Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Russian spindles

The Russian spindle is a supported spindle, so can be used for short stapled fibers where a drop spindle would be much more difficult to use. Like all supported spindles it’s ideal for very thin singles because the yarn doesn’t have to resist the weight of the spindle.

The Russian spindle doesn’t have a whorl per say, the spindle is shaped of one piece, the bottom of the shaft being the heaviest part, pointed so as to spin more efficiently. To minimise friction when spinning, Russian spindles are often used in a bowl or a saucer, although apparently, traditionally, bowls were only used in the Orenburg region. The upper part of the shaft, on which the yarn is stored, tapers to a very pointy top, off which the yarn is made, and which gently rests on the fingers or the palm whilst spinning. Gently resting on a curved open hand being the key to not stabbing yourself with the spindle.

Annia, with a cop of honey coloured tussah silk, copyright Cecile

I bought my Russian spindle out of sheer lust. Ian from IST Crafts had come to my Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Guild to give a talk about his spindles. After the talk, I saw the beautiful Purpleheart wood, the flowing lines, and I had to have it. It was purple! The fact that I had no idea how to work it was a bit of hurdle, though. But this being a guild meeting I was given a bit of fluff and told to go play with it for a bit. After a while I got the hang of spinning the spindle to build up twist, wait for it to stop and draft using long draw, give it one last flick to put in a bit more twist before winding on. I bought the spindle and was spinning before I even got home. The cafe where I went after the meeting had saucers which worked great to set the spindle on.

Before the end of the weekend I had a nice enough cop, and the long draw wasn’t so much of a problem anymore. I really enjoyed the whole process but I have to say the spinning was going much more slowly than on my drop spindles. The one major advantage was that I could spin sitting comfortably on the sofa with the little bowl on my lap or by my hip. I guess what I was doing was the supported spindle equivalent to park and draft.

Then, thanks to Ravelry, I stumbled upon this video.

It blew my mind. No-one had shown or told me you could draft while the spindle was still spinning. In retrospect it seemed so obvious, but when I was trying it out it never crossed my mind. With this technique, I started to spin as fast as I do on my top whorl drop spindles. I’m still practicing, but I’m definitely getting faster and faster. Not as graceful as the video but there’s hope… and there’s something to be said about being able to spin whilst reclining in the sofa.

Have you tried supported spindles? What about the Russian? How did you find it?

The images in this post are copyright of Cecile from Ways of the Whorl. If you wish to use the images please request permission from Cecile.


  1. Beautiful! This type of spindle is still used in Portugal and Spain without the support. I've posted a few images on my weblog, here and here (and here's a video).

  2. Hi Rosa,
    Thank you very much for sharing.
    I love your blog and the stories you share.


  3. Hi Rosa,

    Beautiful photos on your blog, and interesting stories (via Google translate, I'm afraid my Portuguese speaking skills are somewhat lacking).
    The type of spindles you show seems to be closer to the French spindle. The shape is very similar to the Russian spindle, but the technique to use it is very different as the spindle is always held in the hand whereas with the Russian, the tip rests against the hand, but you let go of the spindle to allow it to spin faster.
    I haven't yet had the chance to try one of those, but it's next on my list of type of spindles to try. Being French myself I knew of the French type but had no idea a similar shape and technique was also traditionally used in Portugal.


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