Troubleshooting: Spindle Hooks

Can any of you lovely spinners share some advice with me? I love spindle spinning–so easy to take with me–but I have yet to figure out a good way to remove the yarn from the shaft. My current method is to loosely hold the end of the shaft while I wind it off with a ball winder, but that has problems. How do you all do it?

One of the primary problems with that method drew my attention for a frequent flaw in good spindles: wimp-ass hooks. You know what I mean–the tiny thread of wire poked in there and bent into shape as if it’s not going to have to be reshaped every three days. So annoying. But here’s how you fix that problem: stick a better hook in it.

Step 1: Remove the old wire.

You can probably do this with no hands. Maybe get some pliers if it’s giving you trouble, but I have yet to meet the wire that wouldn’t just pop out. Most of those thin wire hooks that are so prone to bending do not have screw bases, but if it’s really giving you a fight, try lefty-loosey to get it moving.

Step 2: Buy a cup hook.

These 1/2″ brass cup hooks from Home Depot work pretty well. They have bigger sizes if you’re working with a large spindle, but for smaller, you’ll need to check out McMaster-Carr. They go down to 1/4″ and also have some interesting stainless steel options for 1/2″ hooks. The downside there is that you have to buy in high quantities, but they’re much cheaper per unit than Home Depot, and if you’re a big spinner, you might just go through them. Besides, I find cup hooks to be more broadly useful for house projects, so it probably doesn’t hurt to have too many lying around.

Step 3: Pre-drill the hole.

Seriously. Don’t just try to screw the hook into the wire’s hole. It’s not big enough and you’ll crack the shaft and then you’ll have to do Step Whoops-a-daisy, which adds time and work and materials. Use a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the screw post of your cup hook. You can wiggle it around if you need to make the hole bigger, but fixing a hole that’s too big is more of an issue, so stick with small. Most sets don’t have a bit small enough for the 1/2″ hook mentioned above, so take your hooks to Home Depot and compare the specialty bits to find the right one for your drill. As you drill, stop and test the hook carefully until you get the right size and depth.

Centering the hole is not the world’s easiest task, which is probably the reason for the super-light wires on so many spindles, but so far I have found using the center of an + drawn across the top of the shaft as the center point of the drill bit to keep my spin true enough, and doing that once has been, for me, easier and more accurate than futzing around with heating and bending those stupid wires into place every other day.

Step Whoops-a-Daisy: Fix that cracked shaft.

Didn’t read step 3 very carefully, did you? It’s okay. I did the same thing the first time I replaced a wire hook. The fix is simple enough. Grab your wood glue and dab it generously into the cracks. Clamp the shaft back together and wait 24 hours for the glue to set. Sand off any bumps of dried glue if necessary, then go back and do step 3 properly.

Step 4: Screw in the hook.

Do I really need to explain this more? Righty-tighty. If you hit resistance, back up and drill a bit more. Because spindle shifts are so small, they are very easy to accidentally crack, so don’t force the screw to keep turning.

Ta-da! That wasn’t so difficult, right? And now you don’t have to worry about bending the hook back into shape every time you (ahem) drop the spindle. Or bang it about trying to get the yarn off. Speaking of which, don’t forget to comment and save me from my own ineptness in getting the yarn off my spindles!

Spinning Decompression

Note of a lazy blogger: I wrote this post when the dates would suggest I did, but didn’t get around to taking pictures, so…this is late.

The Tour de Fleece ended this Sunday, and I have to confess that I more or less dropped out after Day 14. Not that I stopped spinning, mind you. I just stopped spinning enough that you could see progress on a daily basis because it was hot and I was busy.

I met my goals of finishing and plying the blue mystery wool on the wheel. So…huzzah! That was my success.

Mystery Blue Spun

I ALMOST finished the dragon yarn. I got it finished spinning it Friday and pulled it off the spindle Saturday, but I didn’t get it plied. I started plying on Monday and managed to get through about 80% in an epic session before my arm threatened to fall off completely. Hopefully I’ll finish that tonight.

Dragon Yarn - Spindle Spun

Needless to say, since my final challenge to myself was dependent on finishing the dragon yarn, I didn’t tackle it. I did consider buying another spindle just so I could play with angora the way I wanted to on the 18th, but my husband would have made annoyed frowny faces, so I restrained myself. 🙂

I did, however, do something I had forgotten I would be doing during the Tour: my spinning demo for my mother’s knitting class. Teaching and demonstrating is a skill in its own right, and one I really don’t have, but the ladies were all super nice and interested in the process.

