Making a Spindle, Cord Templates and More

Written by Alice Rotsztain for Portland Textile Club. Thanks to our sponsors for Plarn Lab: Scrap PDX and Make+Think+Code@PNCA.

This tutorial will show you how to make a home-made spindle for spinning plarn, circle templates for making cords, and other useful accessories.

Both hand-made and laser-cut versions are covered for most tools. If you’re going the laser route, download the laser-cut file (with instructions) for the spindle, cord templates, and bobbin set. Read the Tablet Loom tutorial first, for tips on getting started with laser cutting.

image of 3 cord-making templates and spindle pieces
Clockwise from Top-Left: bobbins, 7-length cord template, found CD for Spindle, 15-length cord template, chunky 7-legth cord template, laser-cut spindle base.

Home-Made Spindle

A DIY spindle can be made with simple materials to help you spin plarn at home. See the plarn primer article to learn more about the types and uses for spun plarn.

A spindle is basically a weighted object (often a round disk) that you can use to create a spinning motion. This motion helps you twist fiber quicker and more easily than if you were using your fingers.

 

CD Spindle DIY:

To prevent wobble, a spindle must be balanced in weight. A CD is basically a well-balanced, round disk. You can follow this tutorial for how to make a spindle using two CDs and some items found at a hardware store.

Replacing Purchased Materials with Trash:

image of CD spindle made with trash
CD Spindle with a cork as grommet, a chopstick dowel and a paperclip hook.
  • I made a decent-working spindle following the above tutorial, swapping out the materials listed with trash I found at home: replacing the dowel with a disposable chopstick, the eyelet with a bent paperclip, and the rubber grommet with a carefully sliced wine cork.
  • The weight of the cork allowed me to use only one CD; with this, I was able to spin most types of plarn, but I had issues with thicker plastic films. Two CDs are ideal, but if you only have one CD and need more weight, you can tape four pennies to the bottom of your CD. Do this carefully, in an even cross shape, so you don’t throw off the balance of your spindle.
image of adding pennies to the CD for extra weight
Adding pennies to the CD adds extra weight.

Laser-Cut Version, Removable Base to Convert to Bobbin:

While working on the CD spindle, I was also prototyping a lazy kate. I thought a useful improvement would be a spindle with a bobbin that I could easily convert to using with the kate. See the last section to read more about this. A bobbin is another name for a spool (a way to keep your thread/yarn organized).

image of chopstick bobbin used in spindle
(L) The “chopstick bobbin”: used in the spindle (Middle) and (R) with the spindle base and hook removed, holding spun plarn.

I added a bobbin to my spindle, that sits on top of the base disk, to catch sections of spun plarn neatly while spinning.

image of the laser-cut spindle
The laser-cut spindle with a bobbin above the disk.

My laser-cut version borrowed some of the same items from my all-trash CD spindle:

  • bent paper clip hook
  • the chopstick dowel
  • 4 pennies as weights

Assembling the Laser-Cut Spindle with Bobbin:

image of all pieces and supplies needed for spindle
Supplies: (L) Chopstick, masking tape, glue; (Middle row of 3, top to bottom): bobbin pieces (2) and stopper (1); (R Top) paperclip and 4 pennies; (R Bottom) the 3 spindle disks (shown stacked and glued together).
  • Line up all three pieces of the bottom disk so that the four notches match.
  • Use a starch-based glue (Nori or Yes paste) to glue the pieces together to form one thicker disk. Allow to dry fully.
image of 4 pennies on the spindle disk
Aligning 4 pennies in a cross formation for balanced weight.
  • Carefully align four pennies in a cross shape at the bottom of your disk, and tape with masking tape.
image of the paperclip before and after bending
(L) paperclip (R) bent paperclip
  • Take a small paperclip and bend the inside and outside loops apart in opposite directions. Set aside with the smaller loop facing up.

