Spinning Basics:

How to Spin Yarn on a Wheel

by Maggie Casey

Article reprinted from Spin.Off Magazine

arrow Read Maggie's previous article on how to spin with a drop spindle
Maggie Casey at her wheel

Learning to spin on a spinning wheel is tricky! How can your body do so many different things at the same time?

One hand pinches, one hand pulls, and your feet pump the treadle. What a lot to think about at once. However, if you learn each step in the spinning process before you put them together, spinning will be easier. And with a little practice, it becomes second nature.


click here for a special subscription discount to Spin-Off Magazine

Additional resources
How to Spin on a Drop Spindle
All Fiber Arts
The Joy of Handspinning
Spin-List
Spin.Off Magazine



Spinning is the act of drawing out fibers (drafting) and adding twist to make yarn. Your spinning wheel will add plenty of twist, so before you sit down to spin, give your hands a head start and practice drafting.

Choose wool as your first spinning fiber because it is the easiest fiber to learn on and it is widely available. If you are buying prepared fiber, choose carded not combed wool and a fiber length about 3 to 4 inches. If you can find a medium-grade fleece like Corriedale, card it yourself and make rolags.

Carded fibers are much easier to spin than combed fibers, and rolags are best because the fibers are organized in a way that makes them draft more easily.

Take a handful of wool in one hand and with the other hand gently pull some of the fibers away from the mass and twist them in one direction with your fingers. Continue to pull out the fibers (drafting) and add twist.

If you don't put enough twist in, the yarn will fall apart. If you put in too much twist, you won't be able to draft out the fibers.

Concentrate on feeling the fibers slip between your hands as you draft. This is the most important step in spinning because as you draft the fibers, you form the yarn. Pull out a few fibers and you create a fine yarn, pull out a lot of fibers and your yarn will be thick.

Practice Drafting

Take a handful of wool in one hand and with the other hand gently pull some of the fibers away from the mass and twist them in one direction with your fingers. Continue to pull out the fibers (drafting) and add twist.

If you don't put enough twist in, the yarn will fall apart. If you put in too much twist, you won't be able to draft out the fibers.

Concentrate on feeling the fibers slip between your hands as you draft. This is the most important step in spinning because as you draft the fibers, you form the yarn. Pull out a few fibers and you create a fine yarn, pull out a lot of fibers and your yarn will be thick.

Practice Treadling

treadling




Most singles yarn is spun clockwise (to the right), so start your wheel in that direction and just treadle. It isn't a race, so treadle slowly but with enough momentum that the wheel continues to turn clockwise and doesn't stop and back up.

 

Think of the drive wheel as a clock. If you position the footman (the part of the wheel that connects the treadle to the drive wheel) at one o'clock and make the first treadle strong, momentum will help keep the wheel going in the correct direction.

While you practice, sit on different chairs to find the most comfortable one. Both chair height and seat depth can make a big difference in treadling comfort.

Treadle while you talk on the phone or read until treadling becomes a natural movement.

Getting Comfortable with Your Wheel

getting comfortable with your wheel

The wheel ratios of spinning wheels vary; you will want to be on the slowest speed when you're learning to spin. Remember slow is big.

Use your largest whorl to give you the most control. Tie a piece of plied wool yarn about 24 inches long (a leader) on the bobbin.

You want the leader to wind on the bobbin without slipping, so tie the yarn on firmly to the bobbin and leave a tail long enough to wrap around the bobbin again and tie another knot. Once the leader is on the bobbin, take the yarn over the hooks of the flyer and through the orifice.

Learn how to adjust the tension on your brake band on your wheel. This device controls the rate the yarn is drawn onto the bobbin and acts essentially as a brake.

On double-drive wheels the drive band is also the tensioning device. On single-drive wheels the tension is separate from the drive band: Some singledrive wheels have a band with a spring or rubber band over the bobbin, some wheels have a strap or band over the flyer.

In all cases, the tighter the band, the faster the yarn will be pulled onto the bobbin.

Spend some time playing with the tension on your wheel. Start with very light or no tension on the brake band. Hold onto the leader and start treadling. The leader should pull onto the bobbin very slowly or not at all.