Also, when I jotted down where they could buy a spindle like mine (Highland Handmades, for the curious), one of the ladies looked at my handwriting and decided that I am a rushing river in a narrow channel, which she explained meant that I am deeply emotional and creative but with tight control. I don’t know what about my handwriting gives her the notion that I am the master of my own emotions, but best not to look a gift compliment in the mouth, right?

I’m off to West Virginia to visit my sister later this week, so perhaps I’ll have some time for the angora then. How did you all do?

Spinning Demo

By the by…I’m doing a 1:00PM spinning demo at Yardgoods Center in Waterville tomorrow, if anyone is around and curious. You’ve seen the quality of my work: this is not a class to help pros refine their skills. I was asked because one of the lovely ladies of my mom’s Friday knitting group heard that I have a wheel and has apparently always wanted to see it in action.

It’s also a demo, not a class, but if you show up with these supplies, I can probably get you started.

  • 2-3 CDs
  • Pencil
  • 2 rubber bands
  • 1 yard of wool yarn
  • Unspun roving (for sale at Yardgoods if you don’t have any lying around)

The ladies in the knitting group are delightful, so I can promise that however well the demo does or does not go, we’ll have a lot of laughs.

From Spindle to Wheel

It’s Tour de Fleece, Day 5! How’s your spinning going?

My mom called me up the other day and asked me if I would do a spinning demonstration for her knitting class. I thought she was joking, because I’m a complete n00b when it comes to making yarn and certainly not qualified to teach anyone the best way to get started. Mom reassured me that they weren’t looking for a pro, however, just someone who could fulfill an elderly class member’s wish to see how spinning works, and to see how what you learn on a spindle prepares you to work with a wheel.

I'm exaggerating the hand motions, but you can see that I let the twist run all the way to my back hand when spinning woolen.
I’m exaggerating the hand motions, but you can see that I let the twist run all the way to my back hand when spinning woolen.

I had said that spindle spinning is a good training ground to my mother, partially because I was defending my use of a spindle over the very expensive wheel she and my husband got me for Christmas. I had a sense that this was true, but I hadn’t really thought about why–the bigger whys of my wheel-avoidance being (1) spindles are easier to travel with and (2) I’m still a little scared of messing up my roving with the wheel.

You make mistakes a lot faster with a wheel than a spindle.

As I thought about how I would explain the relationship of spindle to wheel, I decided I needed to pull out the bump of blue roving I found at the Common Ground Fair last year. I’ve been saving it as my “learn to ply on the wheel” project. I also recently had a conversation with a spinner at the Fiber Frolic about the difference between woolen and worsted spinning. Not having tried both, I wasn’t quite sure what my approach was. I decided to try to do the other with this roving, just as a learning experiment, and I’m glad I did: the decision answered my other question.

To figure out how to spin woolen vs. worsted, you have to understand the concept of the drafting triangle. If you’re spinning woolen, you let go of the vertex of the triangle and let the twist run up into the base and stopping it at your back hand. If you’re spinning worsted, you slide your fingers from the vertex to the base of the drafting triangle, never letting the twist run past your forward hand (refer to photos).

What I realized, as I was trying to get comfortable with the motions of worsted spinning, is that it requires control of the drafting triangle that I didn’t have a year ago. I was able to learn this control using the park and draft method with a drop spindle. At some point, without even noticing I didn’t need the safety of parking anymore, I moved to letting the spindle hang free while I drafted, which is much more similar to working with a wheel.

You can sort of do a park and draft on the wheel, but it’s much clumsier, because if you’ve got the tension on the wheel set to pull in the yarn while you’re spinning, you get almost immediate backspin when you stop the wheel. It’s not a lot of backspin, but it’s enough to cause problems. So if you want to do park and draft on the wheel, you either have to constantly mess with the tension, or you have to hand wind the yarn onto the bobbin. These aren’t impossibly hard things to do, but working with a spindle lets you take backspin and tension out of the equation long enough to let you master your drafting control.

While spinning worsted, the twist is strictly out of the drafting triangle and fiber is fed more carefully through my front hand.
While spinning worsted, the twist is strictly out of the drafting triangle and fiber is fed more carefully through my front hand.

The first yarn I spun on the wheel is a royal mess of broken ends, slubs, and spider-thin spots, and it was tough going. When I spun it, I hadn’t worked my way free of parking my spindle to draft. I put the wheel aside for a few months to focus on the spindle and by the time I finished the lot of fiber I’d been working on, I had graduated from parking. When I joined my roving to my leader on the wheel, I found myself humming along easily within seconds, no false starts or broken ends and understanding about the important of drafting dawned.

So…long story short: spinning is as much about drafting as it is about twist, and a spindle is, among other things, a less-complicated tool for building up your skill with drafting.

