How to Spin Yarn: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

Spinning yarn is what crafters consider the most relaxing and addictive part of knitting or crocheting. There’s an unexplainable feeling of satisfaction associated with it — some crafters love spinning yarn while walking, talking, or reading.

If you’ve been curious about why it’s an activity that sparks a lot of interest, then you’ve come to the right place. This comprehensive guide will provide you with a complete overview of yarn spinning and help you learn how to do it yourself.

Understanding the Basics of Spinning

Yarn spinning is done to transform raw fibers into yarn that you can use for knitting and crocheting. Using a spindle, you spin the fiber to create a continuous strand of interlocked fibers, yielding a cohesive thread that can be used for various applications.

Yarn spinning has been done for centuries, and the process has developed over the years. But the fundamentals remain the same, and the results are still important in the production of textiles and other fabric-related industries.

Even if you’re a beginner crafter, you can learn to spin your own yarn. You just need fiber and a spindle. Any type of fiber or anything that resembles fiber can be spun, but crafters usually use alpaca, angora, cotton, mohair, sheep’s wool, and silk for hand spinning.

Sheep’s wool is considered the easiest to learn and work with. It’s also the easiest to find, with prepared sheep’s wool usually available in your local craft store or online retailers.

Now let’s talk about the spindle. A spindle is a handheld wooden shaft with a weight attached to it (called a whorl). The weight allows you to suspend the spindle and rotate it to twist the fibers.

There are two main types of drop spindles: a top whorl and the bottom whorl, which pertain to the location of the weight on the spindle. There are also different weights available, but it’s recommended for beginners to begin with one that’s 2 to 3 ounces.

Preparing the Fiber

Before you begin spinning, there are preparatory steps you need to take to ensure your fiber is fit to work with. For beginners, we recommend that you choose fibers that aren’t too slick or too grippy. Some good options are BDL, merino, and Targhee.

To make your fibers easier to work with, take some time to remove tangles, knots, or any debris. Raw fiber will likely have clumps or vegetable matter in them, which you can remove with a comb.

If your fiber comes in a roving, combed top or sliver, you’ll need to pre-draft it. Simply break a foot-long piece of roving off and then gently pull on both ends. As you pull, the fiber stretches out and gets thinner. Don’t worry if you break the fiber into small pieces. You can set them aside and join them later.

Depending on the staple length of the fiber, you can stretch each roving 2-6 inches apart. Pull on each end of the roving until it’s at least twice as long as its length prior to pre-drafting.

At this point, you might be wondering how to manage the fibers, especially as they get longer and longer as you stretch them out. You can simply wrap your pre-drafted roving around your non-dominant wrist, securing it with a yarn bracelet at the ends. This is a good way to manage your rovings and allows you to unwind it from your wrist as you spin.

If you want to make your very own concoction of yarn with a blend of different colors, you can rove two or three distinct colors of fiber and wrap them around your wrist alternately or in any manner you wish for your intended design.

Choosing the Right Spinning Method

There are plenty of ways you can spin fiber. The easiest method is using a drop spindle. But crafters also use spinning wheels or hand spindles. Each method for yarn spinning has its own advantages and suitability for different kinds of projects. Let’s explore each of them, starting with the drop spindle.

A drop spindle is a handheld shaft with a weight attached to it. It’s easy to use and portable, allowing you to spin yarn anywhere you want to. While it does require some time, practice, and consistent tension to master spinning yarn using a drop spindle, it’s a method that even beginners can try.

Drop spindles are compatible with a wide range of fine to coarse fibers. They work great for thicker and textured yarns. They can also be used for a wide variety of projects, whether small-scale spinning or spinning samples.

Now, the spinning wheel. This mechanical device is made up of a rotating wheel, a flyer, and a spindle. It allows for fast and efficient yarn production because it requires less physical effort to use. The machine also helps crafters control their tension and drafting.

Spinning wheels are highly versatile and suitable for spinning yarns of any thickness. But they’re recommended for professional crafters more than hobbyists because they require a big investment and need more space to set up.

There’s also a hand spindle, which is similar to a drop spindle except lighter and smaller. This tool only requires you to use a hand to spin yarn without resting it on the ground. Its small size makes it convenient to carry around, allowing you to spin yarn on the go.

Similar to the drop spindle, it may take some time to get used to the technique of spinning yarn with a hand spindle. However, once you get the hang of it, you enjoy a versatile and flexible yarn-spinning method.

