03 March 2013

The Rookie’s Field Guide to Supported Spinning

Those of you who’ve been around the blog for a while know that I discovered supported spinning last year, and have been extremely pleased to find that I can make lovely yarn while sitting comfortably in my recliner or propped on pillows in my bed. When the fatigue overwhelms me and my body won’t stay upright and my brain’s too muddied to concentrate on knitting, it’s wonderful to be able to sit in my big comfy chair with a dish on my lap and a spindle in my hand and make pretty string.

I have made a lot of pretty string this way – most of what I spun for the Tour de Fleece last year was done on spindles. I have some lovely tools – including my much loved Bristlecone spindles and a hand carved phang made for me by a friend. I also have hand made spindles, like these:

Which, as you can see, also make pretty string.

I love spinning supported. It’s so restful, so easy on the body. Right now, as I battle the flu, there’s no way I could work on a wheel or even hold up a drop spindle, but I can spin in bed, propped up on pillows with a spindle, some lovely fibre, and a dish nestled into the covers piled on my lap.

I’ve met people who had to give up spinning for one reason or another – knees that won’t tolerate treadling any more, or injured shoulders that prevent the kind of arm movements needed for suspending a drop spindle. For some of these spinners, supported spindles might be workable – a way to still make yarn, even with physical limitations.

It’s not just that it’s easy on the body … I can take my spindles with me in the car or when I have to sit somewhere and wait, much the same way I take my knitting. Most of the time, it’s knitting that travels with me, but sometimes I just don’t feel like counting or focusing on a pattern and then I pick up a spindle and settle into the lovely rhythm of drafting and winding on, drafting and winding on. Because the spindle sits in your lap or beside you on the chair, you don’t need a lot of room – I can spin with someone sitting right beside me and not whack them with my arm or get in their space.

Besides, there’s something inherently amazing about taking a weighted wooden stick, a dish, and a handful of fibre and ending up with yarn. It’s some alchemical trick or other, and it’s just … cool.

Now, you’d think that an art form as ancient as spinning supported (I do have a spindle made from a Roman-era lead spindle whorl, which, you have to admit, is pretty old) would be well documented in the  literature.

It isn’t.

I’ve checked out every book the library has on spinning, and only a couple of them even mentioned supported spindles. Drop spindles, yes. Wheels, definitely. Supported spindles? Not so much.

There are actually a few books out there that are dedicated specifically to spinning supported, excellent resources written by experts who have done a lot of research. Impressive stuff, really, all you could ever want to know, from the history of the spindles themselves to the ways different fibres behave when spun this way to reviews of the types of spindles currently available.

When I was just starting out, though, I was hoping for a quick introduction, a book that covered the basics and gave me just enough to get started. A book that didn’t cost too much, either, since I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to continue with this style of spinning. I couldn’t find a book like that.

So, I wrote it.

The Rookie’s Field Guide to Supported Spinning is for anyone who’s curious about spinning yarn with supported spindles but doesn't quite know where to begin.

Not an exhaustive history of spinning (supported or otherwise), nor a description of The One Right Way to Spin Supported nor a definition of The Best Kind of Spindle ... the Field Guide includes instructions for making your own supported spindles from inexpensive and easily obtained materials, and provides guidelines for scavenging your cupboards or local thrift store for spinning bowls. To make sure you are off on the right foot, the Field Guide also contains instructions on Spindle Quality Assurance: how to tell if the spindle you've made (or acquired) will be good enough to learn on. (I did have a career in QA in my Other Life.)

Then, since the whole point of this adventure is to produce yarn, the book includes suggestions for selecting and preparing fibre, several methods for spinning one handed (one hand is busy turning the spindle, so you need to figure out how to spin with only one hand on the fibre, a strategy quite different from most other styles of spinning), clues to help you wind neatly onto the spindle shaft (so you don’t make a tangled mess), and some techniques for plying and dealing with your finished yarn. Like all of the fibre arts, the real learning happens when you hold the tools and fibre in your hands and practice the skills in real life. The Field Guide will suggest possible routes you might take on your journey, but each spinner’s path will be unique.

It is, after all, a Guide, not a Rulebook. :)

So, the book is currently available in eBook format (ePub, Kindle, Sony, PDF), and I am in the process of arranging a print run as well – I will probably be setting up to take preorders for printed copies in the next couple of weeks. I’d love to gauge the interest in printed copies … if you think you might like one, would you be so kind as to leave a comment here  (or send me an email or a message through Ravelry) so that I can get an idea how many I might want to order?


And see? I promised my next book would be more cheerful . ;)


  1. Anonymous12:07 am

    Congratulations! Nice to create things that can be enjoyed over time - unlike baking, which looks great but quickly disappears!

  2. I would be interested in buying that book. I've still got the original bag of wool from your sheep, plus another bag of wool and one of Farmer Boy's spindles, but never did anything with it all except dream. If you can make it do-able, I'd be willing to purchase!

  3. Count me in as someone who'd be interested in your Field guide to Supported Spinning--The Print Version ! I'm going to download the PDF copy soon.


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