Spinning Fiber into Yarn

Original content from Threads of Peru

Spinning is the process of turning the raw wool and fibers, shorn from the animals, into strong, consistent useful threads. Quechua weavers use a drop spindle (pushka), which is similar to a wooden top with an elongated axis. The pushka varies in size with the diameter of thread being spun. The act of spinning is known as puskhay. Multiple threads are combined to form stronger ones. Single strands of thread are removed from the pushkas, combined into balls and skeins, and then spun together again.

Spinning is done while walking along the road, chatting with friends, or watching over one’s children or sheep.

The process of combining threads is called plying or k’antiy. A larger version of the pushka is used to do k’antiy, creating double (2-ply) or triple (3-ply) strands of yarn into thinner, stronger and more consistent yarn for weaving. The strands can go to 4-ply or higher, but this is less common. Alpaca fiber can be spun into much finer threads than sheep’s wool.


It’s rare to see an Andean woman or young girl without her hands busy spinning. It is a predominately feminine activity in indigenous culture, and often so commonplace as to be performed almost unconsciously. It is also common, in weaving communities, for boys to learn how to spin from a young age. Men will often know how to spin, even if they don’t learn to weave. Spinning is done while walking along the road, chatting with friends, or watching over your children or sheep. It’s a skill that people begin training in as children, and it takes years of practice to spin proficiently. Thus, spinning is a refined art in and of itself; one whose difficulty is often overlooked. Spinning is a vital part of the weaving process, as the yarn must be fine, but strong and even to be useful in weaving high-quality textiles.

Read more about the Alpaca Fiber & Wool Process here.

Learn How To Spin With A Drop Spindle

Learn How To Spin With A Drop Spindle

 I had learned how to spin on a spinning wheel, but not a drop spindle.  My daughter had figured out how to spin with a drop spindle, and my neighbor, and I’ve been to fiber festivals and seen kids walking around spindling.  It looked hard. Finally, when a group of gals wanted me to teach a drop spindling class, it was time for me to learn.  It takes some practice, and it takes some time.  Here are some resources that will help you on your journey into drop spindling.  It really is quite relaxing, therapeutic even, once you’ve learned.

Top Whorl Drop Spindle

First you will need a spindle.  The top whorl spindles pictured above are made by Amelia Garripoli of Ask The Bellwether, and her family.  They are well weighted, general purpose spindles.  Which Spindle Spins The Best is a very detailed article by Amelia in which she compares the different kinds of spindles.  There are various different kinds of spindles, some very beautiful made from exotic hardwoods, others painted with fun designs.  A spindle can also be as simple as a dowel rod, a CD, and a hook.  See How to Make a Drop Spindle to make your own.

There are three parts of a drop spindle, the shaft, the whorl, and the hook at the top of the shaft.  The shaft is basically what the drop spindle revolves around and it holds the yarn after twist has been applied to the fiber. The whorl acts as a weight to help the drop spindle continue to spin.  The hook, or sometimes a notch, in the shaft holds the yarn while the drop spindle is spinning.

Productive Spindling

Amelia has also written a book called Productive Spindling, which is a terrific resource for drop spindling.

alpaca roving

Next you will need some roving.  Some say you need to use wool when you are learning.  I learned with alpaca, so soft and nice to work with.  Might as well enjoy the fiber you’re spinning!  There is some Spinning Fiber Terminology that you might want to familiarize yourself with.  Drafting is a spinning term meaning to pull apart fibers to the thickness desired before introducing twist to create yarn.  Pre-drafting or splitting the roving is helpful, and makes the business of spinning go quicker.  3 Simple Steps to Preparing Fiber for Spinning explains and pictures how to prepare fiber for spinning.

Spinning with a drop spindle involves these easy steps:






Wind On


 Drop Spindle Spinning: The Ultimate Guide to Drop Spindles from Interweave is a great article with more detailed instructions.

Alpaca Drop Spindle Kit

Our Drop Spindle Kit includes a top whorl drop spindle, six ounces of alpaca roving in three different colors, and illustrated instructions, a very nice beginner’s kit.

Drop spindling does take practice,  and learning anything new can be frustrating at the onset, but worth it once you master the skill.  Check out  Craftsy’s blog post on Tips and Troubleshooting for Drop Spindles .

One of the first things I wanted to learn after purchasing alpacas was how to spin.  Though a drop spindle is far less of an investment than a spinning wheel, I just knew I would like spinning, so I took the plunge and went straight to a spinning wheel.  It can be done.  Drop spindling is not a prerequisite to spinning on a wheel, though they are nice to travel with.  The essence of spinning is to twist the fiber so that it holds together in the form of yarn, whether it’s with a spindle or on a wheel.

