The cheapest way to spin yarn is to twist it up with your fingers, of course, but it’s awkward and would take nearly forever so what’s the next step up?
If you are hoping to get slightly more advanced than just your fingers and fiber, you have some options to choose from to get started spinning yarn cheaply. We’ll go over both equipment and fiber.
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Use a drop spindle
Pros: cheap to start with, can DIY one, portable, can be used while waiting
Cons: limited yarn per spindle, takes some time to learn to go with any speed, best for yarns without add ins, hard to use for plying
The cheapest way to spin will be with a spindle, the cost of which ranges from around $11-75. I have the basic beginner one that is $11 and it works just fine.
There are a few options, such as top whorl or bottom whorl, and tons of shape and pattern options, if one catches your eye, but since we are talking low cost, the budget drop spindle is hard to beat.
While I have to admit, I’m not much of a spindle person, at least for right now, many woolcrafters love spindles and some crafters even use them to make a living.
Take a look at Woven Wool Art on Etsy, which is a Ukrainian shop that makes wool items like blankets, rugs, pillows and wearables using spindles.
There is also a link to a video showing the process and the shop owner doing some weaving on a floor loom. Plus, the scenery there is lovely!
Should You Learn To Spin On A Wheel Or a Spindle? is my article that goes over the pros and cons of learning to spin on each.
There are two types of spindles, drop and supported
To be clear, there are two types of spindles, drop and supported, I’m suggesting drop spindles since they are smaller and less expensive to purchase or make.
If you have the inclination, you could purchase a supported spindle, but these tend to be a bit more expensive and are less likely to be something you would DIY, unless you are into woodcrafting.
Use a homemade a spindle
While purchased spindles are low cost, especially compared to a wheel, if you really want to go cheap make a homemade spindle, since you can find nearly all the parts for them around your house already.
Here are some examples of DIY spindles and their costs:
Make Your Own Drop Spindle-The Joy of Handspinning
DIY Drop Spindles-Back To Our Roots (these folks made three spindles for $3.03!)
DIY Drop Spindle: How to Make a Drop Spindle at Home-Heart Hook Homespun (this author has a DIY option that is completely homemade, even the hook!)
Make sure your spindle has some weight to it. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you would want but it’s the spinning weight that makes the yarn twist.
The lighter the spindle, the less twist it can put into yarn before you need to get it going again. But a spindle that is a bit heavier will twist more yarn per spin, so you want a bit of weight to it.
Borrow the spinning equipment
Pros: free to get started, have a knowledgeable person on hand to ask for help
Cons: finding someone to borrow from if you are a lone wool enthusiast in your area
Another way to get started spinning cheaply is to use borrowed equipment. Most folks that spin have started with one wheel or spindle and have expanded into more, especially with the spindles.
Right now I have my original wheel sitting here doing nothing while I learn to use my new wheel.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with the original wheel. The new wheel is very different in the yarns I can spin with it, so the things that I want to spin right now are lining up with using the new wheel.
I’m not alone in this, most of the fiber enthusiasts around you will also have accumulated extra equipment through out their spinning journey.
Could you use their extra spindle or wheel to get started? Even if you paid a small rental fee, it would be tons less than buying your own and would give you the option to switch to something else later.
Could you trade for the fiber or use of the equipment?
This is somewhat related to the borrowing idea, but could you trade for the use of the wheel or spindles?
For instance, could you trade mowing lawn for using a wheel or a set of spindles? What about weeding or raking leaves or cleaning the garage?
Obviously, not all folks who have extra wheels or spindles will be open to trading work for use of their equipment, but some will be. Ask around.
Use local low cost or free fiber
Pros: much of the commercial wool is not sold, it’s tossed out
Cons: only available at shearing, may not be wool you prefer, you do all the fiber prep work
Cheap yarn comes from cheap fiber sources and not a whole lot gets cheaper than free. Where can you get free fiber, specifically wool?
Right now, just about any sheep farm that does not have high value wool (fine wool or sheep selected specifically as a spinner’s flock producing specialty fiber) is tossing out their whole wool clip. No joke.
We are a sheep farm, commercial white faced ewes with your standard issue medium wool and we have no where that is worth our gas to take the wool so the vast majority of it gets tossed into a pile to rot.
I do keep a few fleeces every year to play with (okay, okay it’s more like 4 or 5), but the rest are just hauled out of the barn.
With the wool prices as low as they are, this is becoming more common than you may think. Most any local sheep farm in your area has wool available after shearing, ask about it if you want cheap fiber.
Of course, this will be raw fleeces, so you’ll get debris, probably a few dags (dangling dried poo) and have to skirt then wash and process (comb or card) the fleece yourself, but it will be low cost!
