How to Spin Wool

In today’s society, the art of spinning wool is making a comeback. Wool, the preferred spinning fibre, is regaining popularity as people rediscover its unique qualities. Wool is waterproof and will keep you warm even if you get wet.

Part 1 Getting Started

1. Select your equipment. You must decide whether you prefer a drop spindle or a spinning wheel. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Drop spindles are useful for beginners, but spinning wheels are a faster way to spin.

Making use of a drop spindle. Making your own drop spindle is simple and straightforward. When you’ve mastered the spindle, you’ll have mastered all of the spinning steps (drawing out the fibers, twisting the fibres into yarn, and winding up and storing spun yarn).

The top whorl drop spindle with a hook at the top is the best drop spindle to start with. This one is strong enough to be dropped on the floor while you get used to spinning.

The spinning wheel is more difficult to master than the drop spindle because it requires pedals to control the speed of the wheel and has more parts. However, once you’ve mastered spinning on a wheel, you can spin faster than with a drop spindle.

The drive band on a spinning wheel rotates the bobbin. The wheel turns and the flyer and bobbin rotate as you treadle. Twist the fibres in your hand and wind them around the bobbin. To get the yarn on the bobbin automatically, you must change the bobbin speed. Different types of spinning wheels can help with wrapping the yarn around the bobbin in various ways.

2. Learn the terms associated with the spinning process. There will be many words that you will not be familiar with when you first start out. Before you can begin spinning, you must first learn the terminology for the various aspects of the spinning process.

Roving is a continuous rope made of carded fibres that are ready to spin.

Carding is the process of hand carding or using a drum carder to prepare cleaned but unprocessed wool. A drum carder is a mechanical device that cards fibres for spinning. It can be hand-cranked or electric. A large paddle with 14 inch (0.6 cm) curved metal tines is typically used to hand card.

A niddy-noddy is a two-headed tool that is used to skein spun yarn. Skeining is the process of winding the thread off the spindle.

A skein is a length of loosely coiled and knotted yarn or thread. When spinning, the goal is to produce skeins of thread.

3. Learn how to use the equipment. Spinning wheels, regardless of type, have the same basic equipment. Some have more components than others, but the fundamental components are usually the same. When you’re learning to spin, you’ll need to keep the various parts of the spinning wheel in mind.

The flywheel is the component that rotates when you treadle, causing the other components to move. Not all wheels look the same (or resemble the typical “fairytale” wheel), but all spinning wheels have a wheel.

The drive band is wrapped around the flywheel and the flyer whorl (the pulley attached to the flyer and driven by the drive band). The size of the grooves on the flyer whorl determines how fast the wheel spins) and the flyer (a U-shaped piece of wood that has hooks lining up one or both arms; these hooks store the yarn on the bobbin). The drive band rotates the flyer, causing the fibre to twist.

The tension knob adjusts the drive band tension by lowering and raising the mother-of-all (which is the bar that mounts the flyer, bobbin, and tension knob).

The bobbin, along with the flyer, is what spins on the spindle and stores the yarn. It can work in conjunction with or independently of the drive band. The orifice is the opening at the spindle’s end through which the yarn passes and connects to the flyer’s hooks.

The treadle is the pedal that your feet use to turn the wheel. The speed of the spinning wheel is determined by this.

4. Choose a spinning wheel. If you’ve decided to use a spinning wheel rather than a drop spindle, you’ll need to learn about the various types of spinning wheels. If you’re just starting out, renting or borrowing a spinning wheel may be a good idea until you get the hang of it and decide if it’s really what you want to do. Spinning wheels are classified into several basic types.

The Saxony is a typical fairy tale wheel, with a wheel on one end, a flyer on the other, a sloping frame, and three legs. This spinning wheel is usually more expensive.

The flyer is positioned above the wheel on castle wheels. They typically have three to four legs and are more compact than other types of wheels. They are ideal for those who have limited working space. This is the cheapest of the more traditional wheels.

Norwegian wheels are similar to Saxony wheels. They usually have three to four legs, a large wheel, and are very ornate. They are also typically priced similarly to the Saxony.

Modern wheels can have an unusual appearance because they are often hybrids of other types of spinning wheels. They frequently have better engineering than other types, and some can even fold up! The price varies depending on the wheel, but they are typically less expensive than the previous wheels.

Electric spinners are convenient because they do not require a treadle or a wheel (they do not have either). They can be placed on a table and used manually, and they are lightweight and easy to transport and store. These are also less expensive to operate than a full-length spinning wheel.

Spindle wheels are devoid of a flyer and bobbin. A pointed spike, on the other hand, twists and accumulates the spun yarn. They’re also less expensive than standard spinning wheels.