AttachedDisks.jpg

  • Take one chopstick, with the sharp side pointed down, and slide your two bobbin pieces all the way towards the top.
  • Next, slide on the disk with the pennies taped to the bottom.
  • Slide on your stopper piece below the disk; fit it snug against the bottom of the disk.
image collage of the paperclip position on spindle
(L) Showing the paperclip with the small loop as the hook, the opening right at the top of the stick, and the bottom loop against the stick. (R Top) The other side view showing tape tucked under hook. (R Bottom) The hook wrapped in tape to prevent snags.
  • Take your unfolded paperclip and attach it to the top (blunt end of chopstick), with the smaller loop forming a hook that just meets the top of the stick. Secure the larger loop to the stick with masking tape, and wrap it completely in tape so that it is not exposed.

Attaching a Length of Plarn to the Spindle:

image collage showing how to thread plarn on spindle
(L Top) Plarn wrapped around the base, below the bottom bobbin piece and secured in notch. (L Bottom) Base pushed down to trap plarn between disks; the rest is fed through top-bobbin notch. (R) Plarn wrapped through and secured in the hook.
  • Take a length of plarn, wrap one end below the bottom piece of your bobbin.
  • Slide the plarn through the notch in the bobbin, then secure by pushing the bottom-bobbin piece down, against the disk to trap it.
  • Continue feeding it through the top-bobbin notch, and then wrap around the hook, across and back up, to catch in the hook.
  • Use the bobbin to neatly catch sections of spun plarn as you spin.

You’re all set to spin some plarn! Revisit the Getting Started with Plarn in Textiles article to see instructions for spinning and plying and uses for spun plarn.

Cord-Making Templates

A hand-cut, cardboard template for making a 7-stranded cord can be made by following this Instructable.

Laser-cut Versions

After following this tutorial to make a 7-strand plarn cord, I wanted to see if I could improve on this idea for my laser-cut versions.

  • When making the cord, I found that sometimes the knots in my looped plarn would catch in the cut slits; a slightly wider slit would help this.
  • I also noticed that the finished cord was thin, and I wanted to make a thicker cord. I found 2 solutions:
    • One solution was to make a double cord (15-strand instead of 7-strand)
    • The other solution was to use thicker plarn for the strands (made from wider-cut loops: 3 loops per plastic bag). I needed a template with a bigger hole and notches to allow using thicker plarn.
image of 3 types of cord templates and the cords produced
(Left Image) Clockwise from (L): Original 7-Strand Cord, A Double 15-Strand Cord, 7-Strand Cord for Thick Plarn. (Right Image) closeup of the cords produced from the 3 templates.

Tips on Cord-Making:

  • Follow the weaving instructions shown in the Instructable; For the 7-stand cords, the count number is always 3; for the double cord (not in the above directions) use a count of 7 instead.
  • To customize your own cords, you can use the following formula:
    •  Total number of slots divided by 2 minus 1 = your strand weaving count.
      • For the 7-strand, count to 3 (total number of slots (8) divided by 2 = 4 minus 1 = 3).
      • For the 15-strand, count to 7 (total number of slots (16) divided by 2 =8 minus 1 = 7).

marker.jpg

  • Use a marker and write your count number, and draw an arrow to note which direction you are going. When you put your template down it’s easy to lose track; the arrow will help you find your place again.
  • Long lengths of plarn are hard to work with (the lengths tangle up). Instead of pre-looped plarn lengths, use 7 (or 15) single loops (cut from a plastic bag) in each of the slots to start. When you run out of material, chain on another set of loops to the existing set. This saves you from pre-making plarn lengths, and the shorter sets are easier to manage.
  • Check out this Instructable if you want to use basic geometry to make a simmilar tool.
image of back of circle template for cordage
One plastic loop is used in each of the 7 slots (not long lengths of plarn). Shorter lengths are easier to manage.

Other Useful Tools

image of some useful tools to use with plarn
(Clockwise from Upper Left) clamshell boxes used to organize plarn, produce ties, sticks, weaving needles (horizontal), and an improvised needle from paperclip.

