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Perfecting and Troubleshooting your In-the-Hand Spinning:

Most beginning flax spinners don't put enough twist into their linen. Don't be afraid of over twisting - it will start to kink up when it has had enough twist, so you'll know. I purposefully over twist because I have found that in processing the finished yarn some twist comes out.

A common problem when spinning with a distaff is to let the twist run up into the fibers on the distaff. This causes the fibers to come out in increasingly larger numbers until you have a snarl so big you can't possibly make nice thread from it. To prevent this from happening, don't let twist build up beyond your distaff hand. You should be able to draft the yarn, then add lots of twist to the completely drafted yarn, and then wind that yarn on to the spindle and pull a little more fiber away from the distaff before you relax your grip with the distaff hand for re-wetting.

If you find that your thread is increasing in diameter or you have a snarl, use your distaff hand to untwist the fibers and pull away from the distaff.  Never pull fibers from your distaff hand TOWARDS the distaff - that will make the snarl on the distaff worse. You can, however, tease the fibers of the snarl apart and pull out any clumps that don't look like they're going to make nice yarn. If all else fails, pull away from the distaff until the number of fibers from the snarl to the distaff looks right for your thread.  Then smooth the whole snarl down as best you can with water or spit, and keep going. It's a learning process!

The secret to maintaining an even thread is all in watching how many fibers are going from the distaff to your distaff hand. When there seem to be too few, wet your finger and catch a few new ends to add in. When there are too many, pull the distaff hand farther from the distaff until the number of fibers decreases. If the number of fibers doesn't decrease with pulling away, you may have left a big clump of fibers when you dressed your distaff. Be pickier next time when dressing.

Troubleshooting Checklist:

  1. Are you spinning the spindle in the correct direction? 
    Your thumb should be pushing the spindle away from you, off the tip of your index finger, not towards the side of your hand.
  2. Is the flax not coming off the distaff nicely?
    You might want to take it all off and try again or try a different method of dressing. Patricia Baines' book "Linen:Handspinning and Weaving" has wonderful photographs of a few different methods. I've actually become fond of simply looping the strick and tieing both ends up at the top of the distaff. That keeps the strick from tangling in the distaff-dressing process, but also makes it very difficult for a beginner to draft because the whole bunch of fibers want to travel together.
  3. Do you keep getting big clumps of fiber?
    You might be allowing the twist to travel up past your distaff/pinching hand and into the distaff. Watch the number of fibers approaching your distaff hand and pull your hand away from the distaff when you see the number increasing. The earlier you catch it the easier it will be to prevent. If you catch it too late, smooth the whole thing down with a bunch of spit and keep going as if it had never happened.
  4. Do you keep getting a smaller and smaller amount of fiber until it breaks away from the distaff? 
    You may need to actively grab more fibers with your distaff hand every so often as you go. Lick your fingers and then grab a few fibers and roll them into the just-forming thread. Or allow a tiny bit of twist to enter the drafting zone - just don't let it travel all the way to the distaff!
  5. Do you get thread but then when you unwrap it from the spindle it falls apart?
    You need to add more twist before winding on. Linen can take A LOT of twist.
  6. Are you frustrated by how slow it feels?
    Part of that is the frustration of learning a new technique, so be patient with yourself! Also, make sure the tip of your spindle tapers to as narrow a diameter as you can make it without weakening the wood so it bends. The narrower the tip, the faster you'll be able to spin it.

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created February 4, 2002

Last updated February 18, 2003