Picnic in the Pasture


The group of gals that wanted to learn how to drop spin asked if they could bring a picnic.  They sat in the alpaca pasture and had a ball.  Be sure to check out Picnic in Alpaca Pasture is Highlight of Farm Tour.  I do teach a Drop Spindle Class here at the farm.  Click on the link to see when it might be scheduled.

How to Use Hand Cards

How To Use Hand Cards

The purpose of Hand Carding is to disentangle, separate, clean, straighten and blend fibers together for spinning into yarn.  Carding is a type of woolen preparation, where air is introduced between the fibers and can be trapped as you spin, resulting in a loftier yarn. The tools used are called Hand Cards.  Hand carders look a bit like hair brushes, and consist of two wooden paddles with sheets of fine metal teeth that brush out the fibers. Carding opens up locks of fiber and then aligns the individual fibers to be parallel with each other. Carded fibers are generally shorter, with longer and shorter fibers mixed together, and not completely smooth and even.  The result is a batt or rolag of lofty fiber that can them more easily be spun into yarn.


The Hand Cards available in our Online Store are made in the USA, by Strauch Fiber Equipment.  Watch the video below to see how to use them.

You may want to check out a great article on how to properly and efficiently use hand cards called “Care & Feeding of Handcards”  from the Earth Guild in Asheville, NC.

How To Use A Ball Winder and Swift

Anyone that plays with yarn will be interested in two great tools, a Swift and a Ball Winder.

Table Swift

                  Ball Winder

Otto and Joanne Strauch, owners of Strauch Fiber Equipment and makers of fine tools for spinners, demonstrate how to make a center-pull ball using these two must-have tools.

The Niddy Noddy

As I learned about fiber and fiber art, I was introduced to some very interesting terms, one of them being niddy noddy.
What in the world?

Click to Purchase Niddy Noddy

Niddy Noddy

According to Wikipedia, a niddy-noddy (plural niddy-noddies) is a tool used to make skeins from yarn. It consists of a central bar, with crossbars at each end, offset from each other by 90°.  The central bar is generally carved to make it easier to hold.  Either one of the crossbars will have a flat edge to allow the skein to slide off, or will be completely removable.  Niddy-noddies can be constructed of many different materials including wood, metal, and plastic.  Wood is traditional, and most quality niddy-noddies are still made of wood.  Budget spinners
occasionally use niddy-noddies made from PVC pipes.

Want to make your own?  Robyn Wade, editor of The Lost Pages blog  has provided instructions.

Manufactured niddy-noddies can be made of different sizes, producing skeins from 12 inches in length to 4 feet in length. The most common size, however, produces a two yard skein.  Very small niddy-noddies are generally used for small samples. Many spinners will spin a sample length of yarn, ply it, and skein it using a niddy-noddy before washing. Then the spinner can see if the yarn is as desired or not.

Niddy Noddy

By counting the number of wraps for the skein, and measuring the length of one wrap, the approximate yardage can be calculated. The yardage is approximate because an exact yardage requires an even tension throughout wrapping the whole skein. Also, a very large skein requires wrapping the new layers on top of the old, which increases the length of the top layers.

A niddy-noddy, though apparently one with the crossbars parallel, is held by Christ in Leonardo da Vinci‘s Madonna of the Yarnwinder in Edinburgh.

Generally yarn is skeined directly after spinning or plying. This is because after spinningor plying the yarn generally gets washed, and a skein is the best form to have the yarn in for washing.  Although balls are easier for knitters and crocheters to use because they don’t get tangled as easily, yarn is sometimes taken from a ball and reskeined in order to measure the yardage of leftover yarn, store it without tension, or to wash out kinks if the yard was unraveled.

When skeining from wheel spun yarn, the bobbin can either be removed from the wheel and placed on a lazy kate, or skeined directly from the wheel. If the bobbin is left on the wheel the tension on the drive band must be lessened in order to allow the bobbin to turn freely. Yarn spun on spindles can either be left on the spindle, or slipped onto a dowel for plying. The spindle or dowel is either placed in a lazy kate, or even a bowl to keep the spindle in one place while winding off the yarn.

One end of the yarn is wound around the center piece and held firmly in place, while the rest of it is wrapped. The yarn is then taken over the left end of the top crossbar, down and under the right side of the lower crossbar, up and over the other end of the top crossbar, and then down and under the other end of the lower crossbar before returning to the starting point to complete one wrap. While rather awkward at first, one quickly picks up the rhythm.

This process continues until the whole skein is wound. The time to skein yarn on a niddy-noddy depends on the yardage, and thus how many wraps need to be made. A larger niddy-noddy can speed up the skeining, but a very large one can be bulky, and thus slow down the time to do one wrap. At this point, the skein is secured by loose figure eight knots between each crossbar. This can be done with scrap yarn, or with small pieces of yarn from the end of the skein. In either case, loosely securing each end with a slip knot
makes it easier to find the ends in the finished skein. Generally 4 or more knots are tied.