Using Unicorn Power Scour For Washing Raw Wool is my article that goes through the steps of washing a straight off the sheep fleece.
Buy bulk prepared fiber
Pros: lots of choices, will be shipped directly to you, no prep work needed
Cons: cash upfront, cost to ship, may be out of fiber you want
Buying larger bags of prepared (ready to spin) fiber is a better deal per ounce than buying the smaller amounts.
Go with the more plain options, like undyed wool of a commonly used breed since those wools will be lower cost per ounce.
Occasionally you can get a deal on a version of the wool that is not as popular, like a Humbug (mix of naturally colored and white that makes stripes) vs white. Just make sure that both bags are the same size.
If they are the same breed and one is less expensive per ounce than the other, save yourself some money and get the cheaper one since they will spin nearly the same.
7 Places To Get Wool For Handspinning is my article that gives you some ideas on sourcing your wool.
Less than $50 to get started spinning with spindle and wool
If you are willing to put forward a smaller amount of cash, less than $50, you can get the basic spindle, a bag of ready to use fiber and the shipping to your door all for less than $50.
The reason I put in this section, since it is more money than getting free raw wool, is that preparing a fleece to spin takes time and effort.
If you are looking to get started right away or just want to do a bit less work, yet still get started for lower initial costs, choosing a lower priced ready to use fiber is a great option.
I tend to buy from The Woolery. From what I have seen, they have the best prices on wool per ounce compared to the other shops in the U.S.
Make yarn with more common wool
Anytime you choose an unusual breed specific wool or a wool that is the superior in fineness or whatever the characteristic is, you can expect to pay more for that wool.
The cheaper answer here is to get something similar but not as expensive to work with instead.
For example, for a Merino combed top, go with a more common micron count of 21 or so rather than a super or ultra fine that are going to be much more expensive, since ultra fine wool harder to produce.
This is what I am spinning right now, a higher micron Merino, and it is wonderful to use. I know that for Merino it is not all that remarkable, but for ease of use and making great yarn, it’s pretty close to perfect.
Not to mention about half of the price of the hard to produce ultra fine combed top. Which I’m sure is wonderful and something I hope to work up to, but I’m not there yet.
Use undyed fiber rather than dyed
Also, the way to keep costs down is to use white or whatever color the wool comes in, rather than buying dyed wool or dyed blends.
Dyed wool is quite a bit more expensive than the plain white, to the tune of around twice the cost.
It does save you the bother of dyeing the wool or yarn yourself, but if this is about getting stared for a lower cost, go with white.
For instance, let’s consider some Corriedale combed top.
I just looked up dyed Corriedale top, which is $11.99 per 100 grams ($0.12 per gram). The white (undyed) Corriedale is $18.99 for 250 grams ($0.076 per gram), which is 2.5 times as much wool for another $7.
This makes the white wool just over half (63% to be exact) of the cost of the dyed wool. In this case, the cheapest way to spin wool per ounce is going with the undyed wool.
Steer clear of fancier blended fibers
If you are looking to spin a more reasonably priced yarn, steer clear of the fancier blended fibers that also significantly more expensive per ounce.
Most spinning supply stores offer some really interesting blends, as well. I’m working with a Merino and silk now, it’s lovely and wow is it silky, but it’s also priced accordingly.
Use a plant based fiber
Pros: lots of fiber for the money, no local source
Cons: needs purchased, shipping costs, may not be in stock, no bounce
Another option for spinning is to use a plant based fiber, sometimes exclusively and sometimes in place of a protein (animal sourced) fiber to get similar results from a substitute to an expensive option.
For instance, there is faux cashmere, a synthetic fiber that mimics actual cashmere. The faux cashmere is nylon and is $13.99 for 250 grams, compared to real cashmere which is $43.99 for 100 grams.
Will it be exact? I doubt it, but close, maybe so. I have not used plant fiber or faux fibers, so I can’t say for sure. If I had to guess, it will feel similar, but will not perform the same (faux won’t be as warm).
The down side of plant based fiber is that you will not be able to get this for free from the fiber producing farm as an unused side product, like the commercial sheep’s wool mentioned above.
For this stuff, you would have to order it and pay the going price.
The other challenge of plant based fibers is that you are not going to get any of the bounce or memory that wool would give you, which may be fine, depending upon your planned project.
The exception would be something that you could grow your own, like flax, but once again, how much of a deal is it when you have all that effort into making your own when you could just buy some?
Unless, of course, you want the experience of making fiber from flax, then that sounds interesting.
But if it’s just for the saving a few bucks, I have to think that you’ll be better off to buy the ready to spin flax and use your time on something else.