Spinning from the fold

A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.

The other day I got a fiber sample – a lengthwise striped combed top in different shades of green wool and silk. I decided to spin it from the fold. Spinning from the fold is a great way to get a light and airy yarn. The technique is also perfect for getting crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top.

Spinning from the fold

I mostly spin fiber that I have prepared myself. But sometimes commercially prepared fiber comes my way. This is one of those times – a Granny Smith apple green lengthwise striped top of wool (my guess is BFL or merino) and silk. I saw the perfect opportunity to show you how I spin from the fold.

The superpowers

To spin from the fold you place a staple-length portion of the fiber over your finger. This means that you spin from the middle of the staple length, so that the fibers are folded when they enter the drafting zone. This does two things:

  • Since the fiber comes into the drafting triangle from each side of your finger, the drafting triangle will be wider compared to spinning from the end of the fiber. This will let more air into the yarn.
  • The folded fibers strive towards unfolding. This too will let more air into the yarn.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger., spinning yarn.
The fibers come from both ends of the finger, creating a wider drafting triangle that will result in an airier yarn. The folded fibers want to unfold. This lets even more air in to the yarn.

A yarn spun from the fold will thus be lighter and airier than the same yarn spun with the same grist from the ends of the fibers.

A skein of white yarn.
Jämtland wool, spun with short draw from the fold on a supported spindle.

I spun the yarn above with short draw from flicked staples of Jämtland wool from the fold with a supported spindle. At first I spun from my hand-combed top, but when I tried flicking the staples separately and spinning them from the fold I just knew this was the way this wool wanted to be spun. I love moments like that.

Spinning from the fold is not a drafting technique. Rather, it is simply a different way to hold the fiber. You can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold. You can spin from the fold with any spinning tool.

The how-tos

Spinning from the fold is not difficult. However, there are a few things to think about when you do.

  • Make sure you pull out a staple-length only. If you pull out more than a staple-length some fibers will be spun from the middle and some from the end. This will create a mess.
  • You also need to make sure you tuck the ends into your hand when you spin. If you don’t, there is a risk that they get caught in the yarn. This will create a bigger mess.
  • Still, you need to hold the fiber gently, like a baby bird (still tucking the ends into the hand). If you hold the fibers too tightly they won’t be released into the twist.
  • You can choose to either keep the fiber over your finger or remove your finger and just hold the folded fiber gently in your hand.
  • To join I simply place the spun end over the folded new staple and allow the fiber to get caught in the twist.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.
Hold the fiber gently and tuck the ends into your hand.

The context

I spin from the fold when I have a low micron fleece with a long staple length. The fiber needs to be long enough to be folded over your finger and tucked in to your hand. It also needs to be fine enough not to get too bulky in the fold. I flick card each staple separately and spin staple by staple from the fold. A commercially prepped top is also a good candidate for spinning from the fold.

One extra superpower with spinning from the fold is crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top. Spinning from the fold is an excellent way to enhance the colour and/or fiber variations.

Two skeins of blue yarn.
The left skein was spun from the fold and the right from the end. The fiber is the same, a lengthwise striped top. If you look carefully, you can see that the colours in the left skein are a little sharper.

What happens is that one colour stripe at a time enters the drafting zone instead of getting blended should you spin from the end of the fiber. The colour variations stay clear and crisp. This feature is really fun to play with!

A tahkli spindle with light green variegated yarn.
The colours in a lengthwise striped top will get slightly more defined when spun from the fold compared to spinning from the end.

Tools and materials

The little supported spindle in the main video is a rocket speed Tahkli from John Galen. The bowl is actually a singing bowl for meditation (also bought from John Galen), hence the little bell sounds in the video. The fiber is a combed top I got as a sample from Vinterverkstan.

A small turquoise spindle with silver decorations and a small skein of green yarn.
Tahkli spindle from John Galen, fiber from Vinterverkstan.

The spindle in the extra clip is a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer. The fiber is a Norwegian NKS (Norsk kvit sau or Norwegian white sheep).

A person spinning outdoors on a spindle.
Spinning NKS (Norsk Kvit Sau, Norwegian white sheep) with a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer.

The setting

I shot the clip with the sheep in the background last summer at the cabin we have rented for the past five years.

I shot the main video under the hop arch in our allotment. We assembled the arch this spring to get some shade in the corner. It is a very nice corner for all sorts of fiber related activities! We planted the tansies to attract bees and other pollinators. It worked.

A patch of tansies with bumblebees. A person spinning in the background.
The bees do like their tansies. Here two buff-tailed bumblebees.

The red currant are nearly ripe now.

Happy spinning!

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Portuguese spindle: Comments

A Portuguese spindle

In an earlier post on Portuguese spindles, I left many questions unanswered. I have looked for facts about the Portuguese spindle and spinning technique but haven’t found much. Until I got an e-mail.

Along came Alice

Alice is the owner of Saber Fazer, where I bought my Portuguese spindle. She also sells tools for flax processing, dye plant seeds, wool from local Portuguese sheep breeds, and she hosts workshops (I am not getting paid to write this). Alice was kind enough to answer many of my questions regarding Portuguese spindles and spinning. She cares deeply about the spindles and manual fiber processing. A kindred spirit.

Spindle design and function

While the spindles are made by a local drumstick maker, Alice hand carves all the spiral grooves herself. She says it is important to get the groove deep enough that the yarn stays in it. She has lots of antique spindles that she has based her design on.

