The Beauty in Handmade

After last week’s post from Liz on her spinning wheels, I thought we could meet Ailbhe’s collection of wonderful handmade spindles and wheel. If you have been at one of the Eastern Guild Meets, you may have been lucky enough to meet one of these beautiful spindles in person. Ailbhe very kindly agreed to write another post for the guild to share these with all of you. Thank you Ailbhe, we are very grateful!

The guild is also looking for volunteers to host a Spinning in Public Day event in your local area this September so please get in touch on if you are interested.


The Beauty in Handmade

I am a particularly lucky position, in that I live with a man who enjoys making things with a hammer and nails just as much as I enjoy making things with spindles and needles. As a result, I have a whole arsenal of hand made tools, from small spindles and niddy-noddies to my very own wheel, all hand made by my resident mechanic. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to two of my favourites, a Turkish spindle and a spinning wheel.


Go Big or Go Home

The first hand-made item I received was my spinning wheel. At the time I was a spindle spinner, with dreams of saving for a wheel, but very little knowledge of how to use one. He knew even less about it, but, shocked at the price of wheels claimed he could easily make one for €50. I thought it was all talk, until Christmas morning, when he presented me with my very own wheel.


The design is heavily inspired by a Louet, but also influenced by whatever was lying around the house during construction. The wheel is MDF, mounted on the hub of an old bike-wheel. The bobbins are also MDF, with plumbers pipe for the shaft. Bobbin bearings and the flyer shaft were salvaged from a printer. Small coppers were used in place of washers. To top it all off, there’s a cat carved into the mother-of-all!



The first thing I spun on my wheel was some carded fleece from Kerry Woollen Mills. This was a perfect beginners fibre, happy to stick to itself without too much twist from me. I spun it into a 2-ply yarn, somewhere between worsted and aran weight, and it came out exactly how I wanted it. Trying to spin lace was a different story. The tension was so tight that almost as soon as I’d drafted, the wheel would suck the yarn out of my hands before I’d had time to build up enough twist. No matter how much I loosened and eventually removed, the flyer break I could not get it to work. Eventually, we switched out the drive band, for a looser one, which worked like a charm.


Experiences like this make me appreciate the wheel on a whole new level. I’m certain that I’ve learned more about the mechanics of spinning using this wheel than I would have to spin the same yarn on a commercially produced wheel.


The Turkish Spindle


A couple of months after the wheel, I received two Turkish spindles. Almost all spindles have the same basic construction. There are only two parts, a straight stick down the middle, called the shaft, and a weight, called the whorl, around the shaft. The shaft and whorl can be positioned differently, with the whorl at the top, bottom, or mid way along the shaft, and they can be made from just about anything. You can make your own with just a chopstick and CD, and I’ve heard of spindles made from K’nex, and even a pencil and potato!


What makes the Turkish spindle unique is that it has a cross-shaped whorl, which is in fact made from two separate interlocking pieces. Each cross-piece has a hole through its centre. The whorl is secured by lining these up and sliding the shaft through.



The beauty of this construction is that as you spin, you wind the yarn around the cross, rather than the shaft as with most other spindles. At the end, you can simply slide out the shaft, and then the two cross-pieces, and “Voilà!”, a centre pull ball just waiting to be plied!



DIY Spindles


If you don’t have the experience, or the tool shed, to make your own wheel, never fear, there are alternatives! I would encourage everyone to have a go at making their own CD or  Oven Bake spindle. Its cheap, relatively straightforward, and fun! Plus, you have the freedom to try out different sizes and weights, and different whorl shapes and positions.

I’ve made three of my own spindles. The shafts of all three are made of cheap dowel wood that I bought in Woodies. The whorl of one spindle, the shiny one on the right, is made from old computer parts. The other two whorls are made from oven-bake clay.



When making your own whorl, you want one which is as symmetrical and evenly balanced as possible (CDs are great for this). The balance will affect how well your spindle spins. Having said that, your whorl does not have to be perfect for your spindle to spin. If you look at the two whorls above, you might be able to see that the hole where the shaft comes through the right whorl is way off centre. I used this to make a bottom-whorl spindle. Placing your whorl near the bottom of the shaft lowers the centre of gravity of the spindle and makes it more stable, and more forgiving of imperfections in the construction. This one wobbles a little while it spins, but it’s still very useable. In fact, this is my go-to spindle whenever I want to spin worsted weight yarn!


So… those are some of my adventures with hand made tools. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this post, and that it will inspire some of you to try your hand at making your own spindle, or maybe even a wheel!

  1. With some exception, such as the French Supported Spindle, which has no distinct whorl.
  2. But please be careful and don’t hurt yourself in the process!

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