Tour de Fleece

I have been newly introduced to a spinning event this year called the Tour de Fleece (you need a Ravelry account, which is awesome and free, to play along). Because we fiber spinners just don’t spend enough time being mistaken for people who do crazy bicycling for exercise, the fiber spinning community sets itself the challenge of spinning every single day during the Tour de France and attempting a major challenge on the challenge day of the race, which this year happens to be July 18.

This is the bare minimum I'm hoping to spin during Tour de Fleece.
This is the bare minimum I’m hoping to spin during Tour de Fleece.

I’m on the Rookie team for the time being, in hopes that I’ll connect with benevolent spinning masters who love to share what they know with us n00bs, but I have a few specific challenges for myself between now and July 21st:

  1. Finish the blue mystery wool I’m spinning worsted on the wheel.
  2. Ply said blue mystery wool…on the wheel. This will be my first wheel plying, and I can’t lie: I’m nervous about it.
  3. Work up the dragon-red yarn on my new spindle and finish as 2-ply. This is a speed challenge that will necessitate carrying the stuff with me.
  4. Blend and spin some angora. The challenge here is a new fiber prep technique and a new fiber, so I’ll be in double need of luck for that. I’ll probably tackle this with my new spindle, so part of the challenge with the red is to spin both halves and get it plied before the 18th so my lightest spindle is ready for me to tackle the tough stuff on Challenge Day.

Spinning every day, I might find myself working through the fiber faster than I anticipate, so I might make it as far as working on my Romney lamb and Jacob alpaca fleeces that I’m hoping to coax into a nice, soft, durable, deep gray sweater yarn.

Good luck to all my fellow spinners! Happy spinning!


Osprey Distaff

This distaff, or “wristaff,” was born out of sheer necessity. I’ve been spending more time with spinning, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a tool to keep the roving out of your spun yarn. I played around with a few techniques to make it as seamless as possible.

Osprey Wristaff, detail shot

The pictures were taken at Wolf’s Neck State Park. There’s an island just off shore that’s protected as a sanctuary for roosting ospreys and watching them interact was quite the lesson in bird drama. And it didn’t hurt that blowing off every other thing I probably should have been doing Monday afternoon to take pictures with my husband at the beach made me feel just a bit like I was borrowing the freedom of those birds.

Osprey Distaff (click to download pattern)

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Update 4/14/12

A few people have kindly pointed out some errors in my pattern–those have been corrected in the document linked above. Thanks to everyone who test-knits my patterns and lets me know where I’ve made mistakes–it really helps me offer a better pattern for everyone else.

Fluffy Bunnies

John and I had the great pleasure of visiting one of the largest Angora rabbit breeders and fiber producers in Maine last Saturday. Beth Acker, of Acker’s Acres, was kind enough to give us a tour of her rabbitry and share with us a wealth of information about raising angoras.

I’ve been mentally planning for raising rabbits since we bought the house, and since I started running into John’s office to show him yet another adorable bunny in The Nervous New Owner’s Guide to Angora Rabbits or another diagram from Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, he’s been softening to the idea. When I came across some information about the Maine Fiber Frolic and started drooling in excitement, he sighed and said, “Yes, I guess we can do rabbits this spring.”

Acker’s Acres is the closest angora rabbitry, and you can only imagine how thrilled I was when Beth invited us to come meet her rabbits. After half an hour or so of inspecting colors, listening to Beth’s advice, and mostly, watching the adorable bunnies hop about in their cages, John’s resignation had turned into something a bit closer to excitement.

To share forward a bit of the knowledge and excitement, here are just a few of the nifty tidbits Beth shared with us:

  • 40% angora blended with 60% wool is enough to gift a yarn the halo and softness of angora and the strength and spring of wool.
  • Angoras usually have three different coats at different stages, which you can see pretty clearly in the black rabbits.
  • Purebred German angoras only come in white, but they have the highest fiber production, so many Maine breeders cross Germans with other breeds to get the best of both color and fiber production.
  • Wood hutches are a bad idea for angoras because (a) the rabbits will chew on them and (b) the hutches will get soaked with urine, making the rabbits dirtier and their wool less viable for spinning.

John and I still have work to do to get ready for bunnies, but I’m hoping we’ll have our mini-rabbitry ready by the Fiber Frolic. Beth’s hoping to have a good number of kits ready to go shortly after the Frolic, so we’re hoping to pop down for another visit to reserve a pair when they’re old enough for their color to be showing true.

And a word to anyone else planning on stopping by the Acker’s Acres booth at one of the festivals–save lots of fiber money for Beth’s booth, because her hand-dyed colors (roving and yarn) are absolutely gorgeous and luscious to the touch.


