When we bought our alpacas in 2011, I was determined to teach myself how to spin my own yarn. I had visions of shearing them the following spring, and making beautiful yarn. I do have to say, it was a little more difficult than I thought.

But, with difficulties came more knowledge than I would have had otherwise. As each year has passed, I have learned a little more and have acquired some of the equipment needed to speed up the process. The shearing is still being done by me alone, and I have generally just taken the blanket (the best fibre). I have used hand shears, as there isn’t a power source near their pen. I find I have better control, plus it seems to be less stressful for them when all is quiet.

I started with a lot of research, and made my own drop spindles. That way of spinning was a challenge to learn, and I am still not very good at it. I must add, though, that I learned an alternate method and had much greater success. I watched videos on what is referred to as Blackfoot Spinning, and I do have to say I like the method much more. I have taught others the method, and have recorded my own video on how to do it. If you follow me on YouTube you will most likely have seen it. If not, feel free to check it out. I do like the fact I have much more control, and I can spin anything from art yarn to lace-weight.

The materials to make your own are simple and inexpensive. I made one for less than one dollar. It consists of a 12″ piece of dowel, a 2″ wooden wheel (available at craft/hobby supply stores) and a 12″ piece of scrap yarn. The only requirement is the dowel fit through the hole in the centre of the wheel. 

  • To make the spindle, slide the dowel through the wheel until about an inch and a half has gone through. If it’s a tight fit, that’s all the better. I found tapping on the long end of the dowel with a rubber hammer helps push it through easier. If the fit is loose, you can secure it with glue for a permanent bond, or use rubber bands on each side of the wheel. I made a big one using a recycled CD, and secured it with ponytail holders.
  • Once the spindle is assembled, taper the short end with a pencil sharpener or pocketknife. A little piece of sandpaper may be used to smooth the rough spots. 
  • Next, make a loop in one end of the yarn and secure it to the spindle, on the long side of the dowel. This is known as the leader yarn.
  • Make a larger loop in the other end of the yarn to accommodate a variety of sizes of roving.
  • To spin, draft out some roving and put it through the loop. 
  • Wrap the leader yarn around the top of the spindle, and spin in a clockwise direction. As the leader line twists, gradually draft out the fibre and let the twist travel up the roving. The amount of roving drafted will determine the thickness of the yarn. 
  • Don’t worry about consistency to begin with. Your aim is to get a feel for the drafting and spinning process.
  • When spinning the spindle, hold the roving between your thumb and forefinger on the opposite hand. 
  • As you spin, wrap the yarn around the top of the spindle. When the top is full, transfer the yarn to the bottom shaft. A visual demonstration is quite helpful here. For a visual, visit my Blackfoot Spinning on YouTube.
  • Depending on how thick you spin, a couple of ounces can generally fit on the spindle before it has to be made into a skein and removed.

Note it does take practice, but it is a very portable way to spin. I like to take my spinning in the vehicle (when I am the passenger of course), as there aren’t any stitches to keep track of like in knitting or crochet. When I set up at craft sales, I will sit and spin between customers. It also attracts attention, which is good for business.

If you have questions, feel free to ask. The photo is one of a spindle of odds and ends of alpaca roving I have left from other projects. It will be quite interesting to see what the result will be when it’s full.