5. Understand what to look for when purchasing a spinning wheel. When selecting a spinning wheel, there are several factors to consider. These will determine the type of thread you spin, the speed at which you spin, and how simple the treadles are to use.

The speed of your wheel (essentially, what “gear” the treadle is in) determines how quickly the twist develops in your yarn. Fine fibres such as Merino wool and angora, as well as short fibres such as cotton, necessitate faster speeds. Slower speeds are required for coarser fibres such as Romney or Border Leicester. It’s best to find a spinning wheel with a variety of speeds so that it can be used in a variety of situations.

The drive band on single drive wheels goes around the wheel once. The flyer or bobbin is then wound around the drive pulley. One drive band is used by double drive wheels as well, but it goes around the wheel twice. Because it has a separate break system, the single drive is easier for beginners to use. When changing the speed of the bobbin, the single drive wheel makes it easier (because it breaks). On the double drive wheel, you must actually accelerate.

The capacity of the bobbin is determined by the manufacturer. There are no bobbins that are one-size-fits-all. The volume of the bobbin available to wind on the yarn is the best way to compare bobbin capacity. Many manufacturers offer a variety of bobbin sizes.

Part 2 Preparing the Wool

1. Select your fleece. Choose a fleece that has recently been sheared because the grease softens the wool. When selecting your fleece, you should also keep a few things in mind. These include what you’re making with the spun yarn, colour, and flaws in the fleece that will make spinning difficult!

Consider what you intend to do with the finished yarn. Do you make socks? Weaving? Knitting? Is it possible to make outerwear? Different types of fleece have varying degrees of softness, which you should consider when selecting a fleece to spin with.

Look for flaws in the fleece that will prevent you from spinning. Avoid purchasing fleece with a tear in it. If you give a lock of fleece a hard tug and it breaks (usually in the middle), the roving will pill and the yarn will be weak. Vegetable matter in fleece makes carding and cleaning difficult (if you enjoy combing the fleece and have the time, you can get this, but otherwise it’s best not to).

Make sure the crimp on your fleece is even. Spread the fleece out and inspect at least three different areas (haunch, shoulder, mid-side, for example). You want to ensure that no one area is coarser or hairier than another.

What type of yarn can be spun is determined by the wheel-to-flyer ratio. Wool will be spun on a wheel with a medium or bulky yarn ratio, so the size of your yarn will be determined by your wheel.

2. Launder in hot water. Before carding and spinning, you may need to scour (wash) the fleece. This is done to remove the oils that can make spinning difficult. Although you can wash in cold water, it is preferable to use hot water. The water should be hot enough to be uncomfortable, but not so hot that you can’t wash the wool.

Make use of a large bathtub or basin. You can divide it into sections to make it easier to wash and avoid crowding the fleece.

Some handspinners prefer to leave the grease in (known as “spinning in the grease”) and wait to clean the fibre before twisting the yarn. Leaving the grease in, on the other hand, can make dyeing difficult and can ruin the carding cloth on a drum carder.

3. Fill the container with about a cup of laundry detergent. You can use almost any laundry detergent as long as it does not contain bleach or conditioner. Conditioner has the potential to leave a filmy residue on the fleece.

Don’t completely remove the oils from the fleece. Removing too many natural oils can make spinning more difficult (which is why some handspinners spin with the oils and wash later).

You also don’t want to use so much detergent that you have to wash the fleece ten times to get all the suds out. Washing the fleece too frequently and vigorously can turn it into felt, which you want to avoid.

4. Soak the fleece in water for 45 minutes. To remove dirt, oils, and other unclean substances from the fleece, soak it in water. Allowing it to soak ensures that it does not accidentally turn into felt.

Allow no running water to come into contact with the fleece.

5. Gently push the fleece into the water. Gently stir the fleece around with your hands or the handle of a wooden spoon. Remember that agitating your fleece too much will turn it into felt.

6. Rinse and re-rinse. Make sure the temperature of the water is the same as it was the previous times you rinsed the wool. The more open the fleece is in the water, the fewer wash/rinse cycles you’ll have to do. Depending on how dirty or fine the wool is, you may need to do additional wash/rinse cycles.

For the final rinse, soak the fleece in hot water with about a half cup of white vinegar for 30 minutes.

Mohair, merino, rambouillet, and other finer wools require several washes.

7. Allow to dry. Squeeze the wet wool gently. Spread it out on a towel or drying rack, or hang it from your porch railing. Put them outside to dry if possible. The best conditions for drying wool are sunny and windy.

