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What are the Different Types of Drop Spindles?

  • 12 min read
Different types of Drop Spindles - Thread Collective Australia
Louet top whorl drop spindle with Malabrigo fibre

Drop spindles come in various designs, each with its own spinning capabilities and unique features. The three different types of drop spindles are bottom whorl, top whorl, and Turkish spindles. Bottom whorl drop spindles have the weight (whorl) at the bottom, while top whorl drop spindles have the weight at the top. Turkish spindles have a middle crossbar with arms extending from the centre.

Bottom whorl drop spindles are generally heavier, more stable, less bouncy and can provide more momentum for longer spinning times. Top whorl drop spindles are lighter and often used for fine spinning. Turkish drop spindles are known for their ability to create a centre-pull ball of yarn as you spin.

Drop spindles connect us with the past, allowing us to experience the traditional method of spinning yarn. They enable us to create our unique yarns and explore different spinning techniques. Each type of drop spindle offers benefits and can cater to various spinning preferences and requirements. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced spinner, drop spindles are a versatile and valuable tool for creating beautiful yarn.

Top Whorl Drop Spindle vs Bottom Whorl Drop Spindle

Top whorl and bottom whorl drop spindles differ in their design and preferred uses. Top whorl spindles have the whorl located at the top of the shaft, while bottom whorl spindles have the whorl at the bottom. This positioning affects the overall spinning experience, as top whorl spindles will spin faster for a shorter period of time. In comparison, bottom whorl spindles have more weight at the bottom, offering better stability with a longer, slower spin.

Different types of Drop Spindles - Louet top whorl and bottom whorl drop spindles (Image credit: Louet)
Louet top whorl and bottom whorl drop spindles (Image credit: Louet)

Top whorl spindles are often preferred for creating finer yarns and for spinning fibres with a shorter staple length as these require more twist. Bottom whorl spindles, on the other hand, are better suited for thicker yarns and plying. The weight distribution and positioning of the whorl affect the spinning process by influencing the speed and control of the spindle.

Understanding the nuances of top whorl vs bottom whorl drop spindles allows spinners to choose the tool that aligns with their spinning style and preferences.

Below are some key points that make the comparison between top whorl and bottom whorl much more straightforward.

Top Whorl Drop Spindle:

  • Whorl Placement: Positioned at the top of the spindle.
  • Centre of Gravity: The centre of gravity is higher, closer to the top of the spindle.
  • Yarn Drafting: Beginners typically use the "park and draft" technique, where the spinner stops the spindle to draft the fibre. More experienced spindle spinners will often spin with the spindle suspended and draft as it spins.
  • Speed: Generally, the higher centre of gravity results in a faster spin.
  • Historical Significance: In the modern world, spindle crafters can create anything they choose with great precision, thanks to technical accuracy provided by modern tools. Prior to technological advancement, bottom whorl spindles were more common historically as they could provide a relatively balanced spin without being technically perfect.
  • Ease of Use: Some beginners find top whorl spindles more difficult to start with as they can provide a less stable spin than bottom whorl spindles.
  • Fibre Compatibility:Preferred for short fibres and finer yarns due to the faster spin.

Bottom Whorl Drop Spindle:

  • Whorl Placement: Positioned at the bottom of the spindle.
  • Centre of Gravity: The centre of gravity is lower, closer to the bottom of the spindle.
  • Yarn Drafting: As with top whorl spinning, beginners typically use the "park and draft" technique, where the spinner stops the spindle to draft the fibre. More experienced spindle spinners often spin with the spindle suspended and draft as it spins.
  • Speed: A longer, slower and more stable spin compared to top whorl spindles

In summary, bottom whorl spindles offer a more stable, longer spin and are suitable for thicker yarns and beginners, while top whorl spindles provide a faster spin and are ideal for finer spinning projects. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed choice based on their spinning needs and preferences.

What is a Turkish Drop Spindle?

A Turkish Drop Spindle is a type of drop spindle used for spinning yarn. It differs from other types of drop spindles in its unique design, which includes a crossbar and multiple arms for winding the yarn. This design allows for more efficient and even winding of the yarn, making it easier to create consistent and balanced yarn.

