Traveling with Spindles!
Words by Jacqueline Harp, photos by Jacob Harp
Seven years ago, I began my handspinning journey on a suspended spindle, and I soon discovered I did not have to leave my projects at home. Since then, I have taken suspended spindles on walks, on long road trips, and on airplanes. With spindle in hand, it is no longer a chore to wait for the dentist or for an oil change.
Composition of a Travel Spindle
One of the first considerations for choosing a suspended spindle for travel is understanding that you should select one you are willing to lose or break. Things happen to even the most careful traveler. If it is a pricey spindle or one with high sentimental value, you may want to leave it at home, to spare yourself the heartbreak if you lose it.
Secondly, choose a spindle sturdy enough for travel wear-and-tear. At a minimum, your travel spindle should be able to withstand going in and out of a bag, backpack, suitcase, or purse on a regular basis.
Wooden spindles are my personal favorite because they are strong, often reasonably priced, adaptable to most travel situations, and come in a variety of shapes, weights, styles, and sizes.
Plastic spindles are a great option because they are tough. The exception is the 3D-printed spindle – until the technology or materials change, avoid leaving these in a car or anywhere hot because the heat can melt or warp your spindle.
Glass whorls or parts are at risk of chipping or shattering. Stone or clay (polymer or otherwise) whorls or parts are vulnerable to cracking if dropped on a hard surface. Seashells might snap or be crushed under the strain of travel. Resin and clear acrylic are prone to chipping but rarely shatter.
or Bottom Whorl
The handspinning community debates whether a top or bottom whorl spindle is better for travel. I have traveled with both kinds and have found that either of them do quite nicely. It comes down to what works best for you – try them both! You might be pleasantly surprised by which kind becomes your favorite for travel spinning.
I have been guilty of tossing my spindle and fibers into a plastic grocery bag and shoving it into my purse. That being said, you may want to put a little more thought and effort into a holder or carrying case for your spindle and fiber. You can purchase a fancy, specially designed holder at a fiber arts show or repurpose a container or a small drawstring bag to keep your gear organized and together. My favorites are glasses cases for small spindles or a soft, zippered pencil case for larger spindles. While fiber can be stored with your spindle, having your fiber in a separate, plastic baggie can be helpful.
How much fiber you should take with you depends on your travel plans. If small fits and spurts of spinning time are in your travel plans, take fiber in small batches. If you know you will be spending a week on vacation, you may want to take a larger amount. Generally, a good place to start is with half an ounce or an ounce (14 to 28 grams) of fiber. If you find yourself out of fiber after just a few minutes of effort, pack more the next
You can spin all forms of fiber while traveling: mini-batts, punis, rolags, roving, and top. My go-to fiber form is a little “bun” of fiber – a long strip of roving that has been twirled or coiled into what looks like a small cinnamon bun. You can also spin locks while traveling, but make sure they are super clean; you don’t want to be dealing with the vegetable matter that may accompany some locks when you are on the road.
Medium length fibers are a good place to start as long fibers can get unwieldy and short fibers can require a little more concentration to spin, and you may not be in a place that allows for intense focus. My personal favorite fiber for travel is wool, especially if the wool comes from a local fiber farmer or is breed specific, such as American Black Welsh Mountain, Shetland, or Bluefaced Leicester.
Whether you are fond of spinning plant, protein, or synthetic fibers, if you are travel spinning on a regular basis, it is possible, though rare, for your spinning fiber to felt. Felting can happen when your travel fibers have been left to tumble around in a bag or purse for a while (about a week or more). As a general rule, the finer the fiber, the more at-risk for felting. To avoid felting, take the time to check on your fiber every now and then to evaluate its overall condition. And when in doubt, change it out!
Tips: Spinning by Foot, Car, or Airplane
My personal favorite places to spin by foot are cafés, local yarn shops, libraries, parks, and any other location that has a pleasant place to sit. If you plan to spin while actually walking, be mindful of yoursurroundings to avoid running into things or getting run over by cars. Pick a walking route where there is a long stretch of straight, level ground, such as a designated bike path, a local park, or an outdoor running track.
For vehicle travel, it takes a pair of quick hands to compensate for sudden stops and sharp turns, which may interfere with your spinning. I also assume you will be a passenger – not a driver – while spinning! Buses, Uber/Lyft rides, taxis, and even trains are all great places to spin.
Drop spinning in confined spaces, such as in anairline passenger seat, in combination with the possibility of flight turbulence may be overwhelming, but if you practice, you can do it. Also, althoughI have spent many a layover spinning happily, the rules for carry-on items can and do change. Metal spindles or spindles with metal parts are sturdy but may not be allowed for air travel due to security reasons. Regardless of the spindle’s materials, if you are going to take your spindle on an airplane, take the time to check what is currently acceptable.
No matter where you choose to spin with your suspended spindles, whether on-the-go or from home, don’t be afraid to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment as you use your spindle and fibers to create a new, unique yarn.
Jacqueline Harp is a freelance writer and multimedia fiber artist who spins, felts, weaves, crochets, and knits every spare moment possible. She is also a certified Master Sorter of Wool Fibers through the State Univ. of N.Y. (Cobleskill) Sorter-Grader-Classer (SGC) Program. Her Instagram handle is foreverfiberarts.