Textiles: Spinning


  Without spinning there would be no clothing, no sails, bedding, decorative tapestries, tents, tablecloths, napkins, towels, nets for fishing, or pennants for battle. All of those things required hours and hours of work to spin the yarn and then more hours to make it into the textiles needed.  

What is spinning?

  • Adding twist to a set of fibers as you pulling the fibers apart to only allow how many fibers you want in the yarn
  • The twist holds the fibers together
  • Plying

  • Twisting multiple strands of yarn together for a thicker and stronger yarn
  • Important Tidbits

  • Pull a few of the fibers off and see how long they are. Your hands will need to be at least this far apart or you will tear the fibers and fight them. If your hands are far enough apart, the fibers can slide past each other.
  • Links

  • Spinning Wheel Tutorial by Ashford (video)
  • Drop Spindle Tutorial (Twig and Horn)

    Ways to Spin

    There are many techniques to try. But the two general ways are:
  • spindle (basic types: top whorl, bottom whorl, and supported.
  • wheel (Traditional to modern. Oldest style is a spindle wheel, often called a walking wheel. Often separated by drive system: Scotch tension, Irish tension, double drive)
  • My wheel is a bobbin led (Irish tension) tensioned wheel
  • Types Fibers Used
  • plant fibers (cotton, linen)
  • protein fibers (hair: wool, alpaca, llama, yak, angora rabbit, camel, etc. Protein strands: silks)
  • synthetic/manufactured fibers (soy silk, bamboo, corn (Ingeo), viscose, tencel, milk fibers)
  • Feel and Sight:
  • texture of the fibers - are they rough or soft? (depending on the fiber it could be very soft)
  • does it stick to your hands? (Silk catches on any dry spot on my hands)
  • how fine or thick is the yarn? (samples)
  • how long have you been doing the craft in one setting - your hands and wrists hurt and start to cramp up - depending on what spinning style you're doing
  • How hard is it to process the fiber? (wool combing or hand carding can be hard on the hands and wrists)
  • texture of the yarn. Are there bumps or is it smooth? Are there things added into the yarn - fiber clumps, other yarn, beads, feathers, etc?
  • what is the yarn made of? Cotton - usually thicker and heavier, wool can be super soft (Merino) or scratchy (carpet wools), alpaca (silky, lots of drape), llama is like wool, milk fiber - like silk, linen - cool and has nice sheen
  • Smell:
  • depending on the time period and purpose, you may have lanolin (often found in lotion) still in the yarn. It's great for weather proofing.
  • The type of fiber in the yarn can affect it - there is still a yarn spinning factory in Finland that processes a wool and dog hair blend - but it was a huge amount (44 pounds at a time)
  • Dyes - one common ingredient in dyes was urine (in modern dyes we use a chemically made Urea) to help the fabric stay wet and concentrate the dye in the vat
  • Sound:
  • Spindles - pretty quiet unless they drop
  • Wheels have a whir. Sometimes a squeak (if the treadle or pedals need oil), and sometimes a rattle or repetitive click. 
  • Fiction Books featuring spinning:
  • Beautiful Wreck
  • Spinning Forward
  • Spinning in Her Grave
  • Murder Spins a Tale
  • Silence of the Lamb's Wool
  • Resources


  • Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics by Anne Field
  • High Whorling: A Spinner's Guide to an Old World Skill by Priscilla A Gibson-Roberts
  • Spinning for Softness and Speed by Paula Simmons
  • Spinning Designer Yarns by Diane Varney
  • The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson
  • The Compleat Anachronist: Spinning with a Medieval Twist (Sept, 1996, Vol 87) by Godith d'Arcy of Goosefoot Mead and Linda Twitchell
  • Spin Span Spun by Bette Hochberg
  • Fibers:

  • Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Debora Robson and Carol Ekarius
  • In Sheep's Clothing: A Hanspinner's Guide to Wool by Nola and Jane Fournier
  • Fiber Facts by Bette Hochberg

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