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How (and Why) To Use A Half-Hitch On A Spindle With No Hook or Notch

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 Step 2

  • Step 1: Yarn goes over your thumb.
  • Step 2: Yarn comes back under your thumb.

Step 3 Step 4

  • Step 3: Yarn comes back over your thumb.
  • Step 4: Hook your thumb to hold your loop.

Step 5 Step 6

  • 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 Step 8

  • Step 7: Start sliding the loop off your thumb, right onto the spindle shaft.
  • Step 8: Pull the half-hitch tight.

Step 9 Step 10

  • 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.

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November, Shorter Days, Sock Blends

Today I’m working on sock blends, in large part to work my way through the pile of bombyx silk seconds that I wound up with from recent silk dyeing sessions. Basically, any time that a silk fails my quality control for being saleable as top, I put it on the blending pile — it’s still beautiful fiber, but not quite up to my standards for sale. Usually, this will be because I break a top while moving it; sometimes it gets too tangly in a dyebath; sometimes it weighs up a little short. Every now and then, there’s one where the dye doesn’t penetrate to the depth I expect it to, or the colour is just not quite right. So anyway, blending fodder.

Muted Sock Blends TodayAs luck would have it, here as days grow shorter and bleaker, I seem to have already worked my way through the lion’s share of bright colours, and I’m left with the muted tones, and a whole lot of gray superwash merino, which is absolutely wonderful in its softness, but… you know, gray! So here I am with muted-colour silks and gray superwash that I’ve postponed far longer than I meant to. There won’t be a new round of really bright silks until I do another dye day, and that’s not going to be until my next shipment of bombyx silk arrives, sometime this week I expect. Of course, with Thanksgiving approaching, and family coming in to town, next week isn’t going to be a big work week for me.

Sock blends, though, are big fun. I find them very satisfying. To be a really good sock blend, the fiber needs to be very easy to spin fine, and absolutely next-to-skin soft. It needs to have some memory, so there’s some stretch and bounce, and it needs to be a long-wearing blend. Combining superwash wool, various silks, and a little bit of nylon absolutely does produce such a blend, and then it’s up to the spinner to spin the sock yarn he or she wants.

Perhaps the trickiest element with sock blends is coming up with something that it’s not just as easy for someone to buy in a millspun sock yarn. Especially in the past few years, the range of options for commercial sock yarns have really increased, and this is a constant challenge for me as a fiber producer. I tend to solve it by adding really luxurious fibers into my core recipe — a little angora, or some cashmere, maybe baby camel down — and sometimes man-made high-tech fibers that do really interesting things (like firestar nylon, which if done right can be both really startling and not too overpowering).

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Abby’s Yarns Site Up and Running!

Well, the Abby’s Yarns site is finally up and running, and what with the Franquemont Fibers eBay store stable and reasonably full of inventory, I’m shifting gears from production work to web work for a little bit. Little by little, I’m gathering up, editing, and putting online many things I’ve written on the subject of fiber arts over the years, as well as building my online storefront. It’s no small task, but it’s very exciting to be putting it all together at last.

Choosing the first set of articles to work with is proving to be a bigger challenge than I ever expected! For November 2006, I’ll be focusing on handspinning basics and some of the most frequently asked questions I hear from new handspinners (or folks who’d like to become handspinners), and on getting shop infrastructure in place. Stay tuned to this space for regular updates!