Salvage Spindling

One of my favorite features of the area John and I moved to is the fabulous flea market. Yes, it is basically a big pile of other people’s rubbish piled haphazardly into a giant warehouse that is open only twice a week, and then only as the various proprietors of booths choose to attend. Total chaos. Utter madness.

I love it.

Apart from the endless parade of elephant tchotchkes and antique tea cups which I merely eye longingly for the sake of my husband’s sanity (we all have our oddities, what can I say?), the flea market is a delightful place to comb for odds and ends that might serve well for spindle whorls or shafts.

These are my most recent treasures…

Slate Disc

I have no idea how these discs ended up in the flea market or what their story is, because the owner of the booth wasn’t there. I dealt with a lovely older lady from a neighboring booth who was standing in for the owner. I also have no idea how to plane the disc to level it or how to drill a hole in it without cracking it, but for $0.50, the cost of failure is manageable.

Swizel stick spindle

This is just a simple glass drink stirring stick, I know, but I haven’t come across any with such a nice weight or point to the end. I made a bowl from polymer clay over the weekend to act as a base (glass as a drop spindle just strikes me as an ill-conceived idea), and I have hopes that this will make an adorable supported spindle. More on how it spins next week.

And just as a teaser for my spinning/knitting hybrid companions…free pattern coming soon for this lace wristaff made from leftover sock yarn.

Lace Wristaff

Beginning Spinning

If you missed the lead-up to my becoming a wheel spinner, you can catch up on the backstory here. If you just want to know how to troubleshoot what seem to me, as a new spinner, the two most fundamental issues of working with a spinning wheel, read on.

Failure to Twist

I watched Start Spinning from beginning to end. You can’t watch Maggie Casey working and listen to her voice without feeling like you can do what she’s doing. And yet, when I sat down at my wheel and followed all the instructions, my roving kept breaking.

Having picked up spindle spinning about a year ago, I saw that my problem was that the bobbin was stealing my roving before the twist has time to travel up the yarn. Yarn = wool + twist. No twist, no yarn. It took me a lot of time and hunting to figure out that I needed to loosen my brake tension.

Tension knob on my Ashford Joy
On my Ashford Joy, you turn the knob on the front to loosen the brake tension for the bobbin.

One tip video recommended loosening the brake almost completely just to get started, and that finally got the twist moving.

Failure to Wind

I won’t even tell you how long it took me to realize that I was blithely putting twist into the fiber without the fiber actually getting wound onto the bobbin, but I will say it was too damn long. My fiber was kinking back on itself terribly. I kept running into the issue throughout the evening, and I found two sources for the problem.

1. Brake tension was too loose.

Just undo what you did to get the twist in the fiber initially and tighten the tension on the bobbin. Apparently this knob is all about how quickly the wheel steals your yarn.

2. Check for kinks in the flyer hooks.

This is bad.

Evil yarn snag on flyer hook.

As is this.

Another evil yarn snag.

The yarn should run smoothly through the hooks, but if you’ve got too much twist running into the yarn, it will kink back on itself, which creates opportunities for the fiber to snag on its way to the bobbin.

Bonus Tip: You’re smarter than I am, so you all either understood this or found the magical hidden instructions (seriously, Ashford, how hard would it be to add one sentence to the set-up manual?), but on the Ashford Joy with the Sliding Flyer Hook…you pinch the two sides of the hook together to make it slide. And that’s another thing you don’t need to know how long I took to work out.

The Siren Call of Spinning

Dec. 25, 2012: My husband and parents teamed up and got me a spinning wheel for Christmas. Yay!!!!

Dec. 27, 2012: Oh, god. What do I DO with it? I don’t know how to spin…

Jan. 5, 2013: Should I use the roving I’m working on my spindle? But that’s for a project. And I don’t want to ruin the blue I bought at a fair on my learning curve. New roving! I’ll buy new roving!

Jan. 19, 2013: ($50 worth of non-roving stuff from Knitpicks and two weeks later…) Crap. No I have no excuses.

Jan. 30, 2013: It’s staring at me. It’s been staring at me for over a month and I CAN’T TAKE IT!

Feb. 1, 2013:  Oh! Right! I have to get these socks done first!

Feb. 6, 2013: Crap. The socks are done.

Feb. 8, 2013: But dragon! I need to make the tiny dragon first! That won’t take long at all!

Feb. 8, 2013: (later) Yep. That didn’t take long at all. And it’s…snowing.

Feb. 9, 2013: Alright, ye blonde beauty. You win. I’ll spin.

Be sure to tune in for part 2, in which I try to spin, fail, and eventually succeed, but not very successfully.