Getting Started With Your Spinning Wheel
A Guide For Beginning Spinners

You have your new spinning wheel, and you're ready to start spinning. Here are a few tips that I hope will make your spinning experience a little easier. Don't let yourself get frustrated by feeling that you're all thumbs at first. Spinning takes practice. Just take your time and enjoy the process.

Let's Talk About Fiber

The most important process in spinning is the "drafting" of your fiber. "Drafting" is the process of pulling the fibers to be spun from THE bundle of fiber, and thinning them down to form the size yarn you want to spin. The more fibers you draft, the thicker your yarn will be. The fewer fibers drafted, the finer your yarn will be. The length of the individual fibers, as well as the texture, type of fiber, and thickness of each fiber will all play a part in how fine or how thick you will spin.

Take a look at your fiber. Is it a long, continuous narrow strip? This form of fiber processing is called a "roving." Or, is it a wide, rolled up bundle, that when unrolled forms a wide rectangle? This form of processing is called a "batt."

We want to start with a strip of fiber about 12" long, and approximately the thickness of your thumb. This doesn't have to be exact. We just want to start with something that will be easy to manage. Once you have been spinning for awhile, you may find yourself spinning right from the whole bag of fiber without having to pull it apart. So, for now, just pull a strip from your fiber bundle, and we'll get started.

Holding your strip of fiber in one hand, pull a few fibers from one end of your strip using the other hand. Notice how as you pull, the fibers seem to be grabbing other fibers and pulling them along with them. As you learn to draft, you will learn to control the amount of fiber that is pulling from your bundle. In drafting you are thinning your fiber down to the desired thickness for spinning. You want to draft a consistent thickness as you spin. As a beginner, it may be easier to predraft your fiber before you begin spinning. Remember that the spinning process will twist the fibers, which will also thin them down. With some practice, the process of drafting and spinning will become a very natural process for you.

How Does My Wheel Work?

Let's set the fiber aside for a moment and take a look at your spinning wheel. There are many makes and models of spinning wheels, but they all have many features in common. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the instructions for your particular wheel.

The large wheel, or "drive wheel," causes the "flier" to rotate, with the use of a "drive band." Drive bands can be made of either a poly material, or a cotton string. The movement of the drive wheel is controlled by pressing on the "treadles" at the base of your spinning wheel, using a heel and toe motion with your feet.

The drive band goes from the drive wheel to the "whorl" on your flier. You'll notice that your whorl may have two or more grooves, placed at different intervals. These grooves will determine the "ratio," or how fast your flier turns in relation to the drive wheel. Placing your drive band in the wider groove will cause your flier to turn more slowly, or at a lower ratio. Placing your drive band in the smaller groove will cause your flier to turn more quickly, or at a higher ratio.

Your flier has two protruding arms. In between these arms is where your bobbin is placed. As you spin, the yarn is picked up by the flier, and wrapped around the bobbin.

We also need to control the rotation of the bobbin so that the take-up is even and consistent. There are two ways this can be accomplished.

If your wheel is a "scotch tension" wheel, it has both a drive band and a brake band. They are two separate bands. A "brake band" helps slow down the rotation of the bobbin so that the flier can wrap the yarn around it. The brake band is attached to your spinning wheel by a small spring at one end of a string, and a knob at the other. Turning this knob very slightly will control the amount of pressure placed on the bobbin by the string. You will find that you will be adjusting this as the bobbin fills, but you should only need to make very small adjustments at any given time.

Your wheel might use "double drive" tension. In this case you will have one continuous band which is usually made of string. It wraps from your drive wheel to your whorl, and then crosses and wraps around your drive wheel again, but this time going to your bobbin. This one continuous band forms both your drive band and your brake band as it crosses to form two bands from one.

Let's look at your flier a little more closely. It may have several hooks along the protruding ends, or it may have one hook which you slide along the length of the fork-like protrusion, as the yarn wraps around your bobbin. These are used to control the placement of the yarn on your bobbin so that it will fill evenly. As you move your yarn from hook to hook, it will form small bumps along the shaft of your bobbin. The sliding hook will accomplish the same thing as you slide it along the fork of your flyer.

