Spinning on a Tahkli Spindle
The directions I give show me spinning fur from my cat Vincent, so this is also a small tutorial on spinning cat hair, with tips for working with cat hair down at the bottom.
A tahkli spindle is a lightweight support spindle, usually made of metal, with a pointed hook at the top and a small whorl at the bottom. Support spindles are meant for spinning thread from short stapled fibers. I've used mine to spin not only the cat fur shown in these pictures, but also fibers such as cashmere, vicuna, and cotton.
When you buy your tahkli, you'll probably also be tempted to buy one of those small bowls with the dimple in the bottom intended for use with a support spindle. Unless you just think those things are gorgeous, don't bother buying one. I tried supporting my tahkli in all kinds of bowls when I first got it, but I quickly found that there was no way to "rest" the spindle while I was drafting. Setting it against the side of the bowl only makes it start to turn backwards, unraveling what you've spun. So what I do is spin on my knee (when wearing jeans or other closely woven clothes, otherwise I use the nearest hard surface) and then I tuck the spindle between my knees while drafting.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here are the steps for using a support spindle:
1. Attach a leader just like you would for any other spindle. I like to use a finely spun wool singles. However, if you don't have a leader or don't want to use one made from a different fiber, take a tuft of the fiber you'll be spinning, draft it out carefully, and roll it up your knee to spin it into a lumpy but serviceable leader. Make sure to roll the fiber from your knee up towards your hip; if you go down from hip to knee you'll be twisting it the wrong way. Tie the leader below the whorl and twirl the spindle so that the leader twists up the shaft and goes under the hook.
2. Join your fiber to the leader as you would with any other spindle. Then, holding the fiber firmly at the join, set the end of the spindle on your knee or wherever you have decided to spin it, and give it a good twist (to the right). Hold your finger and thumb around the spindle as it spins to keep it from falling over or wobbling too much.
|My left hand is holding the fiber firmly (the fiber is tucked inside my hand, with my last two fingers holding it in place). My right hand is around but not holding the spindle as it spins on the table.|
3. When the spinning slows, stop the spindle and tuck it between your knees. Now you have both hands free to draft your fiber out, using all the pent-up twist you've just spun. Draft until the twist doesn't run up into the fiber instantly, then close your fingers to stop the twist from moving into the fiber any further and start the process again.
|The spindle is tucked between my knees, leaving both hands free to draft the twist into the fiber.|
It's simple, and don't feel that you're being lazy just because you're not drafting with your fiber hand while your spindle hand is around the spinning spindle. With practice it's possible to do this, but for most fibers you need to do a lot of predrafting. I find my way gives me a good result and is quite quick.
A tip: After you've spun a length of thread and want to wind it onto the shaft, give the spindle a quick extra spin--not so much as to put kinks into your newly spun thread, but just enough to put a tiny bit of extra twist into it. This ensures that you don't have any weakly spun areas that will drift apart later when you're unwinding the thread from the spindle.
|The spindle with as much cat fur as I could stand to spin in one sitting. I later plied it with dog fur from my Newfoundland dog, Jasper.|
Preparing and Using Cat Fur for Spinning:
Not all cat fur is possible to spin. I have two cats, Vincent and Angel. I can spin Vincent's hair just like angora (but slightly shorter stapled), but Angel's fur is too short to spin. I've tried, and while I have managed to get short lengths of yarn from her fur, it's scratchy and unpleasant to the touch, and tends to pull apart no matter how much twist I put into it. If you have a short-haired cat and really want to try spinning his or her fur, I recommend blending the fur with a soft, longer stapled fiber such as alpaca.
|You can really see the difference between Angel's undercoat (left) and Vincent's (right). You can also see Vincent's toes and a lot of his fuzz (still attached to Vincent). I should admit that Vincent's fur is actually long enough that I've successfully spun it on a lightweight (1 oz) drop spindle.|
Harvesting cat fur is done with a comb or the fingers. You don't want to cut it because it shortens the fiber and gives it a prickly end, not to mention the weird way your cat would look. You'd have to explain to all your friends that your boyfriend isn't mad at you and didn't shave your cat. Anyway, I've found a flea comb to be most effective in removing loose undercoat; slicker brushes, even ones made for cats, just won't grab the fur securely enough to remove it effectively. But the best way I've found to remove undercoat--and I generally can only do this in spring when Vincent's shedding--is just to grab a tuft of fur and tug it out. It comes out in locks (as in the picture above), leaving most of the longer, coarser guard hairs behind. Your cat may be different, though; Vincent has lots of fuzz.
Cat fur felts extremely easily! Be careful how you handle and store it. I put Vincent's gathered fur loosely into a paper bag until I have time to spin it all at once, because once it's on the spindle you can't leave it there long or it will felt into a spindle-shaped lump even if you don't touch it. After removing it from the spindle, I either ply it immediately or (if I'm going to work with it as singles) I wind it into a very loose skein. Cat fur won't need washing. If for some reason your cat fur is dirty, wait and wash the finished piece.
Use the fur in a project as soon as possible. If you must store it, store it as a loosely tied skein and make sure you take it out and check it (gently) every single day. If you see signs of felting, use it immediately. I can't be more adamant about this felting problem.
Once you've made your garment, don't worry about the felting. It will felt, but it will be a lovely, soft, fuzzy felt that will stay the same size.
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