WITH A DROP SPINDLE
We wore our own skins first, of course. Then the second-hand
skins of other creatures. Fig leaves, for a season-but the fashion passed.
Cloth has been the preferred covering for the past few thousand years.
Before the weaving of cloth, the spinning of fibers. An ancient and
Whether performed by living fingers or by
whirling machinery, the process is the same. Fibers are set
parallel, each one a little ahead of the one before. Then twisted
together. The twist is it. Without twist there'd be no cord,
nor any yarn, nor rope, nor cloth. What keeps the twist in is
the mystery. Geometry, surface cohesion, elasticity, and a little
Roving is fiber prepared all the way up to spinning:
cleaned and combed straight. Drop spindles are weights that are spun
to put in twist. You will hold some roving in one hand, pull a few fibers
out, and allow the spinning weight to twist the fibers into yarn. A
chop stick stuck into a potato or a twig tied to a rock will make a
spindle. Some of the best, finest spinning done was entirely by hand-just
fingers, the Incas. And, of course, there are spinning wheels of various
designs. But a drop spindle is a good start.
The knack will elude you for a while: a simultaneous
coordination of several actions. It's easier than riding a bicycle,
for instance. And, you'll never forget how, and will not remember why
it was once so difficult.
One experiment before we begin. Pull out a
clump of roving, eight or ten inches long. Grab with both hands
near the middle, with your hands together. Hold tightly, and
try to pull the roving apart. Not easy. Now move your hands
six or seven inches apart. Pull. The roving separates with little
effort. It depends on whether or not you're holding both ends
of the same fibers. The trick to spinning is to pull the fibers
out enough so that they'll slide past each other into the twist
and become yarn. And not to pull them out so far that the yarn
breaks. Pause a minute and study some individual fibers.
Let's begin. Get a yard or so of your hairiest yarn-knitting
worsted will do. Tie one end to the shaft of the spindle. Wrap
it around under the point of the spindle. Catch the top of the
spindle (in the notch) with a half-hitch. And the spindle's
ready. Set it down a minute.
Pull out a handful of fibers from the roving. Hold in your
left hand. Take the end of yarn from the spindle. Lay the end across
the fibers, six or eight inches back over your wrist. Hold the end securely
and let the spindle dangle down from your left hand. When you spin the
spindle, twist accumulates in the held end of yarn; and this twist transfers
to the loose fibers as they draw each other into the newborn yarn (note:
"hand" here usually means "thumb and forefinger of").
Here we go. Give the spindle a good clockwise twist
with right hand. Let it spin, without letting go of the yarn end. Right
hand grabs yarn end just before the new fibers start. Let twist accumulate
for a few turns. Now right hand tight, loosen left, and pull yarn end
through fibers-three of four inches. A few will catch on the old yarn.
Left hand tight, slide hand up yarn. Twist travels up, binding old yarn
to new fibers.
Again: right hand tight, loosen left and pull some
new fibers. Again: right hand tight, loosen left and pull some new fibers;
left tight, slide right up, allowing twist to grab new fibers. One hand
always holding securely. Left simply loosening and tightening. Right
pulling down tight, sliding up loose. Don't let go with both hands.
Don't let the spindle reverse-give another twirl as necessary-always
clockwise. That's it, the hard part. When the yarn breaks, pick it up
and start again. As you work at it, the breaks become less and less
frequent. Persistence furthers.
Now-unless you're standing on a high stool-the
new yarn you've made has got so long that the spindle's hit
ground. You must stop and wind up the new yarn around the spindle.
First wrap the new yarn around your left hand, hanging on to
the end. Unhook the original piece from the notch and tip. Wind
the new yarn off your left hand on to the spindle shaft. Make
a cone, towards the bottom. Leave a couple of feet unwound.
Hook the end of the yarn back around spindles as before. Don't
let end loose from your left hand.
And go, as before. All of these motions smooth and
speed up with practice.
Eventually, the spindle is too full of yarn to wind
on more. Break it off and make a skein. A niddy-noddy is best here-for
even tension and for speed. But wrap around a skeiner, or a chair or
between your palm and elbow. (You can pull full cones off the spindle
intact, save until you have several and do all your skeining at once.)
You don't need to wash roving-spun yarn (but wetting, then letting dry
under moderate tension helps set the twist). Dye the yarn, weave with
it, knit, as you will. It's yours.
You have learned the main thing. Mohair, alpaca, cotton,
flax, silk, jute, dog hair-each with it's peculiar tricks. But the door's
A good spinner does it all on purpose. Lumps where
lumps are intended. Even and smooth to a consistent diameter, thick
or thin. Or loops every 3/8 inch. Hand-spun doesn't necessarily mean
clumsy and inept. Taste, of course is a personal matter.
||Yarn gains strength from plying. A three-ply yarn is stronger
than a single-ply yarn of the same diameter. Plying is spinning
two or more single yarns together, usually in the opposite direction
from which the singles were spun. The countervailing twists lock
each other in. If singles are spun clockwise, they're plied counterclockwise.
Z-twist and S-twist are other names for clockwise and counterclockwise.