Friday, October 14, 2016

Steampunking a Scottish Dealgan (the Text)

OR, how to create a Scottish-type whorl-less hand spindle from a used industrial weaving bobbin (pirn)

Suspended spindle???
(aka Steampunk Dealgan)
OR Horizontal Spinning Stick????

Using a Steampunk Dealgan is on my YouTube channel 'missingspindle' HERE

Background of this research
with a big thanks to Debbie Zawinski for walking thru Scotland with a spindle*

*Debbie has written a wonderful book here:
Zawinski, Debbie (2013) In the Footsteps of Sheep; tales of a journey through Scotland, walking, spinning, and knitting socks. Schoolhouse Press, USA

and two articles on her "footsteps" spindle:

Spinoff, Vol XXXVII, No 4, Winter 2014 titled "The Feral Spinner: evolving back to the basics of making yarn, pgs 64-66. 

And the very helpful article here:

YarnMaker, No 25, Winter 2015 titled "My Kind of Spinning" pgs 5-7.  This last article contains the most details on how she produces twist on an industrial bobbin.

I was pointed at Debbie's book in a class I was teaching on the history and use of the Scottish Dealgan by a student who knew the term "spinning stick" was used in Debbie's book.  I purchased Debbie's book and read it from cover to cover, but while the spinning stick was pictured, the book concentrated on gathering fleece to produce socks from 2 ply wool handspun. She sized the 2 ply to match commercial 4 ply sock yarn. But how was she using her spindle/bobbin?

Experiments with Turning an Industrial Bobbin/Pirn into a Spindle  

So, in the beginning research,  I mistakenly 'engineered' a dealgan based on my own studies of the dealgan design.  You can find more info in my blog on Scottish Dealgans here: and by searching Youtube for 'missingspindle'.

There are 'rules' to the design of the whorl-less spindle and I recognized that the industrial bobbins had several of the same design factors as my re-creation of the Glasgow 1700's dealgan.  Below is a comparison (note: dealgan is misspelled-the "L' is missing):
Comparison of a 1700's dealgan to an Industrial Weaving Bobbin, unaltered.

Both 1 and 2 have the following areas:
a. tapered shaft
b. heaviest area at the bottom-widened bottom on Dealgan, weighted steel rings on Bobbin.
c. Grooved cross on bottom for Dealgan; added grooves on Bobbin bottom.
d. long tapered area for yarn storage
e. Knob or Nock on top-existing on Dealgan; Added on Bobbin with separate dowl press fit into top hole.
NOTE: Debbie Z's bobbin had no dowel on top.

Bobbin measurement details
Four industrial bobbin types, converted to steampunk spindles.
Measurements of unaltered bobbins, from top to bottom:

Brown: 7 1/4" long, 32.3 grams/1.1 oz.

Yellow: 8 5/8" long, 42.8 grams/1.5 oz.

Red: 8 3/4" long, 39.5 grams/1.4 oz.

Long Tan: 15" long, 78.1 grams/2.8 oz.

Wait a Minute:  which way was Debbie Z spinning? 
Suspended or Horizontally as she walked?

ummmmm, make that Horizontally
It took a while to find the two magazine articles (above) that Debbie Z had written.  Turns out I was not right about the suspended spindle solution.  I and my testers produced very very slow twist when using a suspended bobbin without the dowel on top.  The top is too fat to flick and get a goodly amount of twist to draft out.  Hence the alteration by dowel to solve that slow twist delivery.  

Both mag articles confirm Debbie Z. is spinning horizontally with an unaltered 8" industrial bobbin/pirn.  I made a (fuzzy) shoot-it-yourself video of how this horizontal spinning works here.  The narrow end of the bobbin rests on the palm.  The top end with its steel rings and yarn storage area rotates loosely in the partially open top of the fingers and thumb.  It is rotated in the left hand quite loosely.  The twist forms from the bottom near the palm and runs horizontally into the fibers held in the right hand. The forming yarn is held with enough tension so it is pulled straight across the body. The twirling motion originates from the wrist.  Hard to describe, easy to do.  This method, with its slow twist delivery is good for softly twisted yarns, but also supports fine yarn creation, though the insertion of twist is slow.  But if you are walking thru the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, you have a lot of time...... And a horizontal spinning stick is a lot less easy to drop and roll off into the sea.

How to make a Viking Nok on the top of a drop spindle

Tools and materials to make a Steampunk Dealgan, suspended spindle

Materials and Tools needed:
The industrial bobbin or pirn, 8-10" long, with 3 steel rings on the bottom
A triangular file
A utility knife with snap-off blades, heavy duty (hardware stores, not sewing supplies)
3/16" wood dowel

Step by step: Carving the top and nocking the Nok:

a. cut the 3/16 wood dowel in half lengthwise.
b. with the utility knife's sharp blade, work on the end of the dowel to form a tapered end about 1/2 inch long
c. Press this tapered end into the narrow top of the industrial bobbin until it is 'seated' at least 3/4-1 inch down into the sloppy 1/8" hole on top.  Trim the tapered-end dowel to 2 1/2 inches long and press or pound it down in so that 1 1/2" sticks out the top. Sometimes the pounding is done with a hammer.
d. Form the top of the dowel sticking out of the bobbin with your utility knife so that it comes to a point.
e. About 3/8" from the top point, place the utility knife point horizontally across the dowel and press into the dowel (resting on a firm surface) to form a narrow groove across the grain.
f. below this groove, start whittling the knife edge carefully up to the groove to form a flat leading up to the groove.  Do this several times carefully.  As you get close to the groove, be very slow and carefully so the wood above the groove doesn't chip off.  Repeat pressing the knife edge into the groove horizontally and continue to whittle below the groove until it is about 1/2 as deep as the dowel.
g. Smooth your work with sandpaper.
h. Test the dowel nock and correct if the yarn doesn't 'seat' well in your nok.

 Grooving the Bottom of the Bobbin:
a. With the triangular file, lightly score two grooves directly opposite each other on the bottom of the bobbin.  They should line up.  Deepen the grooves until the yarn you are using seats into the grooves easily.
b. Form a second pair of grooves at right angles to the first set.
c. Carefully lay the triangular file in a straight line above the first groove and file back and forth on the 3 steel rings to form a v-groove.  This doesn't have to be very deep.  It should facilitate catching the yarn as it is lined up with the bottom grooves.
Sand the bottom and steel grooves until they are smooth.
d. You are done.  Your bobbin should now be a Steampunk Dealgan. (Not historical, but so sturdy, so cheap, so replaceable).


  1. Don't know if you are still around with it being 4 years later. If this does reach you I would love to discuss some of your finds through history. I've been working on my genealogy and I've traced my father's side back to the Isle of Wight in England and my mother's to France and Greece. I've been felting with different materials for about a year now and I thought I'd try learning to spin.

    Also random fact - there are no male deities for the loom, spindle, or thread.
    Hope to hear from you.

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