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A Guide to Handspinning Yarn

Hand spinning is an old form of twisting together fibers to form yarn that can then be used to create clothing, and other items. Yarn was spun by hand for thousands of years using tools that were simple. It was only during the Middle Ages, that the spinning wheel was introduced, making spinning yarns much easier. There are still people today that do hand spin yarn and other fibers. Read on to learn about the history of hand spinning and how it differs from industrial spinning.


Step back in time, and you will find out that spinning fibers together to make yarn has been in practice for over ten thousand years. Decades ago, when one was hand spinning, the chore was done out of necessity and not something that was done in one's leisure time. In earlier times, it was the slaves who did this textile work in creating fabric that made up the garments and bed linen for the elite and powerful. To produce these strands of yarn, workers used spindles and looms to take on this tedious job. However, according to Professor John Styles, he states that this was a skilled occupation, but historians disagree, saying that this line of work or profession was classified as unskilled labor that was intended for the poor and ignorant, mainly a position for women of the lower class. But times have changed!

Hand Spinning vs. Industrial Spinning

As history points out, in the past spinning was done by hand and out of a necessity. The tedious labor was performed by almost every household in society. Machines and tools were set up within the homes to prepare for those days of spinning. Everything associated with spinning, from raising the animals for sheering and raising crops of cotton and silk as in China, it was a family thing, involving everyone. The work was hard, long and tedious as family members went about doing their part in producing cloth from scratch. This was the only way to create blankets and such before industrial spinning came about, which made the labor of spinning a lot easier on families. Industrial spinning was less time consuming. Factories began producing cloth faster than what homespun could produce, making their product more economical. However, quality workmanship remained high on the mark among those individuals who stayed with their craft of home spinning.


When one decides to go into hand spinning as a hobby, and you want to create those beautiful handmade pieces of material to put on display as you show off your handy work; you will need a few supplies to have success in this textile craft. You will need a drop spindle as well as some wool or silk to get started. However, other materials used in hand spinning are cotton, alpaca, angora, and mohair fibers. You will need to keep in mind, that at the beginning stages of spinning you must decide where you are going to get your wool or cotton, being ready to shear a sheep if need be. Also keep in mind when weaving your fibers together; there are 3 stages that you go through to get to the finished product. Those 3 stages are: hand picking, hand carding and the spinning form.

Spinners used drop spindles and suspended spindles in earlier times, and each spindle had their own method of pulling the threads or fibers in the spinning process. When it comes to spinning, the art has been around for ages. The spinning wheel is also another machine used in producing threads; however it did not come into existence until the late Middle Ages, making its debut in Europe. Before the Middle Ages, the most popular spinning machine in use was the drop spindle.

Modern Day Hand Spinning

Spinning has come a long way from the days when workers used nothing but drop spindles. In today's modern society and the art of spinning, spinners have a wide range of choices in the types of spinning wheels they want to use. There are even spinning wheels for beginners and those who are more advanced in spinning techniques; meaning you can upgrade from a Saxony Wheel to the Great Wheel once you get the hands on experience of spinning for the first time and mastering the art. As you can see, the Saxony Wheel is for beginners.

Hand spinning in today's modern times includes learning the different techniques associated with spinning. Techniques include such things as drafting the fibers. As a beginner, you will be introduced to the techniques of the Inch Worm, the Long Draw, the Worsted and spinning from the fold. You will no doubt learn about plying as well. Plying is nothing more than twisting two or more single strands of fiber together. In spinning terminology, double threads are called s-twists, while single ply threads are known as the z-twists. Another aspect of spinning and one you will have to decide to use or not is that of spinning in the grease, which means deciding to spin wool fibers before or after they have been washed and cleaned. However, it is recommended that when working with fine, delicate yarn, it is best to spin in grease. The lanolin in the material being spun may be a bit messy and oily to work with, but handling of the lanolin coated threads will soften the spinner's hands.

For more information, please see the following links.

  • The Joy of Hand Spinning - This website talks about some of the techniques associated with hand spinning. There are photos and videos given to support information on this page.
  • Hand Spinning (PDF file) - This PDF file gives the history of hand spinning. Information found here includes techniques, spinning forms and working with raw material.
  • History of Hand-Spinning -The information given on this page covers the history and evolution of hand spinning. Mentioned in the article are the tools used in this trade from drop spindles to whorl spindles.
  • Brief History of Spinning - This brief article gives a little history on the topic of spinning. It also mentions the kinds of tools used. The tools that are talked about are the hook stick, hand spindle, spinning wheel and the flyer wheel. Each has an explanation as to what they are and how they are used.
  • The Loss of Woolen Spinning, 1794 - From Fordham University, this article takes a look at the cotton industry and how the loss of spinning affected society. There are written accounts based upon observations.
  • Hand -Spinning and Cotton in the Aztec Empire - If you want to find information on hand spinning in the Aztec Empire, this article gives brief and personal accounts of events that took place during this time period of Mexico.
  • Spinning Wool - This article speaks on the process of spinning wool. It talks of the methods used, which includes spinning, the spindle and carding the wool.
  • Spinning Techniques - On this page, you will find spinning techniques. It gives written paragraphs on such things as semi-worsted fibers and garbage yarn, telling how to use them.
  • Sheep: Spinning and Weaving - This article explains the step taken before one is ready to spin fiber. The article covers such things as sheering the sheep, preparing the wool, carding and dying the fibers.
  • Textiles and Spinning - This PDF file is actually a lesson plan on teaching students about spinning yarns and textiles. The article is interesting because it holds valuable information, which includes history of home spinning and methods used during the colonial period.