Now tighten the tension a lot and see what a difference that makes. If the brake is very tight, the leader will feel like it is being sucked out of your hand. Pull the leader back out of the orifice and keep adjusting the tension. Tighten and loosen the tension in small increments and see how it changes the rate that the leader is pulled onto the bobbin.

Learning how to adjust the tension on your wheel can make all the difference for enjoyable spinning. Start with the tension very loose with no drawin, then tighten the brake until the yarn is pulled on firmly when you release it.

Time to Spin

fluff the end of the leader

Fluff out the end of the leader with your fingers.
 
attaching fibers to the leaderWith one hand (the back hand or fiber hand), take a rolag or small handful of carded fiber, place the leader on the fiber, and hold the leader and fiber together with your thumb and index finger.


Slowly treadle clockwise and watch the twist come up the leader and grab the fibers in your hand.

 
using one hand to control the twist

After the twist has built up a little use your other hand (the front hand or twist control hand) to pinch the leader to control the twist. Now draft the fibers out, keeping your front hand closed.

opening up and letting the twist into your fibers


Next open the front hand and let the twist run up, grab the loose fibers, and turn them into yarn. Relax your back hand and let the wheel pull the yarn onto the bobbin.

Although you are stronger than the wheel, you have to give the yarn to the wheel to continue making yarn.

Now start the spinning process over again. The front hand controls the twist by pinching, and the back hand drafts the fiber out. You determine the size of the yarn by how much you draft the fibers out.

A few fibers make a fine yarn, many fibers make bulky yarn. Once you have made a length of yarn, release the twist with your front hand and let it run up the yarn and stabilize it.

Remember to let the yarn wind onto the wheel. If you don't, so much twist will accumulate that the yarn won't go onto the bobbin. Adjust the tension if your yarn isn't winding onto the bobbin or if it is winding on too quickly.

Keep repeating the sequence: Pinch with the front hand to control the twist, draft the fibers out with the back hand, release the pinch and let the yarn wind on.

Soon you will have to make a join because you will have run out of fiber. Make a join just as you did with the leader and your first bit of fiber.

Fluff out the end of the fiber you are spinning, place it on your new fiber, hold it gently with the thumb and index finger of your back hand, wait until the twist runs up, and then gently draft the old and new fiber together.

moving the yarn from flyer hook to flyer hook to fill the bobbin evenly

Each time you start a new rolag or handful of fiber, move the yarn to a different hook on the flyer to load the bobbin evenly. The size of your handfuls will determine how often you need to move the yarn. You want the yarn to fill the bobbin evenly without any great hills or valleys.

Congratulations, you are a spinner!

 
winding yarn onto the niddy noddy



Now you can take your singles yarn off the bobbin and put it in a skein. A niddynoddy comes in handy here.

A niddynoddy looks like the capital letter I with the top and bottom arms at right angles to one another. Hold the center part of the niddy with one hand and wrap the yarn around the arms.

 

To facilitate the process, you can number the ends of the arms; 1 and 3 on one arm, 2 and 4 on the other.

The yarn starts over 1, goes down to 2, back up to 3, down to 4, and back up again, over and over. Be sure to take the yarn to the outside of the arms as you make a skein.

When the skein is wound and while it's still on the niddy, tie the two ends of yarn together and put some ties through the skein. Gently pull the skein off the niddy.

 

The yarn you have made will probably be very curly, so you will need to set the twist to relax the yarn.

Fill the sink with warm water, add a little mild detergent, and soak the skein for several minutes. Rinse with warm water. Remove excess moisture by wrapping the skein in a towel and squeezing.

 

Hang the skein on a hook in the shower and put a weight on the bottom to straighten out the kinks. I use a spray bottle as a weight. The handle hangs on the skein, and I fill the bottle with as much water as necessary to straighten out the yarn.

Once the yarn is hanging straight, let it dry, and while it's drying think of all the wonderful ways you can use it.

 

About the Author

Maggie Casey spends her days at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado, and her nights at home starting new spinning projects instead of finishing old ones.

This article originally appeared in Spin.Off Magazine. In conjunction with our reprinting this article, Spin.Off is extending a special subscription discount to Knitter's Review readers. Subscribe or renew and get an extra issue free.

arrow Learn more about spinning in our forums