What's a Dealgan?

By Amelia © July 2, 2016

One of the things I really love about spindling is that there always seems to be more to learn. I came across yet-another-new-to-me spindle type recently, the Dealgan. So, what's a Dealgan? It's an 18th century Scottish spindle. A little piece of wood, really, about 5-6" long with a knob at the skinny end and a bulb at the far end, with a flat bottom and an X cut into that flat bottom.

My first contact was the information provided by Lois Swales of Missing Spindle, who posts about them on her blog, sells reproductions on etsy, and has several handy YouTube videos for exploring this historic spindle. She's been out for a while, though, so I looked to NiddyNoddyUK (also on etsy) for one.

Now, if you've looked into spindle shape at all ... Okay, if you haven't go and read Which Spindle Spins the Best? on this blog, I can wait. So, now you know that you want rim weighting and a skinny shaft - neither of which are evident on the Dalgean. It won't spin for a long time, and generally won't go that fast with a flick, so it's best suited to spinning in limited space (seated, perhaps) and medium thickness of yarn. I've been experimenting with lap spindle techniques and drop spindle techniques, and funnily enough I seem to get the most speed by twirling it from below with all my fingers, rather than trying to flick the shaft with my thumb and index finger. I plan to keep exploring, and look forward to trying out plying.

Why this shape and size, then? Portability, durability, utility. All are possible. It's one sturdy piece, so it can be dropped, tucked away, or even thrown with little chance of harm coming to it. It forces you to wind a sturdy ball similar to that wound on a nostepinne, and the conical shape means you can pop the ball off when you are done.

That reminds me of a very interesting question asked on an Ask The Belwether post on Facebook: why wind a plying ball if the yarn comes off your Turkish (and Dealgan!) spindle as a ball? Two reasons, really: one, you can deal with singles management separately from plying this way; two, you can use speed plying techniques such as the Andean hand-roll with a Turkish, Dalgean, or other bottom-whorl spindle, or a kick-ply with a top-whorl. Yes, I was tickled pink to find out that Scottish plying is also done from a two-strand ball.

The other spindle the Dealgan reminds me of is the little Victorian silk spindle Bette Hochberg drew in her book Handspindles, made popular by Hatchtown, Will Taylor, and my own Natalie spindle. Those are one-piece spindles with their mass at the top. It's funny the way spindle shapes keep showing up in different places. I always remember that the goal of these tools is the same: creating yarn for textiles.

The Dealgan is clearly a historical spindle. I find it an interesting spindle to explore, and am sure that it will enrich my spindle-life as I experiment with it and find what it can and can't do. And, at a pinch, I may even re-explore one of the early Spindlers' threads on spinning with Mexican cocoa frothers and honey dippers.

Next, though, I plan to spend some more time spinning on rocks. No, really. I've done it before but want to give it a more serious go this time, fill a rock or two and then ply. It's something I recommend to my classes: don't give up on a tool or technique until you've tried at least a spindle-full, plied, with it. And I didn't follow through with my rock spinning, even through I did enjoy it. Definitely worth revisiting.

What's the oddest spindle you've spun with? perhaps we will explore some of my odder spindles, in future posts. Until then, here's another one to consider: Can You Spin a Sheep?

© July 2, 2016 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/


Diane Donald said...

What an interesting article! I'd never heard of this type of spindle before. I've been working on spinning with medieval style spindles, which have some of the same issues (small, center-heavy whorl, sometimes a rather thick shaft). It's made me totally revisit my technique, and interestingly I've found that they are far easier to use when I imitate the posture and tools used in the middle ages (distaff on the left side under the arm/in a belt/in hand, left hand drafting from the distaff, spindle in right hand and never really hanging suspended). It's so interesting that what kind of tool you use doesn't make much of a difference in the yarn you can make or the speed of the tool as long as you adjust your technique accordingly.

I blogged a bit about my spinning with medieval spindles here: http://ursuladestrattone.weebly.com/project-and-event-blog/spinning-does-this-count-as-a-fo-alternate-title-why-the-distaff-matters

Anonymous said...

I tried to spin using a magnifying glass, supported. It didn't go very well. It was way to heavy to not be supported. I was curious about it because the glass is whorl-shaped, but its vertical rather than horizontal. So imagine a regular spindle, but with the whorl on its side instead of flat. This, so it turns out, messes with the physics enough to make it useless. I can now say this is a terrible spindle design.


Anonymous said...

Okay, bit of a long time to comment, but I didn't fall over this article before.

There's actually a photo that supports your "grasped" or "almost grasped" use of the dealgan:

About the middle of the website there's a picture of Big Margaret spinning with dealgan and distaff.

Actually, it's pretty much the same way a lot of western European spinners in medieval times used to spin. If you wear a skirt and are sitting down, than this way of spinning is much easier, since you can lead the spindle around to the side. Hanging drop spindles always either end up tangled in the skirt oder you have to twist your body sideways to avoid tangling up the spindle.