Once the yarn has been skeined, it can be dyed or washed to set the twist. Weavers often dry their yarn under tension with a weight at the bottom of the loop, to stretch it out and remove some of the elasticity.

Traditionally the niddy-noddy was used to the rhythm of a song, the opening line of which ran,

“Niddy-noddy, niddy-noddy, two heads and one body.”

The closest tools similar to a niddy-noddy are the swift, and the spinners weasel.  I use a skein winder which works well for me!


Sit-n-Knit or Crochet or Spin

For those of you that live in our area, you are invited to come visit and just …

Just Sit-n-Knit or Crochet or Spin

Just Sit-n-Knit or Crochet or Spin

Come hang out with fiber friends!  Drop in the first Saturday of the month for a few relaxing hours of knitting or crocheting or spinning on the farm. Lessons are not provided, but beginners are always welcome. If you bring your needles and yarn, drop spindle or wheel, someone will usually be able to answer your questions and offer a helping hand.

As I was reflecting on the importance of spending time with friends and doing things we enjoy, I ran across a blog called The Happy Migrant.  She writes:

10 Reasons why making new friends is important

1. Laughter – Laughter really is medicine and time spent with friends will often result in laughter.

2. Inspiration – Spending the day with friends is inspirational. Your friends will always have inspiring words for you.

3. Support – Your friends are your biggest support. Your friends support you in your decisions, through the tough times and through the exciting times.

4. Guidance – Your friends are like your guardian angels, offering you guidance when you need it the most.

5. Fun – Spending time with friends is fun. In today’s world we can take life a bit too seriously so some fun time is a requirement to breaking the serious pattern.

6. Relaxation – Spending times with friends can be relaxing. Even if you are walking around all day shopping, there is still an element of relaxation when you are with good friends.

7. Encouragement – Friends give you encouragement to follow your dreams because they believe in you.

8. Courage – Friends give you courage to be who you really are.

9. Strength – Your friends can give you a feeling of inner strength that you never knew you had.

10. Love – When you spend time with good friends, you feel loved and so do they.

Good friends are valuable. We need to look after our friends, nurture them, listen to them and be there when they need us. If you look back at the best and worst times of your life your friends were there.

Make some time to get out and meet some new friends
it is such an important part of life.

Plying With Beads

  Although stringing the beads was a bit challenging, and manipulating my single fiber strand without getting it tangled in the strung beads during the playing process could have made me crazy, I was very pleased with the end results!

 These are the hand-dyed Suri Locks that I started with. 

 I spun carelessly from uncarded locks not worrying about any kind of uniformity.  I felt like a kid going out to recess, playtime!

 Once I got a rhythm going and coordinated pushing a bead forward when  I was ready for one, the plying flowed smoothly.

Louet Spinning Wheels

I used my Louet Spinning Wheel, versus my little electric spinner, because I needed to stop and start frequently.  My Louet gave me the control I needed without having to turn it off and on.

 I named it, as I do all my yarns, “Pretty As A Princess”.

For some good instructions on spinning this type of art yarn see Kate Larson’s post, Beaded Chain-Plied Yarn, on the Spin-Off Magazine website.

This looks like a book I ought to have!

My New Yarn

So, here is where it all starts, with happy, healthy alpacas!
Stress does affect fiber quality – see the smiles on these two? Meet Unlimited Joy and Ariella!  There are two different breeds of alpacas, suri and huacaya, and the difference is their fleece.  A suri’s fleece grows vertically to the ground, in dreadlocks, and will grow clear to the ground if not shorn.  A huacaya has more of a teddy bear look and their fleece grows horizontal away from their bodies.  I think of a suri as being majestic and a huacaya as cute!
Huacaya Fleece
Suri Fleece
In the Dye Pot with Gaywool Dye
Carding is the process of combing and blending fibers together – an art form in itself.  This is a blend of hand dyed suri and natural brown huacaya.
Rovings Wound Into A Ball for Spinning
Hand Spun Into A Single Ply Yarn
Finished Two-Ply Yarn – Food For The Soul!

How To Spin From A Batt

Say, you’ve bought a carder and you are carding your own fiber. You doff it off the drum and now you have a large mass. Now what?  This mass you just created would be called a batt, but how does one spin it? I found this Photo Tutorial on Flickr that might be helpful. There are other ways but this is a good beginning.

How To Spin From A Batt, originally uploaded by afranquemont.

For the detailed info, you’ll want to go through the set, How To Spin From A Batt, in sequence. There are notes on the photos, and descriptive text.

Alpaca Meadows