One of the questions I hear often these days is “I have a spindle with no hook or notch to hold the yarn — how do I work this half-hitch thing I’ve heard about?”
I grew up spinning this way, on Peruvian low whorl spindles which are as simple a spindle as you can get: a stick with a weight near the bottom. Although I do now often use other kinds of spindles, including ones with hooks and/or notches, I still find the Peruvian low whorl spindle with the half-hitch on the smooth shaft to be the fastest.
Why? Because there’s no looking involved — you can do it all by feel. This is great for spinning while you’re doing other things, like walking around. When you need to wind on more yarn, you simply flick the half-hitch off the end of the spindle shaft with your thumb, and it disappears immediately (even if you’ve used more than one) . If it doesn’t slip off easily, just pinch it between your thumb and forefinger and slip it off.
Being comfortable with this technique allows a spinner to use a wider range of tools, such as Andean spindles or Turkish spindles, neither of which traditionally use a hook or notch. You can also put it to work doing things like turning your top whorl spindle upside down and spinning it like a low whorl, for improvising a spindle from any stick and moderately balanced weight, or dealing with problems like a broken spindle or missing hook. You can use it to secure your cop (the spun yarn you’ve wound onto your spindle) for transporting your spinning, too. Lastly, while I do love some of my top whorl spindles, all of which have notches and hooks in them, I do find that when I have them in my carry-around bag, sometimes the hook will get caught on things and cause me to become irritated; and hey, hooks are commonly made of metal and you know how those airline screener folks are these days — but they’re usually pretty easygoing about letting you have a stick.
The half-hitch can be done essentially one-handed (indeed, I did it one-handed to take these photos!) and with practice, is one single fluid motion. For demonstration purposes, I broke it up into 10 steps which are easier to describe than a single motion.
The mechanics of putting the half-hitch on the spindle shaft are essentially the same as one of the simplest cast-on methods for knitting, the half-hitch cast-on, or single cast-on. The only difference is that you most likely have your spindle shaft held vertical instead of horizontal (like you’d have needles), and you should only need one or two half-hitches to hold your yarn securely. Here it is, in pictures (featuring me and my dye-stained fingers!):
- Step 1: Yarn goes over your thumb.
- Step 2: Yarn comes back under your thumb.
- Step 3: Yarn comes back over your thumb.
- Step 4: Hook your thumb to hold your loop.
- Step 5: Bring your hooked thumb, with the loop around it, up between the yarn coming off the spindle and the L between your thumb and forefinger, and this is what you’ll see.
- Step 6: Put the tip of your thumb on the end of your spindle shaft.
- Step 7: Start sliding the loop off your thumb, right onto the spindle shaft.
- Step 8: Pull the half-hitch tight.
- Step 9: This is really an alternate view of Step 8. Note that the loop goes OVER the yarn that you’re about to keep spinning; this is what makes this work.
- Step 10: Once you’ve pulled your half-hitch tight, this is more or less how it will look. Use additional half-hitches if you find that this slips off too easily.
A few final tips: slippery yarn very well may call for more than one half-hitch. Use as many as you like, they’ll all come undone when they slide off the shaft. You can also reverse these directions so that instead of having your thumb under the yarn in step 1, your thumb is over it; play with this to find which way is most comfortable for you, because that’ll be where your speed comes from with this technique.
Want to see bigger pictures? They’re here.