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Tools of the Trade: What do I need to start spinning?

What is necessary, and what is just a nice to have?

Devin Helmen Jul 12, 2021 - 5 min read

Tools of the Trade: What do I need to start spinning? Primary Image

Basic spinning toolbox of spindle, handcards, and niddy-noddy. In the basket are a selection of fibers you can spin without processing with tools or adapt to your own purposes with a set of handcards. Photos by the author

New spinners can be intimidated by the wide variety of tools that are available for preparing fiber, spinning it, managing the yarn, and finishing it. What is necessary, and what is just a nice to have?

At the most basic, a spinner needs one tool for spinning—a spindle or a spinning wheel. A wide variety of ready-to-spin fiber is available, which can be used straight from the packaging without any additional processing.
There are many varieties of spindles and wheels available, and a spindle can be made easily and cheaply by gluing a toy wheel onto a dowel, making spinning available to almost everyone. When purchasing spinning wheels, I recommend testing as many kinds as you can. Most fiber shops and spinning/weaving guilds will have wheels that you can rent or try, and it is worthwhile to find the wheel that works best for you.

Beyond Bare Bones

Once you can spin yarn, you need some tools to manage it, so I would add a niddy-noddy to my toolkit next. A niddy-noddy is used for making skeins of yarn for wet finishing and storage. One can use the back of a chair or wind from foot to hand, but a niddy-noddy is much easier to use and makes a consistently sized skein each time.

Now that you can make yarn and manage it after it has been made, I would add a fiber preparation tool. This will open up the kinds of yarn you can make. You do not need a tool to prepare wool for spinning; you can use your hands to tease clean fleece open into a cloud and attenuate it into a roving, but a tool will add variety to the preparations you can make and may make it more efficient.

Rolags

Four fiber preparations from just handcards: from left, a rolag rolled the long way, a rolag rolled sideways, a batt, and flicked locks.

My first choice would be a set of handcards with teeth set at 72 teeth per inch (tpi). Handcards can be used to blend already prepared fiber for making color or fiber blends, for carding fleece into rolags, and as a flick card for opening up locks. 72 tpi will work with a wide variety of wool and fibers, though not for the finest wools or cotton. They will give you the most “bang for your buck” in fiber preparation tool investment.

What Next?

This is the basic toolkit I recommend for new spinners. The very most basic is just a spindle and your hands, but for a basic toolkit to prepare and spin a variety of yarns, I recommend a spindle or wheel, a niddy-noddy, and a set of handcards. For many years my spinning toolkit was limited to two spindles, a pair of handcards, and a niddy-noddy, and I was able to spin a variety of yarns from fleece and prepared fibers and enjoy the process.

As I devoted more time and energy to textile work, I added a spinning wheel, more spindles, and more items to my toolkit. Beyond the basics, I recommend adding a set of two-pitch Viking-style combs for combing wool into top if you have interest in and enjoy fiber preparation, followed by a drumcarder if you enjoy spinning carded fiber preps or are interested in making blends in large quantities. I recommend taking a class where you can try combing or drumcarding before purchasing these tools to make sure they are suitable investments for you.

There are so many more tools that can expand the toolkit, but all you need are the basics to make yarn suited for weaving, knitting, crocheting, and any other uses. A small toolkit can take up a small amount of space but give a large amount of spinning pleasure.

Devin Helmen has been immersed in fiber since learning to spin at age 8. They spin, knit, and weave in beautiful Minnesota. Devin enjoys writing and teaching about fiber arts and has a passion for spindles and everyday textiles. They blog, intermittently, at www.afewgreenfigs.blogspot.com.

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