The Turkish drop spindle from Ashford - Different types of Drop Spindles
The Turkish drop spindle from Ashford

The Turkish spindle is a very old style of spindle. The first examples, found in the Middle East, include a shaft and one arm across the bottom. The version we see today has two crossed arms with a shaft going up through the centre.

The Turkish spindle is characterized by its unique design, which is comprised of a shaft and "arms," which allows for it to be easily disassembled and reassembled either as a top or bottom whorl drop spindle. The spinner can disassemble the Turkish drop spindle by removing the shaft and sliding the arms out, making it a compact and portable tool. Additionally, the design allows for winding the spun yarn directly onto the arms to form a centre-pull ball when the arms are removed.

How a Turkish drop spindle works (Image credit: Ashford)
How a Turkish drop spindle works (Image credit: Ashford)

These distinctive features make the Turkish drop spindle a versatile and convenient tool for hand spinning, particularly for those who appreciate the portability, ability to create a centre pull ball and ease of use associated with this design.

How Heavy Should a Drop Spindle Be?

Several factors must be considered when determining the weight of a drop spindle you should choose. The type of yarn being spun and the intended thickness of the yarn is crucial in determining the ideal weight of the drop spindle. Larger, heavier spindles are typically used for thicker yarn, while smaller, lighter spindles are better for finer spinning.

Louet bottom whorl drop spindle with coloured fibres (Image credit: Thread Collective)
Louet bottom whorl drop spindle with coloured fibres

The drop spindle's weight directly impacts the spinning process's speed and control. Heavier spindles require more spinning to achieve the same amount of twist as a heavier spindle. However, heavier spindles may cause fatigue when used for extended periods.

Generally, drop spindles are categorized into three main weight classes:

1. Lightweight Spindles (Less than 28 grams or 1 ounce):

  • Ideal for spinning fine and lightweight fibres like cotton or silk.
  • Well-suited for creating thin yarn and achieving high twist.

2. Mediumweight Spindles (28 to 85 grams or 1 to 3 ounces):

  • Versatile and suitable for a wide range of fibres, including wool and other mediumweight materials.
  • It is ideal for general spinning purposes and for creating medium-thickness yarn.

3. Heavyweight Spindles (Over 85 grams or 3 ounces):

  • Best for spinning thicker and heavier yarns, such as for rug making.
  • It provides more momentum, making it easier to spin thicker yarns.

Drop spindles come with whorls of varying diameters, often ranging from 5cm (2") to 10cm (4"). For beginners, starting with a mid-sized spindle, around 6cm (2.5") to 7.5cm (3"), is recommended as it provides a good balance between weight and ease of use.

Ultimately, the weight of the drop spindle should complement the type of yarn being spun and the spinner's comfort. Experimenting with different sizes and weights will help determine the ideal drop spindle for individual spinning preferences.

Can you Ply with a Drop Spindle?

Yes, it is possible to ply yarn using a drop spindle. Plying is the process of twisting two or more strands of spun yarn together to create a thicker, stronger, or more balanced yarn. While drop spindles are often associated with the initial spinning of fibres into single strands, they can also be effectively used for plying.

Here's a general guide on how to ply with a drop spindle:

Materials Needed:

  1. Two or more single-spun yarns resulting from spinning fibres using a drop spindle or any other spinning tool.
  2. Drop spindle: The same one used for spinning the singles or another similar spindle.
  3. Leader yarn: A length of yarn attached to the spindle to start the plying process.

Steps in Plying with a Drop Spindle:

  1. Prepare Your Singles:Ensure that the single-spun yarns you want to ply are ready. This could mean either winding your singles onto bobbins or creating a centre-pull ball to ply from one single spun yarn. If you still need to spin singles using the drop spindle, do so first.
  2. Attach Singles to the Drop Spindle:Secure one end of each single-spun yarn to the spindle utilising the leader yarn, leaving a tail hanging down (some spinners simply attach both ends of their singles to the spindle).
  3. Ply Your Yarn:Hold the spindle in one hand and allow it to hang freely; ensure it spins in the opposite direction to which your singles were spun. As the spindle spins, use your other hand to guide the singles and introduce twist into the yarn. Allow the spindle to twist the singles together, forming a plied yarn. Be mindful to keep your plying angle consistent to ensure a consistently plied yarn.
  4. Winding On:As you ply, the plied yarn will be wound manually onto the spindle. Be mindful of the balance of the spindle to prevent over-twisting or under-twisting. When the spindle is full or you've reached the desired length of plied yarn, carefully remove the yarn and secure the ends.
  5. Finishing:Secure the ends of the plied yarn with a simple knot or add a little extra twist in the final inches to prevent any unravelling of the final section. Set the twist by steaming or hand washing the plied yarn and hanging it to dry.

