Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sticking a Whorl

Removable Whorls are usually circular and have a hole in the middle.  This hole can match your spindle stick taper perfectly or not. 

1. Tapered Whorl Holes are superior when their taper matches the spindle stick taper for perfect fit 
 This match between inside and outside tapers yields maximum whorl stability - the spindle shaft and whorl hole are touching all the way down the hole.  The whorl is harder to slide off the spindle shaft in use.  Not perfect, though.  It is always helpful to wrap a tiny hair rubber band to the bottom of the whorl to prevent sudden in-spin flight to unknown spots on the floor or, worse, in the grass.

2. Straight-sided whorl holes will touch down on the tapered shaft at their top, leaving the the rest of the hole unsupported all the way to the bottom of the whorl. This makes the bottom of the whorl wiggly; the whorl won't remain balanced 'cause it can move around. You can test this by checking for sideways WIGGLE. 

3. Tapered Whorl Holes that DON'T match the spindle shaft taper usually bind on the shaft at the bottom of the whorl.  

This leaves the top of the hole loose and free to wiggle.  The solution is to wind a tiny hair rubber band (maybe two…)  on the spindle shaft  above the top of the whorl and push it down into the sloppy hole to stabilize the wiggle.  Don't forget to prevent 'in-spin flight' by also adding a tiny rubber band under the whorl too. This saves a lot of time crawling around the floor looking for your whorl.  They don't fall in a straight line, but act like little curve balls.

4. Thin Disc-Shaped Whorls introduce wobble due to the lack of sufficient surface area on the inner hole walls.  There isn't enough to grip the spindle shaft firmly.  Sometimes placing rubber bands above and below the whorl can stabilize this type of whorl enough to stay balanced.

5. Flat out Unbalanced Whorls. The very first thing to try when a whorl is causing your spindle to 'judder' is to rotate the whorl on the stick about 1/4 turn.  Continue to study the effect of this when the spindle is rotated.  Sometimes the spindle is also unbalanced.  By rotating the whorl, you might find the sweet spot that gives good balance or help to seat the whorl in a better place on the spindle.  If this fails to remove the judder, you might have an unbalanced whorl.  This will decrease the spin time of your flick.  What is amusing to the modern reenactor is a LOT of Viking and Medieval spindle whorls were unbalanced.  They used them anyway, what can I say. Guess they simply had a get-er-done attitude about making yarn before the winter came.

6. Riding High and Riding Low. Removable whorls are dependent on spindle shaft taper in terms of where they will be fixed.  Some will tuck high under the 'belly' of a spindle.  Some ride quite low towards the bottom.  Some length of spindle needs to be left below a low-riding whorl.  That extra spindle length adds stability to the spin. 
When testing whorl locations out, you'll find there is a difference in riding high and low.  Experiment!

7. Badly finished found objects used as whorls. There are large beads out in commerce land that have been torn from molds.  Their holes are ragged.  Their balance is not even.  You CAN use them.  But the damage they do to a shaft is significant every time it is jammed on.  That holds true for other metal materials as well.  

8. Lastly, where do you buy perfect tapered whorls and spindle shafts? Laurie Ament and I produce lovely spindles and whorls in art glass ( and in pottery and recycled wood at my shop ( We'd love to hear from you.  And if you missed the educational YouTube videos for spindle spinners, they are here:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

When is a Cop a Whorl?

I set up one of my Viking Oseberg-style spindle sticks with a v-shaped Nok on top so it would spin with a pottery whorl on the bottom.  I dressed my Oseberg-style Hand Distaff with drum carded batts of brown anonymous fleece. To see my spindles and distaves in action, go to the missingspindle YouTube channel here.  I spun until the spindle got too heavy to revolve well, and removed the spindle whorl.  I continued to spin, using the yarn cop as the whorl until, once again, the spindle got too heavy to revolve well, and my fingers/thumb joints were complaining.

Then I rolled a ball off gradually, photographing as I went.   I am pleased with the result.  Once the spindle got to 2 ounces as I was spinning, it was definitely time to remove the whorl.  Soon, I'm going to insert a home-made video of this spindle and a hand distaff in action.  Not made with a fabulous camera like the YouTubes above, but I hope useful.  Below are the pixs:

The spindle with 3 ounce cop, and no whorl. 
Then I kept rolling to 1 ounce -whorl in place

2 ounces (whorl should be in place 
then 3 ounces (whorl should be in place)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Preparing Spindle and Whorl

When you unite the spindle stick and removable whorl, you'll have to ponder where the whorl will fit best.  Many spindle sticks have their tapered ends at the bottom.  This is where the whorl will slide on.  I suggest using a tiny hair rubber band to fix below the whorl to 'encourage' the whorl to stay in place.

