Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

A spindle and bowl on a chair on a meadow. Mountains in the background.

When I was in Austria with my family recently I experimented with plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I posted a picture on Instagram and asked if anyone wanted me to make a video about it. I got a very nice response from several of you who wanted me to go ahead. So I did. Here is my video where I demonstrate how I ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle.

The Turkish spindle

I spin a lot on suspended spindles in the summer, especially my Turkish models. They are perfect for spinning when walking. They don’t take up much room, neither for transport nor for the actual spinning. But sometimes I find spinning on a suspended spindle a bit tedious, so I wanted to learn how to ply on the fly. I have plied a lot on the fly, but so far only on supported spindles.

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

When you ply on the fly you spin a section first. Then you chain-ply that section before you spin the next section. Plying on the fly is a great technique to get a finished yarn without winding the whole cop off the spindle. Well, you do actually wind it all off, but in smaller and more manageable sections. It gives the spinner variation between spinning and plying and you take advantage of the fact that the single is fresh when you ply it. This means that I always want to finish after a plied section and I don’t leave a spun cop on the shaft.

Spinning

For regular spinning on a Turkish spindle you wind the yarn onto the wings. When you ply on the fly you wind the single onto the shaft instead, just like you would on a regular suspended spindle (or the temporary cop of a supported spindle). Then, after you have plied the single, you wind the plied yarn onto the wings.

 

A person spinning on a spindle with crossed wings
Wind your single around the shaft of the spindle. Turkish spindle  from Jenkins yarn tools (Lark model).

When I started practicing plying on the fly the spindle kept dropping to the ground when I was spinning. I got very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why. And because I was walking at the time. I couldn’t see any difference from regular Turkish spindle spinning. But then I realized that I wound the yarn on differently. Winding the single around the wings helps securing the yarn. So when I figured this out, I wound the yarn around the shaft for plying on the fly, and then under one of the wings before securing it with a half hitch. And, voilá, no more dropping.

Transferring the single

When you have spun your desired length of single, you transfer it to your fiber hand with the butterflying technique – you pick up the yarn in a figure eight with your thumb and pinkie, until you have no more single. This can be done against your belly. It will be more efficient if you do it against a hard surface (my belly isn’t) like a spinning bowl or a table. If this is your start of the yarn, make a loop. If you have already plied a section, you pick up the loop from its parking place on one of the wings. You now have all the freshly spun single on the thumb and pinkie of your fiber hand.

If you have already plied a section, secure the plied end on the shaft with a half hitch (or through the hook if that is how your spindle is constructed).

Chain plying

  • Pick up the loop with your spindle hand index finger. Do not let go of the loop.
  • Pull your single through the loop with your spindle hand thumb, keeping the index finger in the original loop. Make sure you keep all the strands tense.
  • Pick up the new loop from the spindle hand thumb onto your fiber hand middle finger and pull the loop out. This is done by letting go of one strand of yarn at a time from your butterfly. You now have three strands of yarn. Keep these taut. Keep your index finger in the original loop.
  • When you are happy with the length of the section, you can pull your index finger out of the original loop and let the spindle twist the yarn into balance.
  • Wind the plied yarn onto the wings of the spindle – slow and fancy or fast and efficient, your choice. Make a half hitch on the shaft (or put the yarn in the hook) and start the next chain.

When you are out of singles, secure the loop on one of the wings and start spinning the next section.

A person plying on a Turkish spindle
Keep the strands taut and keep the index finger in the original loop

The location

Since I started plying on the fly in Austria, I decided to make the video there as well. We stayed where we alway stay, at a B&B in the town of Mondsee in Salzkammergut. The B&B is an old convent from the 15th and 16th centuries. The owners also own a big meadow that surrounds the B&B. The town is quite crowded with houses nearly on top of each other, but with the meadow you get a spectacular and clutter free view from the B&B over the basilica and the surrounding mountains. The meadow is the place I chose for this video. I am happy to give you a glimpse of a beautiful spot in Austria.

A person spinning on a spindle on a meadow. Mountains and a town in the background.
Spinning on a meadow in the morning sun, surrounded by mountains and a general Austrian-ness. This place makes my heart sing.

Happy spinning!

Spinning direction part 1: Self-study

A hand holding a medieval-style spindle

In an earlier post about learning how to spin on a medieval spindle, I mentioned that I have switched hands for this technique. Usually my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand my fiber hand. Since I got a cramp learning in-hand spinning I decided to try switching hands. Almost all the illustrations I have seen of medieval spinners have been with the right hand as the spinning hand. A reader, Stefanie, commented on my post, saying that she had had problems similar to mine and that switching hands had made a big difference for her. This made me think about how I spin and what role spinning direction and spinning hand play.

Blog series of spinning direction

Spinning with a spindle can be done with either hand and I don’t think anyone argues with that. You can choose to push the first and second fingers outwards or pull them inwards, with either hand. Nothing spectacular with that either. But if you want to spin in a certain direction, there will be different hand movements depending on whether you are spinning with your left or right hand. Most commercial yarns today are spun clockwise and plied counter-clockwise and it is how I have learned to spin. So, if you want to spin clockwise you will push with your left hand and pull with your right, right?

