In september I bought an Interweave video showing different kinds of supported spindles. Among these was a Navajo spindle. I hadn’t paid Navajo spindles much attention before, but after seeing the video I suddenly felt I needed one. And in late november I finally received a beautiful Navajo spindle from Roosterick.
The beauty of the Navajo spindle
Spinning on a Navajo spindle is really lovely. The long draw can get amazingly long and is very satisfying. As any other spinning, it’s very soothing. The sound of the point spinning against the bowl, the rhythmic motion of the hands and the feeling of warm wool. Also, it is a spindle technique that involves the whole body. I do like the small movements when flicking a supported spindle, but it is a nice contrast with the long rolling movements and the extension of the other arm away from the body. I decided to learn with the right hand as my spinning hand, the opposite of my preferences regarding other spindles and the wheel. That way I will hopefully avoid muscular strain and give my brain an extra challenge.
How to spin on a Navajo spindle
When spinning on an Navajo spindle you use a long draw. The spinning hand rolls the shaft and the fiber hand controls the fiber, but none of the hands is on the thread (unless for evening out a bump). I roll the shaft several times without moving the fiber hand. When I see that the fiber (still fluffy and unspun) is beginning to catch the twist, I move the fiber hand outwards, letting the fiber catch the twist as my hand moves further out from the body. That gives me a semi-thread (or proto-yarn using Fleegle’s terms in her book about supported spinning) of even thickness. From this stage I can decide what thickness I want. If I want a thick thread I put in some more twist (double drafting) without moving my fiber hand. If I want a thinner thread I move my fiber hand outwards and roll some more. When my arm doesn’t get any longer, I butterfly the thread onto my fiber hand and double draft it in sections. I’ll try to make a video that shows this part more clearly, however, you can see it a bit in the video, starting at 38 seconds.
So, while you can play with any thickness you like, the Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for practicing spinning thick yarns. Especially thick singles, since you can get quite a low twist yarn with the Navajo spindle. This is a challenge for me, since my go-to thickness is quite thin, but suddenly I really enjoy making fat singles!
The importance of fiber preparation
The fact that you use a long draw also makes fiber preparation very important. The fiber needs to be carded, preferably by hand. Any nepps or noils will impair the result. Hence, I have practiced – and improved – hand carding in the last few months and the difference between good and not-so-good carding is really evident in the spinning and the finished yarn.
While making my first video on Navajo spindle spinning in December, it became very clear to me that wool grease, just like any other fat, stiffens in the cold. Hence, the yarn broke time and time again. And the beautiful process of learning goes on and on.