May 22

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An Introduction to Drop Spindles

William-Adolphe Bouguereau - The Spinner (1873)

The Spinner by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)


It is assumed that the Drop Spindle was developed from an even older device called a hand spindle. The first instances of spinning was probably from a person rolling the fiber together on their leg. Later the fiber would be attached to a stick so you could roll a section of fiber. Then wind the thread up on the stick and start a new section of fiber. Another possibility is the fiber was attached to a rock and then let hang and someone spun the rock.

It is not known when or where the drop spindle was created.  There is some evidence showing drop spindles being used to spin fiber dating all the way back to 5000 BCE. The earliest form was probably a rock tied to a thread which was then spun to produce a single thread from some sort of fiber. The rock would provide some weight to help remove some of the kinks out of the fiber.

Through history there is recorded use of some sort of spindle whether it be from art, stories, or from archaeological finds. The Egyptians used a drop spindle to make the linen wraps the mummies wore from flax. The ropes the early explorers used on their ships were woven from hemp on some sort of spindle. You can even say the drop spindle has put its twist on history.

What is a Drop Spindle

When you look at spindles you can see they are broken down into two distinct types:

  • The first type is a supported spindle where the end of the spindle is supported on some sort of object, like the ground or a specially made cup.
  • The second type is a suspended spindle which is also known as a drop spindle. On a drop spindle the drop spindle is supported by the thread it is spinning

Fruit vendor using a supported spindle

When you break a drop spindle down into it’s core components a drop spindle is pretty simply. There is basically two parts. One is the center shaft which is basically what the drop spindle revolves around. The shaft is also used to wrap the thread after a twist has been applied to the thread. The second part is the whorl. The whorl acts as a weight to prevent the thread from drawing back up on itself and kinking up as well as helping the drop spindle continue to spin. The placement of the whorl also can change the characteristics of the drop spindle. When the whorl sits up high the drop spindle can spin faster and can become unbalanced a lot quicker. Now modern drop spindle have a hook or notch to the shaft to hold the thread while the drop spindle is spinning thread. When you look back at some historical documents, the hook on top was sometimes replaced with a notch or a simple knot to hold the thread and drop spindle in the proper place.

Types of Drop Spindle

When you look at a drop spindle you will see the center mass, which is known as the whorl located in different areas. The adjustment of the whorl can help break down the drop spindle into three different classes:

  • Top Whorl
  • Center Whorl
  • Bottom Whorl
Top Whorl Drop Spindle

Top Whorl Drop Spindle

Top Whorl Drop Spindle

A top whorl spindle spins the fastest of the three but requires the most concentration. This is due to the center of gravity (the whorl) being raised up toward the top of the spindle. When getting one of these drop spindles it is well recommended to have one as balanced as you can find. This will help when you go to spin since the drop spindle will not be wobbling as much. Top whorl drop spindles are also the lightest of the three types of spindles. This allows the spinner to create a finer thread, but the trade off is the spinner will not be able to have as much thread on the spindle as the other three. The top whorl drop spindle was believed to have been developed in the middle east.

Center Whorl Drop Spindle

The center whorl drop spindles are the rarest types of drop spindle and are usually region specific spindles. These are usually considered more specialty spindles. For instance the Akha Spindle which is used in Tibet. Some other specialty spindles are the Turkish drop spindle as well as the Navajo supported spindle. Those types of spindles will be covered in a later article

Bottom Whorl Drop Spindle

Lady using a drop spindle in Switzerland

Bottom Whorl Drop Spindle

Finally we come to the bottom whorl drop spindle, these are the workhorses of the drop spindle. This type of drop spindle was thought to have originated in the middle ages. In this style the whorl is located towards the bottom. This helps by giving you the lowest center of gravity, which leads to a very stable spindle. This type of drop spindle is also used to produce a thicker thread, which in turn lets the spinner spin a lot more thread before having to remove the thread. The bottom whorl drop spindle will spin slower than the top whorl drop spindle, this is due to where the spinning usually grasp the drop spindle to spin it. On a top whorl drop spindle the spinner will usually grab the drop spindle where the shaft is very narrow. Whereas on a bottom whorl drop spindle, the spinner can start the spindle spinning from the whorl. The reason the difference in speeds is because when you grab the smaller shaft to spin it will make a few revolutions before you release it. Whereas the bottom whorl might only be rotated one or two times.

If you would like to learn to use a drop spindle here is a Online Drop Spindling Class. That I have used to help further my skills. You can also purchase a Drop Spindle on Amazon

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  1. Drop Spindles - Homesteading Today

    […] Well without any further writing (sort of got told to post it or I will knock you upside the head with a 10lb bag of fleece) What is a Drop Spindle […]

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