In this and some upcoming posts I will investigate spinning direction further. So let’s dig deep into the world of spinning direction and get geeky!

Testing my spinning hands

My first step is to investigate how I spin clockwise with both hands and with different spinning tools. By learning to use my right hand as spinning hand I will hopefully be able to see what it is I do. By breaking down the steps of the spinning technique I may see what is happening when and how.

In-hand spinning

As I have mentioned, I started to learn in-hand spinning my usual way, with my left hand as spinning hand. This was just before Christmas. I did get a cramp.  Thinking about the illustrations of medieval spinners with the spindle in their right hand, I knew I had to try to switch hands. Since the technique was all new to me, my muscles weren’t set in their ways and the change went fairly painless. And I didn’t get a cramp. In-hand spinning is so much more controlled than for example supported spindle spinning. This may have made it easier to learn with my right hand.

Looking at the video I notice that it looks more awkward spinning with my left hand (and I’m a leftie). The index finger looks like it’s bent the wrong way in the end of each spin. Also, since I’m pushing the spindle outwards from my hand, I have to hold on to the spindle more tightly so as not to drop it. When spinning clockwise with my right hand, I don’t have to hold on as tightly since I roll the shaft in towards the space between my second and third fingers. The space supports the shaft, and I don’t get a cramp.

Supported spinning: Flicking

I have never had any problems with my left hand as spinning hand when I spin clockwise on a supported spindle. I push to spin clockwise and it has always worked fine.  When I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop, though, I usually get a cramp. Therefore I usually need to switch hand positions several times during the rolling. I am very aware of this but I haven’t made the connection to pushing or pulling the spindle shaft.

I am currently practicing spinning with my right hand. This is a very interesting experience. It feels good to spin (pull) with my right hand and I don’t get a cramp rolling the yarn onto the permanent cop. I don’t have very good control of either of my hands yet but I think I will learn soon enough. In the beginning I felt all backwards and dizzy after my spinning practises, but now it feels more and more comfortable. The interesting thing is that when I look at my switched hands, the pattern I see is the same as the one I see in the participants in my spinning classes. I see the fumbling first attempts at handling the spindle and the uncontrolled movements of hands, spindle, yarn and fiber. And that is a lesson I will happily learn and embrace.

Compared to in-hand spinning, there is a longer pause between repetitions when I wait for the right amount of twist to go into the thread. Also, for every flick in one direction, I take a small charge in the other direction. This is clear in the slow motion section of the left-hand spinning. I haven’t got the hang of it yet with my right hand, but I’m getting there! All in all, supported spindle spinning takes advantage of the support. I don’t have to control my spindle since it is controlled between the yarn and the support. I don’t have to work as much to keep the spindle moving since the support helps me with that. The Support part in supported spinning is really a support in many aspects!

Supported spindle: Rolling

Since I usually get a cramp when rolling the yarn back onto the permanent cop when spinning on a supported spindle, I had to investigate this too.

Looking at when I roll the yarn back onto the permanent cop I see exactly the same finger movements as with the in-hand spindle. The movements are a bit smoother, though, since I have support. So, when pushing the spindle with my left hand, the shaft rolls out of my hand and I may need to hold on tighter. When pulling with my right hand I roll the spindle further into my hand, thus giving the shaft more support. I can happily say that I don’t get a cramp when I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop with my right hand.

Navajo spinning

When I started practicing spinning on a Navajo spindle, I watched lots of videos. I noticed that all the spinners were using their right hand as spinning hands, rolling the shaft towards the body. I chose to learn this way: it seemed odd and uncontrolled to roll outwards. Since rolling the long shaft along your thigh is a comparatively large movement it got quite obvious that it wouldn’t be ergonomic to roll outwards. A funny thing is, that when I made my video on plying on a Navajo spindle, I chose between rolling towards me with my left hand and away from me with my right, but somehow the latter won. I think I will have to make another video, rolling toward me with my left hand. I know better now!

Suspended spindle: Flicking

When I spin on a Turkish spindle I have always spun with my left hand as spinning hand. I tried to switch hands to see what happened.

Looking at it, it seems like the pulling movement is a bit smaller than the pushing movement. Spinning suspended may not be such a problem when it comes to pushing or pulling since it takes quite a lot of time between the repetitions.

Suspended spindle: Thigh rolling

I spin on a top whorl spindle by rolling the shaft down my thigh, using my left hand as spinning hand. This has never been a problem for me. Since I only roll the shaft by moving my flat hand downwards there is no particular strain on my hand. Since the spindle hangs in its own thread, there is no problem with spindle control (as with thigh rolling with a Navajo spindle).

I do however get a cramp sometimes when I roll the spun yarn onto the cop. So I had to try it with switched hands.

It looks like the pulling movement is smoother and smaller, but since spinning on a suspended spindle is comparatively slow and with fewer movements than in-hand spinning I would say that it doesn’t influence the spinning experience very much.

Coming up:

This was a bit of a self-study on spinning direction. I have learned a lot from it and I am amazed at how much there is to analyze from just a few seconds of close-up slow motion video. In the upcoming posts I will look at historical and contemporary aspects of spinning direction and reflect over what I have learned.

Have you had problems with your spinning hand or spinning direction? Have you tried changing hands? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section!

Happy spinning!