This Tahkli Spinning How To will walk you through what you need to know to get started spinning with this tiny but powerful cotton spindle from India.
What is a Tahkli?
The tahkli is a supported spindle. This means that they are supported by something while you spin with them. It could be a table, the ground, or even your thigh.
The spindle is often stood in a shallow bowl, or a dip in the ground, to keep it from spinning away from you as you work.
Since tahklis are supported while in use, they don’t need a way to fasten the yarn to shaft while you are spinning. For this reason, not all tahklis have hooks. Instead, the yarn spirals up the shaft candy-cane fashion, and, as you spin, the yarn will “pop” over the point at the top of the shaft, adding a twist to the yarn with each “pop.” They are well-suited to spinning cotton, because they put very little pressure or tension on the yarn, and are capable of inserting a high amount of twist. Because of this, a tahkli can actually be more efficient for spinning a fine yarn, than a spinning wheel with a low ratio.
A Little Tahkli History
The tahkli comes to us from India. The word “tahkli” (takli, takali) is a Hindi word for “spindle.” Most commonly, they have a brass whorl on a metal shaft. The shaft is usually 8 or 9 inches long, and the whorl is about an inch in diameter. The bottom of the shaft has a sharp point, to reduce friction while spinning on a support surface.
The shaft is often, but not always, hooked at the top, and the ones I have seen that were made in India have a point at the highest point of the hook.
According to Stephanie Gaustad, this allows the spindle to be wedged into a split stick or cane (Y-shaped), for unwinding the yarn from the spindle after spinning. When wedged into a split stick this way, the spindle can rotate easily. There are many American-made tahklis available now, with a variety of materials – brass, glass, wood, etc. While tahklis have traditionally been used to spin cotton, any short-staple fiber that needs high twist can be spun on them.
The Spinning Motions
For either hand, the spinning motions are exactly the same – curl your ring and pinkie finger against your palm as you pick up the tahkli and hold the shaft between your thumb and first two fingers. Hold it below the hook, or at the tip if it does not have a hook. Let the back of your ring finger rest against the spindle shaft. This creates a brake that you can use to stop the spindle and help create tension to draft against for any stubborn. spots. Have the spindle stand at a 60-70 degree angle, leaning slightly towards your fiber supply. This ensures that the yarn will draft off the tip of the spindle at an angle that allows for the best transfer of twist to your yarn. Squeeze your index finger and thumb together as you roll the shaft forward towards the tip of your index finger. With practice, this becomes a “flick” of your finger and thumb; your thumb moving forward and your index finger moves backwards. It doesn’t have to be a super quick motion – a smooth, even flick is more useful than a lightning-quick one that begins or ends with a jerk. The direction of spin (clockwise for the right hand, or counter-clockwise for the left hand) encourages the spindle shaft to rest in the space between your middle and ring finger while it spins.
An alternate method of holding the spindle while it is spinning is to use the crook of your ring and pinkie finger. For “braking” the spindle, you simply squeeze the shaft with your pinkie. I can use the alternate method if I am spindling with the spindle in my lap or on my thigh. But if I am holding the spindle beside me, it creates too much tension on my wrist, and I prefer to use the first method I mentioned above.
This all assumes that you are holding the spindle on your lap, or beside your thigh, or in any manner that allows the tip of your spindle to be lower than your fiber supply, which is usually kept below shoulder level. This is normally found to be the most comfortable position for your body, particularly your neck, as well as the shoulder of your fiber supply-holding arm. Once you lean your spindle 60-70 degrees towards your fiber supply, the yarn comes off the tip of the spindle at a 35-40 degree angle, which is optimal for twist transfer. It has been my experience that if the yarn comes off the tip at an angle that is less than 25 degrees, or over 50 degrees, it starts behaving in less than desirable ways, wrapping around the tip, or unwinding the leader.
Keep the spirals of the yarn on the shaft close together, angled at 35-40 degrees (refer to image above).
After you have drafted an arm’s length of yarn, you will need to pinch off the twist at the fiber supply and continue to spin without drafting to give the yarn strength. Too much twist will make the yarn stiff and brittle… too little twist will allow the yarn to drift apart easily when any pressure is put on it. While adding this final, strengthening twist, you will feel the yarn contract, or shorten, a bit, as more twist is inserted. At this point, I will pull my hands apart (one hand holding the spindle shaft, and the other holding the end of the yarn I just spun) to test the strength of the newly spun length of yarn. If everything feels good and strong, I wind the length onto the spindle. To do this, cup your spinning hand’s fingers around the shaft of the spindle, and pull back with your drafting hand to unwind the spiral on the shaft. Next, turn the spindle in your spinning hand to wind the yarn into a cop, being sure to leave enough yarn to spiral back up the shaft to the tip. Often, I will turn the spindle upside down while winding on, so that the whorl is above my hand, allowing me to quickly turn the spindle and wrap up the yarn.
Tahklis are Worth the Effort
I hope this tahkli spinning how to was helpful to you. I often tell my students that learning to spin on a tahkli is like learning to spin all over again. So be patient with yourself, and expect this to take a few days to start feeling “right.” The rewards are well worth the effort, though! Once you know how to spin on a tahkli, it will improve your spinning across the board, giving you more control and finesse in all your handspinning, no matter the tool. The tahkli is also a great stepping stone to spinning on a charkha or great wheel.
Andrea Mielke Schroer
Recommended Reading for more info on tahklis and cotton spinning:
The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning Alden Amos, Interweave Press.
Handspindles Bette Hochberg, Self-published
A Handspindle Treasury, Interweave Press (some, but not all, of these articles are the same as those in the Spring 1995 Spin-Off, listed below)
Handspinning Cotton Olive and Harry Linder
One-Minute Tahkli Tip Andrea Mielke Schroer, Summer 2012 Spin-Off Magazine
Reprints of Bette Hochberg’s Articles Bette Hochberg, Self-published
Spindle Spinning, Connie Delaney, Kokovoko Press
Spin-Off Magazine, Spring 1995 (whole issue devoted to spindles)