- Updated 2015: check out my overall “Getting Started” advice!
Getting started with handspinning does not require a huge investment. Although there’s no reason you can’t spend as much as you like, and start right out with expensive equipment and materials, it’s not required at all. The next set of instructions is for making the cheapest, most basic spindles you can, for yourself.
At the most basic level, what you need a simple spindle, and some fiber. Simple spindles are even extremely easy to make! I make my quickie spindles by going to the hardware store, picking up some dowels, and then picking up some wooden drawer pulls. Then, I drill a hole through the center of the drawer pull, cut the dowel to 10-12 inches in length, stick it through the hole, sand any rough edges, and voila. This type of spindle most closely resembles the Andean pushka spindle, and is the type I’m using in my Drop Spindle Basics video.
Can’t, or don’t want to, drill a hole? Instead of a drawer pull, pick up some toy wheels from practically any craft supply store or section of a superstore, and follow these instructions, with or without the hook.
That’s it, seriously — that is all you absolutely need for equipment.
Some folks like to put hooks on their spindles — personally, I don’t. Low whorl spindles don’t need them, and indeed, I find hooks on low whorls to be counterproductive and slow me down. High whorl spindles do need them, or some other solution to getting the yarn secured to them safely. Thus, you might opt to pick up a few cup hooks on your hardware store run, as well.
In addition to the drawer pull and toy wheel spindles, there are CD spindles. Seriously — just take some CDs you don’t care about, find a stick (or dowel), and voila. I’ve made these with pencils and rubber bands, at random times to show people what spinning is. But if you want to be less improvisational about it, take a look at this Spin-Off article on making your own CD spindle.
If that wasn’t enough simple spindle making solutions, you can also make ‘em using a clay whorl. You can use modeling clay, Fimo, fancy clay, any kind of clay you like. Make a ball of clay, flatten it into a disc, and stick your spindle shaft through it. Let it dry and voila.
Another quick improvised spindle option — which can be really beautiful — is to take a chopstick and a large, flat bead with a big hole in the middle. You can hold the bead whorl in place with a rubber grommet or some tiny hair rubber bands.
When you get right down to it, you don’t even really need to use anything other than a stick — but, spindles with whorls do perform better long-term than unwhorled sticks. However, you can also do things like simply take a wire coat hanger, cut out the bottom piece, use pliers to put a hook in it, and use that, simply by drafting out bits of fiber and twirling the hooky stick in your fingers. Numerous books recommend this as a very first starting tactic, to get a sense of drafting fiber.
Okay, so with that covered… then you need fiber, right? At the most basic level, it almost doesn’t matter what you use for fiber at the very start. I have made a few suggestions here, though, if you’re looking to shop for some. If someone has given you fiber, or you have your own, by all means, use it!
What’s more, you don’t even really need any equipment at all to prepare your fiber for spinning. You might like some, and eventually, you’ll doubtless find that you want some, if you plan to work from raw fiber (which is what we call fiber that’s just been sheared or harvested). Seriously — you can pick up, say, raw wool, and tug at it and draft it and twist it and get yarn. You don’t even have to wash it first (though you may well want to). One important caveat to mention for anybody working with raw animal fibers, though, is that unwashed animal fibers are liable to contain things like dung, and animal dung can contain bacteria which may be harmful to some people. If you are immunocompromised, or pregnant, or under doctor’s orders to avoid bacteria, you might rather start with washed animal fibers. It’s sort of like cleaning the litterbox or dealing with certain elements of livestock handling, and your individual situation may vary.
Be sure to check out what Andrea has to say about picking fiber by hand.
That said, you can get great mileage out of pet combs and brushes, for simple fleece preparation, but that’s another topic for another day.
Lastly, chances are you’ll want a reference. In a perfect world, the world which is best suited to you learning to spin really quickly and enjoyably, the reference you will have is an experienced spinner who wants to get you hooked on spinning, and can spend time with you in person. You can often find these at fiber guilds, fiber and yarn shops, and by asking around on mailing lists. Second to that are books (which will be the topic of another upcoming post, and generally can be found at the library though you may need to request specific titles) and the Internet (which you presumably already have started poking through, since you’re here!).
Well, there we have the most basic, low-cost things that you absolutely need to start spinning yarn. It doesn’t have to be a costly or high-maintenance proposition. You don’t have to take classes, buy fancy equipment, high-end fiber, or anything like that. You could get well on your way with $5-10.
On the other hand, let’s say you wanted to spend a little bit more money and a little less time. Let’s say you wanted to spend about $25. You’d be right on the mark for what a lot of people want to spend, and that’s why there are tons of kits aimed at that price point. However, lots of them are not so great. Here’s a list of a few mail-order learn to spin kits which I would recommend:
- Spunky Eclectic has kits with various kinds of spindles
- Nancy’s Knit Knacks has a $35 kit with a video
- Pacific Wool and Fiber has a kit featuring the Respect The Spindle DVD
And that’s just a few.
Without a doubt, the best thing you can have to learn to spin with is a person who spins. Most spinners are eager to help people try it out! So eager, in fact, it’s common for them to give new spinners tools and fiber and all kinds of stuff! I know lots of experienced spinners who keep extra wheels around to lend out — not kidding! And if you’re in the continental USA, you probably have spinners within an hour or so of you. Check out the “getting started” link at the top for suggestions on finding them.