Can you spin without extra tools?

By Amelia © August 14, 2010

It's been a fun summer here between teaching classes for the local community college (spinning and felting! what fun!) and a one-on-one spinning class at the local yarn store.

My one-on-one student had an interesting goal. She has sheep, the processed roving from their shearing last year, and she found a second-hand wheel with just one bobbin. Her goal was to learn to spin yarn for knitting without making any further purchases (just the lessons). She even used her own fiber in the classes. Yes, before the other teachers out there shake their heads, I did tell her it might not do; but it turned out to be some fairly nice Shetland roving (similar to the one pictured here), locally processed, and it spun as well as my usual teaching fibers, so we used it.

One of the things we worked on was a process flow ... what steps were needed to create plied yarn? Today was graduation day -- my now-former student is happy with her skill level and her yarn. Here is how she goes about it ...

1) Fill a bobbin with singles.

2) Wind the singles off onto a toilet-paper core or paper-towel core. Tuck the end in so that twist doesn't get released from the end of the single.

3) Repeat steps 1 & 2 so you have 2 cores full of singles.

4) Place each filled core in a large bowl (pasta, mixing, or otherwise) or even a bucket.

5) Take the outside end from each of the singles to start plying.

6) Ply until the bobbin is full; break the ends off, wrap them back around their own core, and tuck their ends in (see #2 for why).

7) Skein off the bobbin onto your leg-niddy (remember, no new tools!); tie in 3 places, twist up and set aside.

8) Repeat 5 & 6. If one of the singles' ends before the other, consider plying what remains with a hand-ply method. Or, save it to add on to the shorter end of the next pair of single-full cores.

9) Repeat 7 (skein up the bobbin-full).

10) Open up the skeins; soak-wash and rinse the skeins, squeeze out the water and hang to dry.

Whew! So the only extra things we used, in the end, were the cardboard cores that would otherwise have been recycled, and the bowls from her kitchen cabinets. Mission accomplished.

And the single-bobbin wheel? It's a charming Saxony Rick Reeves wheel with an engraved rose on the bench, in excellent condition, though with only the one bobbin. It did require a little catch-up maintenance, which my repair kit mostly addressed the first day. What a lucky find!

So -- yes, you can learn to spin with a second-hand wheel with only one bobbin. Despite my love of tools, tools, tools, we can usually find basic substitutes around the house, or do the same task with a body part (the leg-niddy) or just a bit slower (hand-winding balls versus the ubiquitous Royal ball winder).

Her approach reminded me that the main requirement of learning to spin is some level of dedication -- new spinners may not even realize they are providing that, they are so smitten by the fiber and mesmerized by spindle or wheel. It's that little bit of practice every day that turns you into a spinner. Like knitting, swimming, and even reading, there are things your body and brain need to learn how to do which only comes with applied practice.

So, spinners new and continuing, spin on, and spin happy :)


© August 14, 2010 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at


Sherral said...


Natalie Rush said...

Thanks for the inspirational story!

Unknown said...

I did something similar when I got my second hand wheel, although it did have 2 bobbins and am still using the same system. I did use a shoe box lazy kate (2 knitting needles I owned, tp tubes, shoebox, tape) but I didn't spend any money (except for some cheapy training fiber) ! It can be done!

Anonymous said...

When I had need to be frugal I learned to wind a center pull ball on a fat marker and later on my fingers. Then I could pull from the inside and outside of the ball to create a two ply yarn that fit perfectly on my bobbin.

In fact I still ply from a center pull ball. I've upgraded to a ball winder for my spinning wheel, but still use the old "nostepinde" method with my drop spindles.

It's sometimes good to challenge ourselves by limiting our resources. It helps us get creative.

Wanderingskopos said...

This reminds me of my granmother - she told me that they used to wind outer-feed balls (either with no core or with a folded piece of paper or cardboard as a core), and then put the balls in a basket for plying.

I still don't have a ball winder, but did make a niddy-noddy with my dad out of an old broom handle...

Diane Donald said...

This person could be me! I have an antique castle wheel a friend found at a garage sale with just one (rather small) bobbin. I was able to do the few minor repairs myself, and I'm happily spinning a fleece I bought online this summer. I use a shoe box lazy kate like laurachicken describes. It's so nice to be able to enjoy the wonderful spinning experience without having to shell out a bunch of money (which I'd love to do if I had it).