Getting A Feel For Your Wheel

Before we start making yarn, let's get a feel for the wheel. Place an empty bobbin on your wheel, following the instructions included with your wheel. Be sure your drive band and brake band are in place. Now begin to treadle your wheel slowly. The drive wheel should be turning clockwise. The key word here is "slowly." You want to have control over your wheel. Try stopping and starting your wheel just using your treadles. Try spinning the other direction.

Now cut a piece of string or yarn approximately 36", and tie it snugly to the shaft of your bobbin. This is called a "leader." Bring it around the hooks on your flier, according to the instructions for your particular wheel. Pull it through the orifice, and you're ready to start!

Be sure the leader is fully extended. We're going to practice spinning with it first. Hold the leader in both hands, one hand slightly in front of the other. Begin slowly treadling the wheel, so that the drive wheel turns to the right. You should feel a gentle tug on the leader, as the flier begins wrapping it around the bobbin. If you feel that the leader is being yanked from your hands, loosen the brake band very slightly. If there doesn't seem to be any take-up, check to be sure that it is tied tightly enough to the bobbin, then slightly tighten the brake band. You want the brake band to be loose enough that you can pull the yarn from the bobbin easily, but with a slight resistance.

Once you have spun your leader onto the bobbin, pull it out and try again several times until you feel comfortable with this process. As you spin, practice stopping and starting your wheel just using the treadles. Be sure your wheel is spinning to the right.

Let's Start Spinning

Pull your leader out several inches. Be sure your fiber is predrafted for several inches. Place the predrafted fiber along side the leader, overlapping them for about 4 to 6 inches. Hold the bundle of fiber in one hand, we'll call this the "fiber hand." Hold the leader and the predrafted fiber together in the other hand, we'll call this hand the "drafting hand." The drafting hand should be between the fiber hand and the orifice of your spinning wheel. Sit a comfortable distance away from your wheel. It is not necessary to keep your hands close to the orifice as you spin.

Start treadling, with the wheel going in a clockwise direction. This clockwise motion will create what is commonly known as a "Z twist" in your spun single strand of yarn. Let the leader and the fiber twist together, holding them for a moment as they twist so they are secure. Then let the wheel take up the fiber as you begin to draft more fiber. Slide the drafting hand toward the bundle of fiber, and draft some more fiber to be spun. Be careful not to allow the twist to travel to the fiber in your fiber hand. You may want to stop spinning, draft, then spin, then stop and draft some more. The more you work with your fiber and your wheel, the more comfortable you will become.

As you get comfortable with this process, the fiber will just slip through your fingers in a continuous motion as you draft and treadle.


There are a variety of plying methods which can add extra strength, as well as interesting design elements to your finished yarn. Once you have spun a single strand on your first bobbin, it's time to spin another bobbin.

The most basic plying method, is a 2-ply yarn. This is done by taking the single strands from two bobbins, attaching them to the leader on a third bobbin, and spinning them in a counter-clockwise direction. This counter-clockwise direction is commonly called an "S twist." It is important to always ply in the opposite direction from which the single was spun, to balance the yarn, and prevent overtwisting.

Some Common Problems

Over Spinning -- This can result in a very kinky, over twisted yarn. The most common cause for this problem is treadling too fast. Slow down your treadling and see if this corrects the problem. Another cause for this, is holding on to the fiber too long when drafting. You may need to stop treadling while you draft, until the process becomes more automatic for you. If you're comfortable with your drafting, and the wheel just isn't taking up the fiber, you may want to tighten the brake band slightly. You won't need to tighten it much. A little goes a long way here.

The Bundle of Fiber is Becoming Twisted -- This is often a result of over spinning. Stop treadling and take a minute to untwist the fiber by turning it in the opposite direction.

The Fiber is Bunching Up in a Lump and Won't Go Anywhere -- This is a common problem for beginners. Predrafting can help eliminate some of this problem. When you find that you have a bundle of fiber in your fiber hand that just won't draft, hold the lump with your drafting hand between your spinning wheel and your fiber hand. Using your fiber hand, gently begin drafting away from the bundle in the opposite direction of the bundle (not toward your drafting hand). As you pull at the fiber, your lump should smooth out.

The Bobbin is Winding Too Loosely -- Try treadling more slowly. If this doesn't work, try tightening the brake band just a little bit.

Copyright 2008 - Karen Poulakos Fiber Arts Studio