Ultimately, the best spinning method for you will depend on your personal preference, resources, and project requirements. For beginners, we recommend drop spindles or hand spindles, which are more accessible and cost-effective. More experienced and regular crafters are encouraged to invest in a spinning wheel for greater speed and efficiency.

Setting Up Your Spinning Workspace
While experienced crafters can spin yarn anywhere, beginners will benefit from having a dedicated workspace. If you’re new to spinning yarn, find a place to do the activity, considering the following factors while you do so:

Lighting: For your spinning workspace, you need both natural and adjustable lighting. Find a spot that gets a lot of sunlight and install additional lighting sources like lamps and task lighting.

Seating arrangement: Spinning yarn is going to take up a couple of hours of your day. Make sure you have a comfortable chair with good back support, armrests, a supportive cushion, and lumbar support.

Organization: An organized workspace provides you with a clear and spacious area to prepare and ply your fibers. Keep your tools, fibers, and accessories in storage bins or baskets and label them to help you locate them easily. As you work, keep your tools within arm’s reach to minimize stretching.

Ergonomics: As you work, observe proper posture. Keep your back straight, and your shoulders relaxed. Make sure your hands and arms are in a natural position while spinning to prevent strain.

Preparing the Spinning Fiber
Now you’re ready to prepare the fiber you’re going to spin. The preparation process involves aligning and drafting the fibers. Drafting is done by separating and elongating the fibers in a controlled manner to create a yarn that is consistent and even. Here’s how to do it:

Pinch and pull: Pinch your pre-drafted fiber with your non-dominant hand’s thumb and forefinger. Hold it close to the end of the fiber. If you wish to yield a thinner yarn, move your pinched fingers farther apart. If you want a thicker yarn, move your fingers closer together. With your other hand, hold your spinning tool and rotate it to twist the fiber.

Forward drafting: As you twist your fiber, remove your pinched fingers away from the tool so the twist travels up the fiber. Control the speed of drafting by making your finger movements faster or slower. A faster movement is able to draft more fiber than a slower one. Throughout the process, make sure to keep your tension consistent.

Backward drafting: Instead of moving your fingers forward, you can also draft by moving your fingers backward. This allows you to have more control, which is helpful in case you’re working with fine or slippery fibers.

Spinning yarn requires consistency and practice. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. Keep trying, focusing on maintaining a consistent tension and speed so your yarn thickness is even as you spin. You should also experiment with different drafting techniques to find what’s more suited to you and the yarn you’re looking to create.

Spinning Techniques and Methods
There are three common techniques for spinning yarn. These are the short draw, long draw, and worsted drafting. Any of them is easy to learn but one or the other may be more suited for your personal preference or desired yarn.

Short Draw
The short draw technique spins small sections of fiber at a time, helping achieve a variegated yarn. This method is most suitable for art or textured yarns where you want to yield an irregular thickness. It helps you control the placement of fibers better so you can incorporate different styles into the core yarn.

To do this spinning technique:

1. Hold a short length of fiber in between your fingers.
2. With your other hand, hold the piece of thread or thin yarn (your core material).
3. Use your spinning tool to add a twist to the core material. As the twist enters, release small sections of fiber, maintaining an even tension.
4. Move your fingers along the fiber length and continue adding a twist.
5. Repeat the process.

Long Draw
Long draw is a spinning technique used to create a lofty yarn that’s fuzzy and soft. It yields yarn with a fluffy texture, perfect to use for crocheting blankets or sweaters. Here’s how to use this method:
1. Hold a long bundle of fiber in one hand.
2. Add a twist to your core material using your spinning tool.
3. Quickly but smoothly, pull your hand back and allow the fiber to be drafted by the twist.
4. Keep a consistent tension and speed.

Worsted Drafting
Worsted drafting is used to create denser and stronger yarn. It works best for silk or cotton fibers and yields yarn suitable for crocheting or knitting fabric with more defined stitches. Here are the steps for worsted drafting:

1. Take a short length of the fiber and hold it tightly between your fingers.
2. Add a twist to your core material using your spinning tool.
3. Move your fingers forward and draft a small section of fiber at a time.
4. Repeat the process, ensuring you maintain consistent tension on your core material.

Each yarn spinning technique is easy to get the hang of with regular practice. Feel free to experiment with each of them to find the best one for your desired yarn. While spinning, make sure you’re maintaining a consistent tension both on the core material and fiber. Also, pay attention to the amount of twist you add, ensuring it’s adequate to bind the fibers securely.