Plying with a drop spindle can be challenging initially, but it becomes a satisfying and effective method for creating balanced and unique yarns with practice. Experiment with fibre types, colour combinations, and plying techniques to discover endless possibilities with this versatile spinning tool.

How Do You Draft with a Drop Spindle?

Drafting is a crucial step in the process of spinning fibres into yarn with a drop spindle. It involves pulling the fibre apart and aligning the fibres to create a smooth and consistent yarn.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to draft with a drop spindle:

Materials Needed:

  1. Drop spindle: Choose a drop spindle that suits your preference and project.
  2. Prepared fibres: These can be in the form of carded or combed roving, batts, rolags, etc.

Steps in Draft with a Drop Spindle:

  1. Preparation:Ensure that your drop spindle is in good condition and that the fibres you plan to spin are ready. Attach a leader yarn to the spindle. The leader yarn is a short length of yarn that will help you get the spinning started. You can also create your own leader by spinning a small section of yarn by twisting fibres together with your fingers.
  2. Attach Fibres to Leader Yarn:Join a small amount of the prepared fibres to the leader yarn. This can be done by making a loop with the fibres and tying it to the leader yarn, ensuring a secure connection.
  3. Hold the Drop Spindle:
    Grasp the shaft of the drop spindle in one hand, positioning it between your thumb and forefinger and give it a gentle rolling action to start it spinning. Ensure you always spin your singles in the same direction. Hold the spindle so that it hangs freely, allowing it to rotate as you spin.
  4. Pinch and Draft (either park the spindle or do this while the spindle spins freely):Pinch the fibres near the attached section with your free hand to create tension.
    Begin to pull or draft fibres from the bulk, moving your hand away from the attachment point. The drafting hand controls the thickness of the drafted fibres. Move your hand faster for thinner fibres and slower for thicker fibres.
  5. Add Twist:As you draft, start the rotation of the spindle. You can do this by giving it a flick or a spin to initiate the twist in the fibres. Ensure the twist moves up into the drafted fibres, securing them together into a single strand.
  6. Manage the Spin:As the spindle spins, control the twist rate and the thickness of the drafted fibres by adjusting the tension and drafting speed. Allow the twist to travel up into the fibres, creating a continuous yarn.
  7. Wind On:Once you have a sufficient length of spun yarn, wind it onto the spindle, leaving a bit of space near the whorl to prevent overloading the spindle. Continue the drafting, twisting, and winding process until you achieve the desired amount of spun yarn.
  8. Practice and Experiment:Drafting with a drop spindle takes practice, so don't be discouraged if it is initially challenging. It's not uncommon to drop a drop spindle! Experiment with different drafting techniques, fibre preparations, and spindle weights to find what works best for you.

Maintaining a balanced tension throughout the drafting process is crucial to avoid any uneven or lumpy areas in the yarn. By carefully managing the drafting, twist, and tension, a well-spun and consistent yarn can be created using a drop spindle.

Mastering the art of drafting with a drop spindle allows you to create a wide range of yarns with varying thicknesses and textures, making it a rewarding and creative process in the world of hand spinning.

Benefits of a Drop Spindle

With its user-friendly design, a drop spindle suits spinners of all levels. Let's explore the drop spindle's advantages, such as its portability, beginner-friendly nature, ability to create different yarn thicknesses, compatibility with various fibres, and creative possibilities.

Schacht Hi-Lo Spindles
Schacht Hi-Lo Spindles

1. Portability:

    • Highly portable, ideal for spinning on the go or in limited spaces.
    • It is convenient for crafters who want to take their spinning projects anywhere.

2. Ease of Use for Beginners:

    • Perfect for beginners due to its low cost, simplicity and user-friendly design.
    • Provides a gentle learning curve for those new to the art of spinning.

