easy as I can and as the cop gets heavier switching to a lighter whorl or no whorl at all. This means that there’s a fair bit of unevenness in the thread. If I set a thicnkess (and make a sample to refer to while spinning) then I think this will help me spin more evenly.

 

So what IS just so great about a distaff?

 

I’ve asked this question once before in my entry What’s So Great About a Distaff but now I have a bit more spinning time with a distaff under my belt (do you see what I did there?) I feel I have more to say.

 

In my last entry I talk about how a distaff is great for spinning when you are active, watching flocks and going to the market. I wrote about how handy it was to have the fibre just THERE to grab and how you didn’t need to keep joining on more fibre unless you broke your thread.

What I’m finding the most beneficial now, however, is that using a distaff gives you another hand and it’s something I’d never had discovered without attempting to re-create the spinning methods used in the 15th century.

 

If you are drafting worsted (not letting the twist travel into the drafting zone) it is very useful. You have your right hand holding the spindle, your distaff holding the fibre, and your left hand pulling the fibre away from the distaff and stopping the twist from entering the drafting zone. Without a distaff your left hand would have to hold the fibre, draft it out and control the twist because your right hand is always at the spindle. With drop spinning you let go of the spindle and use both hands to do the drafting etc so it’s not so necessary to have a distaff.

 

With woolen drafting (when the twist enters the drafting zone) I find if I get things just right my left hand does very little work, I just use it to monitor how much fibre is getting pulled into the thread now and then. But again it’s nice to have the distaff to hold all that fibre and to provide something to pull against.

 

With drop spindle spinning you don’t have to worry about that other hand. You set that spindle in motion then you’ve got two hands to handle the drafting and holding the fibre. With the style of spinning used in the 15th century you have one hand constantly at the spindle so you really need that distaff.

 

In short, a distaff isn’t just to hold fibre, it plays an integral part in the spinning technique.

 

My distaff is still just a broomstick. It would be great to at least have a nob on top to tie my ribbons around but I eventually want one with a small cone on top.

 

For now I’ve been using commercially prepared wool. I’ve just been laying lengths over the top of my stick , tying them tight at the top, crossing ribbon down the length and tying in a loose bow. It works well and I can move the ties up as I go.

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I had a go at dressing a distaff for more woolen spinning. I carded some of my wool into bats. I then laid the bats out and wrapped them around my distaff and tied with a ribbon. Seemed to work quite well though I haven’t spun much from it (and I only used a tiny amount of wool).

 

 

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