Spinning English longdraw with a quill

If one day I get the opportunity and the space, I want to get my hands on a walking wheel. To be able to spin majestically while having the freedom of standing and moving around is very appealing to me. When I recently found a wheel – tiny however – with an optional quill, I knew I needed it. You can read more about how the wheel came to me here. This post is about spinning English longdraw with a quill.

Quill wheels

Spinning with a quill – or stylus –  is a very old technique.  The first spinning wheel after the spindle was the great wheel (or walking wheel). It had a quill where the more modern spinning wheel has a bobbin and flyer. They were also hand operated, as opposed to the more modern (and time saving) treadle driven.

With a great wheel you have the perfect opportunity to spin soft and warm yarns with lovely longdraws. As far as I understand it, medieval spinners were allowed to spin weft on the wheel. The strength of the weft yarn wasn’t as crucial sa the warp yarn. The warp had to be spun with a spindle to be strong and even enough.

Watching the quill on my wheel gives me a hint to how Sleeping beauty supposedly hurt herself – this quill is dead sharp. While I did get stung by it several times I did not fall asleep, though. I am pretty sure Sleeping beauty didn’t fall asleep either. She just faked it to be able to shut the door behind her and spin in peace. No friggin’ princes necessary.

Spinning with a quill

The movements of spinning with a quill are so beautiful, like a choreographed dance. Apart from the general feeling of spinning with a quill, there are other benefits as well. Since there are no hooks or orifice, you can spin yarn of any thickness on a quill. You can go crazy with bulky art yarns with whatever you want to attach to it. Perhaps I should give that pigtail yarn with washers that I have been dreaming about a try? Gotta unsharpened that quill first, though.

Close-up of a small spinning wheel with a quill.
Deadly sharp quill with ugly plastic straw.

Spinning with a quill feels very free. There are no hooks to fuss with and there is a simplicity to it when there is less material between me and the wound up yarn. Also, you never have to deal with tension.

Although I try to avoid plastic, I have added an ugly plastic drinking straw to my quill. This is to (hopefully) make it easier to slide the cop off the quill when I am finished.

English long draw

This past Christmas I blogged about the English longdraw and promised you a video with it. I also promised you I would do it with white yarn. This yarn is brown. I will make another video with English longdraw with bobbin and flyer. With white wool. Have faith!

Watching Norman Kennedy spin on a walking wheel gives me goosebumps. Spinning with English longdraw gives the yarn a quality that I believe is more consistent than the American longdraw (which is my ‘regular’ longdraw). The English longdraw is a double drafted draw and very similar to the technique I use when I spin on a Navajo spindle. You can see the Navajo spindle technique in this video.

The technique: Basics

In the December blog post you can read more about the technique. Let’s go through the technique again, step by step:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still.
  • wind on to the quill

Intermediate

This was the rough sketch. Let’s dig a bit deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill).
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

Advanced

If we look at rhythm and consistency we can go even deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill). Count your treadles here.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.  Try to make the release chunks even across the yarn. Count again here…
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft. …and here.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle to 90 degrees, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

By counting the treadles you can get more consistency in the yarn. In the video I treadled eight single treadles for gathering twist and another eight to ten for drawing and adding twist.

The beauty of spinning is that you get so much practice, you just repeat the motions again and again. Suddenly, it’s just there, incorporated in your hands and movements and your body knows just what to do.

The video

This time I shot the video at the allotment. I have done some outdoor videos and clips with my stationary wheel and my portable wheel, but it isn’t very easy. That’s what a tiny wheel is for! I just threw the bag over my shoulder and left!

Since good quality carding is s such a vital part of spinning longdraw, I decided to keep the carding part unedited in the clip. Skip it if you don’t need it.

I ordered the double treadle version of the spinning wheel. However, I find it smoother and less noisy when I spin it as a single treadle. I chose to spin with a single treadle in this video. An interesting article in the latest issue of PLY magazine covers single treadle spinning and I am eager to investigate this more.

I know I promised you white wool, but this was what I had at the moment. I hope my light coloured clothes compensate a little.

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel with a quill.
The free and unencumbered long draw with a quill.

From the yearnings for a giant walking wheel to a teeny tiny portable wheel via the quill. I don’t get to walk while spinning, but then again, I couldn’t bring a walking wheel to the woods either. And whichever wheel or other spinning tool I use, I get to spin.

Happy spinning!


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2 Replies to “Spinning English longdraw with a quill”

  1. Loved this segment!! I have a walking wheel that belonged to my husband’s great grandmother. It is in working order, waiting to be used. I have the quill head for my Lendrum also. Now, I have been inspired to give both wheels a go! Thank you!

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