8. Card the fleece using your preferred method. Carding directs all of the fibres in the same direction. It fluffs them in order to make drafting easier. You have three options: send it to a factory, use a drum card, or use a hand comb. Consider using a metal dog comb, which is the most affordable option.

Take a piece of clean, dry fleece and drape it in one direction if you’re using carding paddles (which is a good, easy way to go). You’ll gently swipe across the fibres with the other paddle, aligning them in the same direction. Set the piece aside once the fleece is fluffy and aligned.

Whatever type of carding you do, the basic principle remains the same. You’re trying to align the fibres in one way or another, whether you’re using a metal dog comb, paddles, or a drum card.

Over-carding fleece is one of the most common mistakes people make. You want the fleece to look presentable, fluffy, and aligned. You don’t have to pound the fibres into submission.

Check to see if the wool is completely dry. Wet fleece will not card properly because of the amazing ability of fleece to retain water.

Part 3 Spinning With A Drop Spindle

1. Gather your materials to make a drop spindle. One of the best things about a drop spindle is how simple it is to make and use. If you go this route, you can make your own drop spindle for very little money. Collect the items listed below.

A wooden dowel one foot long. Although size isn’t critical, a recommended diameter size is 3/8 inch. This will serve as the spindle’s main shaft.

A hook, or a wire that can be bent to form a hook. Make sure to thread your yarn through here.

Two heavy CDs will serve as the whorl.

Rubber grommets with the same diameter as your dowel. These are available at any farm store or auto parts store. So, if your dowel is 3/8 of an inch in diameter, the inside hole (bore diameter) should be 3/8 of an inch, the panel hole should be 5/8 of an inch to match the hole in the CDs, and the outside diameter should be around 7/8 of an inch.

To cut the dowel, use a serrated knife, a small saw, and scissors.

2. Insert the cup hook into the dowel’s top. To do this, use a pushpin to make a hole in the centre of the dowel. Screw the cup hook into the hole to keep it in place.

3. Insert the grommet into the gap created by two CDs. The grommet should fit snugly in the centre of the CDs. Because it’s a tight fit, this can be a little frustrating, but once you’ve pulled the edges of the grommet up, you should be good to go.

4. Insert the dowel into the grommet’s centre. As long as you judged the sizes correctly, you should be able to complete your drop spindle. If the dowel doesn’t quite fit, wrap it with electrical tape until the dowel and CDs slip on and fit snugly.

5. Get your roving ready. One piece of roving will be too large for a beginner spinner. Divide that piece into sections about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Split your roving carefully down the middle to make two strips instead of one. If you’re just starting out, this will make spinning easier.

6. Put on your leader’s tie. Your leader is a length of yarn about 18 inches (45.7 cm) long that is tied to the spindle shaft just above the whorl (the CDs). Wrap the yarn around the whorl and underneath the shaft. Return it to the whorl and secure the end to the hook.

7. The fibres should be spun. Taking the spindle in your right hand and the leader in your left, let the spindle hang beneath your hand, suspended by the leader. The drop spindle should be spun clockwise from the dowel (or shaft).

Repeat in the opposite direction until the leader begins to take in the twist. You will leave a fluff of fibre at the end to join on more fibre.

It’s a good idea to practise spinning the spindle to get a feel for which direction you’ll be spinning the drop spindle to make the yarn.

8. Wind new fibre on. Allow the twist to run into the newly drafted fibre while maintaining tension on your spun yarn. Continue this process, making sure there is enough twist before moving on. When the yarn is long enough, unhook it and wrap it around the base of the spindle next to the whorl.

This is known as a single. You should leave enough yarn unwound so that you can slip it back on the book with a few inches to spare.

If you notice that the yarn is pulling apart or becoming too slack, spin it again to store more twist.

9. Add more fibre to your life. Overlap the wool a few inches above the fluff of drafted fibres to catch and twist more onto the leader. Allow the twist to run into the joined fibres, adding more twist by spinning the spindle, to ensure that the join is secure.

To test the join, twist the spindle again and bring your right hand back to where your left hand is holding the yarn. Move your left hand back about three inches as you pull and draught more wool fibres and turn the spindle a few times.

Release the yarn with your right hand and continue to move the twist up into the fibres as before. Pull more fibres from the fibre mass gently with your left hand, allowing the twist to run into the drafted fibres.

Part 4 Spinning the Wool

1. Make a draught of the wool. This is the process of removing fibres from the material to be spun and thinned them down to the size of the yarn you want to spin. If you draught more fibres, your yarn will be thicker; if you draught fewer fibres, it will be thinner.

If your fibre is in the form of a long, continuous narrow strip, this is referred to as roving. A batt is a type of fibre processing that comes in a wide, rolled-up bundle that unrolls into a wide rectangle.