Sticks and Needles

There are many uses for sticks cut from cardboard:

  • shed stick (see the Tablet Loom tutorial on how this is used)
  • pickup stick (see the Box Loom tutorial on how this is used)
  • organizing plarn lengths (by cutting 2 notches to attach your ends)
  • weaving needle (by adding a pointed tip and cutting a notch)
  • beating stick for tightening up your weaving rows

Paperclip Needle

In a jam, not having the right size needle for plarn, you can simply bend a paperclip to form a needle: either with a loop in the middle (above photo) or with a hook at the end (photo below). These styles work better with plarn than a needle with an eye to thread. Slipping the plarn in the hook or loop makes working with knots much easier.

I use the hook needle by threading the thin end through the tight space (in my basket coil), with the hook opening aiming downwards. I slip my plarn into the hook and pull the needle down (taking the plarn with it). By keeping the hook facing down, I have better control and avoid snagging the side of my basket by accident.

image of a paperclip needle
Using a DIY paperclip hook needle to sew plarn in sections of a coil basket. (L) The beginning of a coiled basket. (R) The hook needle, showing a piece of plarn in the hook.

Using Recycling Rejects

Plastic clamshell containers and produce ties are two recycling rejects in Portland’s curbside service. They are handy to keep as organizing tools for plarn projects.

Update 4/05/2019: Since taking the Master Recycling course, I’ve learned that technically, if you are very committed and you ball up all your produce ties in a metal can, you can put it in curbside, since the metal wire can get recycled. However, loose, due to its size and shape would be problematic for the sorting machines. But, since reuse is more beneficial for the environment than recycling, I say, if you can find a use for it, reclaim it from waste.

image of many uses for recycled produce tie as twist ties
(Clockwise from Upper Left) The all-purpose produce tie: for tying skeins of plarn for weaving, bundles of off-cut strips for coiled baskets (or pom poms), and strand sets (7 and 15) for cordage.

Hanging Dowel for Continuous-cut Plarn

Using a dowel to support a plastic bag you can quickly cut continuous plarn. See the Getting Started with Plarn in Textiles to learn more about plarn, its many types, and also see a video on this dowel technique.

By attaching the dowel to a hanger (with s-hooks, produce ties and a rubber band on one side) you have a way to hang the dowel. Leaving one side of the dowel unfastened and hanging in the s-hook, allows for easy placement of the plastic bag.

DowelPlarnCutter.jpg

image of a hanger-dowel support to cut plarn.
Cutting continuous plarn with the hanger-dowel support.

Still To-Do: Lazy Kate and Rope Maker

Two tools with the potential to speed up making plied plarn are a lazy kate and a rope maker. I don’t have instructions for these, as I have only started the prototypes. Still, since I think there’s good use for these tools, I want to share my notes.

Modular Spindle to Lazy Kate Idea:

For the lazy kate, a time-saving feature would be to use the chopstick bobbin taken from the spindle tool. This would make the act of spinning plarn singles to plying plarn seamless (save unwinding from the spindle and rewinding onto a lazy kate).

The basic idea is to have a bunch of “chopstick bobbins” as the base for both the spindle and lazy kate.

chopstickBobbin.jpg

image of lazy kate with chopstick bobbins
A prototype of a cardboard lazy kate using the chopstick bobbins.
  • When spinning plarn, use the bobbin to hold spun singles.
  • When finished, remove the base disk of the spindle and the paperclip hook.
  • Take this new bobbin of spun plarn and place it in the lazy kate.
  • Attach your spindle base and hook to a new chopstick bobbin, and you’re ready to spin again.

Some models for DIY lazy kates from the internet:

Rope Maker: Leonardo-style and Gear Based

There are two styles of rope maker: a simple hand-crank Leonardo-style maker and a more sophisticated one based on gears. Both are useful, the latter only possible with laser-cutting and much more complex to build. For this reason, I will focus on the Leonardo-style:

  • For the Leonardo-style, the main mechanism is a simple turning block.
  • The crank mechanism should be able to fit into a hand drill to speed up turning.
  • These items are best made from wood, not cardboard, due to the tension put on the tool.

That’s it on the list of helpful plarn tools. Happy Plarning!

Check out more tutorials: Getting Started with Plarn in Textiles, Making the Tablet Loom, and Making the Box Loom.

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