When I introduce children to a new craft, I like to begin by showing how to make their own tools. We begin by exploring the tools others have made for the purpose and then make our own versions. Spinning is a little different as the balance of the spindle makes a significant difference to its ease of use.
Children should definitely make their own spindles but I want them to learn their art with well-balanced tools. I have a collection of professionally made spindles from many different cultures for the children to learn to spin on. They can make their own once they have honed their skills and understand the impact of design variables.
When older children are ready to make own, I guide them to identify the key elements of the spindle's anatomy, offer them some materials to work with and leave them to it. Younger children will need more guidance as in the lesson below. Either way, this should be about trial and discovery, just as it was for the people who first invented spindles.
Here is my lesson on spindle making – modeled by older children but I have had good success with seven year olds.
regular text: what I do
Italic text: what I say
Spindle Making Lesson
Materials: Examples (or pictures) of different types of spindles, straight sticks (pencil, dowel), small screw in hooks, old CDs, plasticine, clay, sandpaper, polish and cloth, popsicle sticks, a few small potatoes, scraps of yarn, small elastic bands, hot glue gun.
I have noticed that you have become excellent spinners and I thought it might be time to design and make our own spindles . We can look at all these other types of spindles for inspiration. Let’s think about what a spindle needs in order to work….
Discuss the parts of a spindle. (Shaft, whorl, hook)
All of the spindles we have looked at have a shaft, so let’s start with that. Our shaft will need to be long and straight – I think this piece of dowel will work.
Select a piece of dowel and if necessary cut it to a suitable length.
It feels a little rough along the sides and end. I don’t want my wool to snag on my spindle so I think we’ll give it a quick sand.
Demonstrate using the sandpaper to smooth the dowel and invite a child to work on it for you.
That feels much smoother. Thank you.
I would like my spindle to last for a long time so I’m going to protect the wood with some polish. Who can remember how to polish wood? Charlotte, would you like to polish the shaft?
Encourage a child to polish the shaft whilst you continue.
Whilst Charlotte is polishing, we can think about the next part of our spindle. We need a whorl. Most of the whorls on our example spindles are round and very evenly shaped so that they are balanced. They also have holes in the middle for the shaft to go through. I have a few things here that I thought might make good whorls but you might have some ideas of your own.
I chose these potatoes as they are quite round and we have plenty of them. They are also firm enough to hold their shape but soft enough to poke a hole through the middle. Maybe you would like to try using a potato for your whorl.
Do you remember the clay whorls we looked at a few days ago? Why do you think people chose clay as a material to make their whorls? Yes, it is soft and easy to mold but when it is dry or baked it is strong and holds its shape. I have some clay here; maybe you would like to make your whorl out of that.
I also have some popsicle sticks in case you would like to try making a whorl in the Turkish style like this spindle. (show example/picture of Turkish spindle)
There is one more thing here that I thought might make a good spindle whorl. Look, this object is perfectly round and it already has a hole in middle. Of course the Early Humans would not have had CDs but they did use the things they had around them. As people nowadays often have old CDs that they no longer need, I thought I would try using one for my spindle.
Let’s see if it fits….
Slide CD onto spindle shaft.
Hmm….it fits but it is a little loose. We need something to hold it in place. I think I’ll use this metal washer. It fits on the shaft snugly and it will give the spindle a bit more weight so it will spin faster. I’ll glue the washer to the CD to keep it in place.
Glue the washer to the CD and slip it onto the shaft. If it is lose, glue it in place on the shaft.
I want to make a high whorl spindle, so I am going to put my whorl near the top.
That seems to have worked; it is beginning to look like a spindle. What else do we need?
All of these spindles (indicate examples ) have something to stop the yarn sliding off the top of the spindle. We can see that this job is usually done by a hook or a sort of notch. If you have had the lesson on making crochet hooks, you might choose to carve a hook or a notch into your stick. I’m going to use one of these little metal hooks on my spindle. I’ll screw it into the end here, making sure I keep it in the centre.
Screw the hook into the top of the stick, check and agree that it is centred and straight.
There! I think I have made a spindle! I can decorate it to make it more beautiful or I can leave it the way it is. I just need to attach a leader to test it.
Attach a piece of yarn to the shaft on the underside of the CD and bring it up and through the hook. Attach some roving and spin!
Note: Depending on the size/weight of your stick and hook you might find you need to add more weight to your spindle. This is a fun investigation for children. Suggestions include adding a second CD, adding washers or clay to the shaft near the whorl.
Please let me know in the comments or on the Montessori Handwork Facebook page how your children get on with making their own spindles - I would love to see pictures of them!