Which spindle would you recommend? As with most things, it depends. However, here are a list of suggestions which might help you in making an informed decision. It’s important to note that while my suggestions come from direct and anecdotal knowledge, your personal experiences may bare out a different outcome or preference.
I will outline a few scenarios and then offer suggestions as to a spindle style and shape which might suit it well.
I wish to spin seated comfortably at home. If you would like to sit and spin, supported spinning is for you! The varieties of supported spindles I have produced include phang, contemporary Russian, French, and Rose. All of these are great choices for the spinner who wishes to kick back and relax. If you are brand new to spinning (or supported spinning), I would suggest a spindle made of a denser wood. A spindle weighing 23 grams or more (.7 ounces or more) will have a tendency to stay supporting tip down. New spinners do appreciate the extra weight and it also translates to a wider variety of fibers one can experiment with.
I wish to spin very fine singles of downs, luxury fibers. My first choice would be a light Russian spindle weighing 19-23 grams (.7 ounces or less). The narrow spinning tip of a Russian spindle is crafted to help you insert the maximum number of rotations per flick of your fingers. The light weight will also help you to maximize the energy expended while flicking the spindle. All of this translates to a higher insertion of twist per flick and less fatigue for you. Heavier spindles can spin fine singles. But if efficiency is your primary concern, go for a light spindle with a narrow spinning tip.
I want the ultimate in flexibility. I want to sit, stand, walk, and be able to spin a wide range of fibers. A Rose or French spindle may provide you with the most flexible tool. Rose spindles combine the spiral tip of a French spindle with the shaft and supporting point of a Russian lace spindle. Rose and French spindles can be used supported, handheld, and suspended (with a cap) while Russian lace spindles are generally only used supported. A Rose or French spindle weighing 23 grams or more will afford you the most flexibility when choosing commonly available fibers and preps. You will be able to spin fine downs to crimpy wools. It is important to remember that as you increase the diameter of your single, there will be more resistance. The goal is to find a happy balance between the weight of the spindle and the diameter of your desired yarn. A heavier spindle will lend itself to spinning larger diameter singles. (At this time, I am not turning for production, so you would need to find a wood artisan to craft a French or Rose-like spindle for you.)
I want to spin fat/thick singles. I choose Rose and French spindles for making chunky yarns using the handheld (twiddling) technique. Because you are not relying on the weight of the spindle to introduce twist, you can make singles as thick as you like.
I have neck, shoulder, back pain or limited mobility. People have found that supported or handheld spinning with any variety of stick spindle can reduce stress on the upper body. You can recline and even learn to spin while laying on your back! If you will be spinning laying down, some people enjoy having a spindle made shorter than 11 inches in length. If you have problems with grasping, the Rose and French spindles have spinning tips which are wider in diameter than Russian lace spindles. There’s more to hang on to, and less pinching motions of the fingers. Using these spindles, you can adopt postures where your arms will not need to be held out in front of the body.
I want the most portable and durable spindle. I want to take it on the road. Rose and French spindles have qualities which make them ideal for travel. They are the most versatile since they can be used handheld, supported, and suspended. A supporting surface is not necessary. A Rose or French spindle outfitted with a cap accessory can be used suspended too. Perfect for standing in line or running about town. When you are ready to sit down and relax, you can remove the cap or continue to spin supported/suspended. Rose and French spindles can also be customized to shorter lengths so that they will fit in a pocketbook. And finally, Rose and French spindles are less delicate than a Russian spindle. Russian spindles are prone to damage from drops and stress breaks (snapping the spinning tip off). The spinning tips of Rose/French spindles are blunted enough that you won’t find them punching through project bags. A bonus, Rose spindles and some French spindles have lips which secure your spun yarn to the shaft. The singles won’t creep up and off your spinning tip while traveling in your bag or jostling around with other projects.
What about plying? To ply with a stick spindle (Russian/Rose/French/Phang), you align the number of singles you wish to ply and then rotate the spindle in the opposite direction. Some spinners switch to drop spindles for the plying process as well. The Orenburg Russian lace tradition has a unique plying technique where the singles (and often silk thread) are wound un-plied onto a fresh spindle, and then plied off of the spindle and onto a holding disc. My recent preferences for plying involve using a Tibetan spindle, a supported Navajo floor spindle, or simply plying from a “plying ball” back onto the spindle while rotating it in the opposite direction from which the singles were spun. It changes up every few months.
What are the functional differences between Rose and French spindles? Not very much. Weight distribution on the shaft would be the primary differences. French spindles tend to be more bottom heavy, which helps at first if you are spinning handheld. Once you get some yarn wound on, this advantage decreases. My opinion, choose based on shape preference. The Rose comes in one shape (because I designed it), and French spindles come in a variety of shapes.
What wood should I choose? You have a lot of choices. A general rule of thumb – the denser the wood, the heavier the spindle will be. Decide upon a weight based on answers to scenarios discussed above. Lighter spindles for fine fibers, heavier spindles for thicker singles and crimpier fibers or less refined fiber preps.
Can you make my a spindle? Unfortunately, no. I have suspended production turning for the foreseeable future. I recommend searching Etsy for “supported spindle”, “Russian spindle”, “Tibetan spindle”, “top-whorl spindle”, “suspended spindle”, “phang”, etc. Also pick up a free Ravelry.com account and join the Spindlers group, there is a destash thread where people are selling.