Whorls with tapered holes should be firmly jammed onto the bottom taper, but can still loosen in spinning mode. When they loosen they act rather like a curved ball, spinning out in a wide circle before they hit the floor, glass, dirt, rug, etc.  This makes them hard to locate and explains why many ancient whorls are found in widespread locations.

Once the whorl and just-in-case rubber band are in place, the singles 'leader' yarn can be put on.  See the pixs below for 3 different setups for the leader attachment
Method A & B: Bottom-weighted Spindle, aka drop spindle).
Method A.

How to Hitch a Singles Leader to a Bottom-Weighted Suspended Spindle (Method A.)

Method B.
This method is useful for heavy buildup of yarn in cop form.  As the spindle gets heavier, you can remove the whorl entirely and wrap the leader below the cop itself.  It is best not to half-hitch at the bottom of the whorl to save time.  The simple wrap is easier to release each time and can add stability to the yarn wrapping and whorl securing.

Method C.  Upending a Suspended Spindle to spin in Top-Weighted Mode

On many suspended spindles, it is possible to turn the spindle upside down and use TWO Half-
Hitches to secure the leader and whorl.  This only works is enough space is left at the former
top of the spindle to flick or thigh-roll the spindle to make twist.  Sometimes the space below the
whorl in bottom-weighted position is too sharply tapered to make this upside transformation

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Technology of the Whorl

While thousands, perhaps millions, of spindle whorls are found in archaeology digs, the modern spinster seldom experiences the Technology of the Removable whorl. 


Modern spindle sticks have glued-on whorls.  They are NOT removable, like those found in ancient times.  The modern spindle is very balanced when well turned on a wood lathe as a single, integral object.  Perfect balance and long spin is the Modern Holy Grail. 

But, what if you could change the whorls on the spindle sticks?  The spindle spinning experience when making 'singles' yarn changes significantly with the constantly changing build up of stored yarn on the spindle. The spindle becomes much heavier; spin time slows down.  With a glued-on whorl, the dynamics of weight and spin time cannot be altered.

  • CHANGE OF WEIGHT as spinning progresses 
Swopping out a removable whorl for one of different weight (lighter and lighter as the yarn stored increases from nothing to 1-3 ounces (28 grams - 84 grams or so), ending up at the higher weight with NO whorl in use at all, as the yarn cop itself functions as the whorl.
Top whorl weights generally need more weight for comparable revolutions compared to bottom whorl weights. One spindle shaft can sometimes be used in both configurations, but the whorls need to be different.
What if you  could change the shape of the whorl?  A spherical whorl riding close to the spindle shaft spins fast with a lot of quick twist delivery: Great for skinny yarns with high-twist needs.  A wide disc-shaped whorl twists more slowly, but for a longer time.  Better for heavier yarns or fiber preps that require more manipulation at the transition point from fiber to yarn.
Throughout history, various locations show preferences for different shapes of whorls.  The Curious Spinster wonders Why Why Why.

The Curious Spinster. The Spinster Encounters Etsy. The Terrified Spinster.

The Curious Spinster (May 27, 2014)

The archaeological world is packed full of spindle whorl finds: weights designed to make wooden spindle sticks turn well. But, these whorl finds have very little to whirl around, so to speak. Spindle stick finds are very very rare. They soon rot away over the centuries.
Before 1200 CE, those missing spindles created all the thread in the world.
That is what the curious spinster intends to explore.
This blog is about the missingspindle.

The Spinster Encounters Etsy (June 14th, 2014)
To spread medieval spindle technology, the Spinster made medieval spindle sticks and medieval whorls for her students.  But the time came to sell online with Etsy.  Becoming a small business was not a small thing.  But, after much hand-wringing and head scratching, the Etsy experience has begun. On June 14th, 2014, actually.

The Terrified Spinster (June 11, 2014)

The Spinster knew that removable spindle whorl ‘technology’ hasn’t been easily available. But jumping into the swirling waters of YouTube instruction was the most frightening experience. Even with the encouraging help of the intensely talented folks at, who painted her with makeup, insisted she bring all of her alternate Persona’s along, made her whirl the whorls, made her talk talk talk and appear in the Bookend, the Spinster was so terrified she couldn’t think, she couldn’t spindle spin her best. Painful but productive. The spindles spin, the whorls whirl on YouTube.