Troubleshooting and Common Challenges
Yarn spinning may be a steep learning curve for a beginner crafter. To help you navigate the process smoothly, here are some common challenges you might come across and how to troubleshoot them.

When you add too much twist to the fibers, you risk over-spinning and creating yarn that’s twisted too tightly. If you notice your yarn is compacted, reduce tension on your spinning tool so that the twist can enter the fibers more gently. You should also slow down your drafting to give the fiber enough time to travel up the twist.

Uneven Yarn
If your yarn ends up with uneven thickness, you may have neglected to prepare it properly or need to draft more consistently. Before spinning, make sure you evenly pre-draft your fibers and align them. Remove tangles, clumps, or knots to keep your fiber nice and even.

If pre-drafting is not the issue, then you need to be more consistent with your tension and drafting speed.

If your fibers break in the middle of spinning, the issue can be weak fibers, improper drafting, or excessive tension.

Weak fibers: Some types of fibers are more prone to breakage than others. When spinning with delicate fibers like fine wool or silk, hold them more gently and use a lighter tension. Regardless of what type of fiber you use, though, make sure you card, comb, and predraft it properly.

Improper drafting: Drafting mistakes, such as sudden changes in thickness, can lead to yarn breakage. As you draft, pay attention to the thickness of the fiber bundle and make smooth and gradual transitions.

Excessive tension: Too much tension can strain your yarn and cause it to break. Experiment with different tensions for your fiber type and use the appropriate tension when twisting them.

Tension Control
Successful yarn spinning is all about tension control. You need to maintain consistent tension all throughout so your yarn ends up nice and even. As you draft, check your tension periodically and make adjustments as needed to prevent over-spinning or breakage.

When it comes to how much tension you should be working with, it really depends on the type of fiber you’re using. That’s why we recommend experimenting with tension and adjusting it as necessary to find the sweet spot for your fiber.

Plying and Finishing Your Yarn
Plying is the process of twisting strands of yarn together to create a stronger and more versatile yarn. It’s a technique used to improve yarn durability and create different textures. There are different methods to ply spun yarn — two-ply, three-ply, and chain plying are among them.

Two-plying is when you twist two individual strands of spun yarn together. To do it:

1. Take two single strands of yarn that have an equal amount of twist.
2. Hold them together and twist them around each other in the opposite direction of the original twist.
3. As you ply, make sure you’re keeping your tension consistent.
4. Continue the process until you reach the end of your strands.
5. When done, secure the ply with a knot.

Three-ply uses three individual strands of yarn plied together to make a more durable and stronger strand. To three-ply your yarn, follow these steps:

1. Take three single strands of yarn that have an equal amount of twist.
2. Hold the strands together and twist them around each other.
3. Make sure to keep an even tension while playing.
4. Continue the process until you reach the end of the strands.
5. Secure the ply with a knot.

Chain Plying
Chain plying uses a single strand of yarn to create multi-ply yarn. It’s most commonly used for variegated strands. To chain ply:

1. Take a single strand of yarn and create a small loop.
2. Insert your fingers or crochet hook through the loop to create another loop and pull the previous loop through it.
3. As you pull, add a twist to the yarn. Make sure to keep an even tension throughout.
4. Continue making loops and pulling the old loops through until you reach the end of the yarn.
5. Secure the chain ply with a knot.

Regardless of which plying technique you use, maintaining a consistent tension and ensuring that the strands you ply together have a consistent twist and thickness are key to a polished end result.

Exploring Advanced Techniques and Projects
Once you get the hang of yarn spinning, you can explore more advanced techniques to unleash your creativity and create unique strands of hand-spun yarn.

One of the most exciting methods is art yarn, which is a more experimental form of yarn spinning. It focuses on texture and color and uses unconventional materials to embellish the yarn. These include coils, beads or sequins, bounclé, and tail spinning.

Another advanced technique is corespun yarn, which wraps the fibers around a core material. It makes the yarn stronger and pushes the fibers to extend outward, giving the yarn a bulkier and more textured appearance.

Once you get the hang of fundamental and more advanced yarn spinning techniques, you can create a range of different crochet or knit projects, such as textured scarves, colorful shawls, woven home decor, or embellished accessories.

Spinning yarn is popular among crafters because it allows them to bring their uniqueness and individuality into their projects. Once you get the hang of yarn spinning, let your imagination and creativity run wild. Experiment with all sorts of different techniques and enjoy your newfound ability to create unique yarns that reflect your artistic vision.