3. Versatility in Yarn Thickness:

    • It enables spinners to create a variety of yarn thicknesses, from fine laceweight to bulky yarn. Art yarns can even be created with a spindle, and the spinner isn't limited by orifice size, making these a wonderful option for spinners who like to add rigid mix-ins or extremely large sections.
    • Adjusting tension and drafting techniques allows project choices and weaving applications to be flexible.

4. Suitability for Different Fibres:

    • Compatible with various types of fibres, including wool, alpaca, silk, and cotton. Anything you can spin on a wheel, you can spin on a spindle.
    • Facilitates the creation of unique yarn designs, encouraging experimentation with textures and colours.

5. Endless Crafting Possibilities:

    • It opens up a wide range of projects and weaving applications.
    • Allows for the crafting of custom yarn blends, enhancing creative possibilities for fibre artists.

6. Versatility and Customization:

    • Overall, drop spindles offer versatility in terms of spinning different fibres and producing custom yarn designs.

Whether at home or on the go, the drop spindle proves to be an essential tool for crafters seeking flexibility and creative expression.

What is the Best Drop Spindle for Beginners?

Ashford and Louet are reputable brands known for their quality spinning equipment, and they offer different types of drop spindles. Consider factors such as weight design and instructions to find the spindle that best suits your preferences and learning style.

The Ashford Student Drop Spindle (Image credit: Ashford)
The Ashford Student Drop Spindle (Image credit: Ashford)

Here's a list of recommended drop spindles for beginners from these brands:

Ashford Drop Spindles

1. Ashford Student Drop Spindle:

  • Designed with beginners in mind.
  • Top whorl design.
  • Affordable and lightweight.
  • It comes with clear instructions, making it an ideal choice for those new to spinning.

2. Ashford Classic Drop Spindle:

  • Simple and easy to use.
  • Bottom whorl design.
  • Well-balanced for smooth spinning.
  • Durable and suitable for learning the fundamentals of hand spinning.

Louet Drop Spindles

1. Louet Top-Whorl Drop Spindle:

  • Excellent for beginners exploring top-whorl spindle spinning.
  • Crafted with precision for a balanced spin.
  • Available in various weights to accommodate different fibres.

2. Louet Bottom-Whorl Drop Spindle:

  • Well-constructed for stability in bottom-whorl spinning.
  • Versatile and suitable for a variety of fibres.
  • Offers an excellent introduction to the world of drop spindles.

Schacht Drop Spindles

1. Schacht Hi-Lo Spindles:

  • Features unique high-whorl and low-whorl spinning options, allowing for versatility in drafting techniques.
  • Well-constructed with quality materials, ensuring durability.
  • Designed to accommodate both beginners and more advanced spinners.

When choosing a drop spindle for beginners, it's important to consider portability and ease of use. The recommended drop spindles are all portable and straightforward to operate, making them ideal for beginners learning on the go or in various environments. These features ensure that beginners can easily practice their spinning techniques without feeling limited by their equipment.

What is the Best Fibre to Learn Spinning with on a Drop Spindle?

For individuals new to drop spindle spinning, selecting suitable fibres is crucial for a positive learning experience. Among the best choices for beginners are Corriedale and Merino wool.

Corriedale is an excellent choice for the beginner spinner. Corriedale has a lovely lustre to it, a micron count of 27-30 and a longer staple length, which makes it easier for beginners to spin. It also has a springy crimp to it. It tends to be very forgiving, even if it ends up a little over-spun. Yarn made from Corriedale will have that classic squishy, springy, woolly feel to the finished yarn. Ashford Corriedale Combed Top is a great fibre for beginners and comes in an abundance of colours!

Merino wool's soft and smooth texture makes it an adventurous beginner or novice-friendly option. The longer staple length contributes to its forgiving nature, allowing novice spinners to work comfortably with these fibres.

Craft Timeless Yarns with a Drop Spindle

With their rich history and enduring charm, drop spindles remain a favourite tool for contemporary spinners crafting unique handspun yarns. Whether experimenting with ancient techniques or modern materials, the world of drop spindles offers an engaging journey for those who love the art of hand spinning. As we celebrate these simple yet ingenious tools, we honour the artisans and cultures that have shaped the timeless craft of spinning.

Now that you know the different types of drop spindles, which one do you prefer? Browse our collection of drop spindles at Thread Collective today!

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