Choose a strip that is about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long and the thickness of your thumb (this does not have to be exact).

Hold the fibre strip in one hand (it doesn’t matter which). With your other hand, pull a few fibres from one end of your strip. Drafting the fibre to the desired thickness for your spun yarn.

The spinning process twists the fibres, making them thinner. As you improve at drafting and spinning, you’ll be able to judge the size of your draughts more accurately.

2. Set up your spinning wheel’s leader. The leader is a piece of previously spun yarn that can be attached to the shaft of your bobbin. Cut a 36-inch (91.4-cm) piece of yarn and tie it to the shaft of your bobbin. Make sure to tie it tightly.

Thread the leader through the orifice of your spinning wheel. When you’ve finished this, you’re ready to start spinning!

If you’re just getting started with spinning, it’s a good idea to practise just with the leader to get a feel for how the spinning wheel works and how to start spinning the wheel just with the treadles.

3. Place your fibre next to the leader. You should overlap them for about four to six inches. You will hold the fibre bundle in one hand (the fibre hand) and the leader and fibre in the other (this is the drafting hand).

4. Begin by treading. You want to make sure the wheel is turning clockwise. This will give your single strand of spun yarn a “Z” twist. Allow the leader and fibre to twist together, holding them together for a moment while they twist to ensure their security.

As you draught more fibre, make sure to let the wheel take it up.

5. Begin spinning. Turn the wheel clockwise while overlapping un-spun and spun fibre with your non-dominant hand. This causes the fibre to twist, which is what turns it into yarn.

Place your drafting hand between the fibre hand and the orifice of your spinning wheel. You do not, however, have to spin with your hands close to the orifice.

Always spin the wheel in a clockwise direction.

6. More wool should be drafted onto the leader. To draught more fibre to be spun, move your drafting hand closer to the bundle of fibre. It’s best to stop spinning, draught the fibre, and then spin, stop, and draught again when you’re just getting started. As you get more used to it, it will become one continuous motion.

Take care not to let the twist travel to the fibre in your fibre hand.

Your non-dominant hand should be closest to the steering wheel, and your dominant hand should be closest to you.

7. Make a skein out of your yarn by unwinding it. When the spindle is full, you will do this. Wrap it around your hand and elbow like a cord and tie it off at intervals with acrylic yarn.

This is when the “niddy-noddy” instrument comes in handy. Wrap the bobbin yarn around the niddy. This will result in a large loop in a small amount of space, which you will tie in sections and remove by sliding it off one shoulder of the niddy.

8. Make the twist. This is accomplished by soaking the skein in hot water and hanging it to dry. You can hang it with a plastic hanger or over a drying rack. While drying, hang something heavy from the skein.

Part 5 Trouble-Shooting Your Yarn

1. Avoid using tangled yarn. Occasionally, your yarn will become entangled between the bobbin and the flyer. This basically means that your treadling is uneven (which happens a lot with new spinners!). Break off the yarn, re-hook it, and begin again.

This can also happen if the bobbin is too full, causing the yarn to spill over the bobbin’s edges and tangle around the shaft. Empty the bobbin as you normally would and begin again.

2. Find your long-lost end. When you’re spinning, it’s easy to lose track of where you’re going. Don’t be concerned! Roll your bobbin several times. The end is frequently under the last hook that it was over.

See if you can pull up the loose end with a piece of tape. This method works about half of the time.

Otherwise, choose the most likely end and pull enough yarn to make a new leader so you can restart.

3. Take care of your lumpy thread. If your yarn is lumpy and bumpy, you’re not spinning it consistently. You might be extracting too much fibre. If this is the case, you should focus on developing a consistent spinning rhythm.

4. Investigate the source of your handspinning. Some of the same issues arise when handspinning as when spinning on a spinning wheel. When compared to a spinning wheel, there is sometimes a different way to fix it (for example, you don’t have the flyer and bobbin, so those types of tangles aren’t typical).

Spindle escapes your grasp. Stop your spindle and untwist your fibre mass if it gets away from you and the twists run up into it. Then, restart the drafting process. This is a common occurrence for newcomers.

If your yarn has thick and thin spots (known as slubs), you can keep them and make a novelty yarn out of them (good for knitting scarves). Otherwise, remove the slubs by pinching the yarn on either side of the slub and untwisting until the fibres draught out a little.

Over-twisted yarn is a common issue for newcomers. If you have a thick strand that feels very hard and dense, your yarn is over-twisted. When you relax your tension, the strand can kink back on itself. To fix this, draught out more fibres to loosen some of the extra twist.

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