Models, materials and techniques

A deep and well made groove makes it possible to spin with a short suspension. Many antique Portuguese spindles have a metal tip. Because it is made out of metal, it can be very thin. With a thin tip, the spindle will spin more rounds with one roll with the spinning hand. A metal tip rarely allows for short suspension, since the groove isn’t deep enough for the yarn to stay. However, the low friction of the metal makes it possible for the spindle to spin freely against the fingers for short moments.


In the image you can see some of Alice’s antique spindles, some of them with a metal tip. But only one of these is really good to spin with (third from the right) – it has a very neatly carved tip and a perfect weight. She says you can tell that the original owner used the spindle well.

The metal tipped spindles are very difficult to come by, though. There are antique spindles left with this design, but few of them are still spinnable. There are also modern ones, but Alice writes that they usually are made for decoration and not spinning. She has tried to make spindles with metal tips, but she hasn’t been able to make them with a groove. Yet.

To distaff or not to distaff

In Portugal, Alice writes that spinners spin both with and without a distaff. Mostly spinners who spin in-hand style without letting go of the spindle spin without a distaff. Spinning with short suspension is oftentimes done with a belt distaff. For flax spinning, you will need a distaff to keep the fiber organized.

Fiar com a D.Benta from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

This spinner, Benta, is using a belt distaff. I am not quite sure about the spinning technique, but it seems like there are short sequences of short suspension.

Cop and belly

When I started spinning on my Portugues spindle, I was used from my medieval style spindles to start the cop quite high on the shaft. Alice writes that I will get a better momentum with the cop lower and with a more prominent belly.  In this video with Adelaide you can see the positioning and the shape of the cop.

Fiar o Linho com a Adelaide / Adelaide spinning flax from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

You can also see that she is using a metal tipped spindle and how easily and beautifully the spindle rolls in her hand. It is such a beautiful video. I may need to get back to this video in another post on flax spinning, it is such a wonderful document of traditional flax spinning. And I do love the Portuguese language.

Spinning with a Portuguese spindle – Ilídia Oliveira from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

In this third video with Ilidia you can see the shape of the cop with a prominent belly (in oh-so-pretty backlight). This is also an example with both long and short suspension.

In this post on Alice’s blog you can read more about the spinners and watch a few more clips of beautiful spinning and spindles.

Muito obrigada, Alice!

Two balls of yarn in backlight
Yarn in backlight. Hard to beat. Spun on a Portuguese spindle with distaff.

Portuguese spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Portuguese spindle and distaff

I have a new spindle! I am smitten with distaff spinning bug, as you may have noticed on my recent posts on medieval style spinning and distaff carving. The spindle I bought is a Portuguese spindle. I ordered it from Saber Fazer in Portugal and it arrived just a couple of days ago.

Pretty package

There is something about the experience of opening something and revealing its content. It becomes so obvious if the sender has put their heart and soul in the package. When I opened the postal bag, I found two smaller paper bags, stamped with the brand and a sheep. Both bags were taped with fancy tape.

Two white paper bags with sheep on them
Pretty paper bags

Inside were, except for the spindle and wool, a thank you card and a postcard with botanical style flax anatomy on it. So simple, yet so heartwarming and effective. Organic too, there was no plastic at all, except for the bubble wrap on the inside of the postal bag.

Close-up of a spindle with the text Saber Fazer
Details, details

The spindle

The Portuguese spindle is quite simple in its appearance, just a pear shaped spindle with a spiraled notch.

Two paper bags with wool and a spindle
Beautifully wrapped spinning tools

The spiral starts in the center of the tip of the shaft so that the yarn stays securely in place. The spindle is made from unfinished maple. The spindle weighs 32 g and is about 30 cm.

I haven’t found much information about the Portuguese spindle. There are some images and a bit of info on the spindle index at the university of Innsbruck.

Close-up of the end of a spindle
The groovy groove

The fiber I got together with the spindle is from a local Portuguese sheep breed called Campaniça. I haven’t found any information about them. The wool is quite bouncy and has a nice resist. It is machine carded and without lanolin. I also got a smaller piece of brown combed fiber, which I think may be Portuguese merino.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed one of my hand distaffs with the Campaniça wool. I just rolled it around the distaff so that the direction of the fibers were perpendicular to the drafting. That way I would get a lofty yarn in a woolen-ish sort of drafting technique. I did try to spin the combed brown fiber with the fibers parallel to the drafting, but it was quite difficult and I got lots of lumps.

The spinning

I haven’t found much information on either the Portuguese spindle or the technique, just a few short video clips. The clips show spinning with and without a distaff. I chose to use a distaff because I think it organizes the fiber better. In retrospect, maybe I should have used a belt distaff, since it would make it easier to draft than from the hand distaff.

At first I was quite frustrated, since there wasn’t much action in the spinning. But when I got a bit of yarn onto the spindle, it spun easier. I spun in-hand to draft out the fiber and with short suspension to add twist. I haven’t seen any short suspension in the videos of Portuguese spindle spinning, though. In one description of the technique it said that the spindle never leaves the spinner’s hand, so maybe I spin in an unorthodox way when I spin with a short suspension.

Spring is here!

As I wrote earlier, I’m eagerly awaiting spring so that I can spin outdoors again and make videos. Well, spring is here and so is my first spinning video!

Portuguese spindle and fiber from Saber Fazer and hand distaff is from Hershey fiber arts. Shawl is my handspun and hand woven, featured in my YouTube video Slow fashion – from sheep to shawl.

Happy spinning!