Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Coast Salish Spindle

[Photo: Coast Salish whorls at the
Royal BC Museum]
I have been spending some time investigating the Coast Salish Spindle with the idea of having a friend make me one and thought I would share some of what I have found. 

The Coast Salish spindle was used mainly by the Coast Salish of Vancouver Island (e.g. Snuneymuxw , Quwutsun, Tsartlip) and the mainland Coast Salish (e.g. Musqueam, Yale, Spuzzum). The Coast Salish Spindle is distinguished from other spindles, not only due to its size: the spindle shaft usually measures 90-120 cms (35-48”) and the whorl is commonly 18-20 cms (7-8”), but also due to its method of use –tossing into the air (more on this in a later blog...once I have had a chance to figure out how that worked).

The whorl, often made from Maple wood (have you ever seen those beautiful Maple trees in Cowichan Bay?), is placed either midway up the shaft or between half-way and two thirds down the shaft. The shaft is tapered with the larger end at the bottom. The whorl is often decorated by incised carving on one side of the whorl, the side facing down towards the spinner. The upper side of the whorl is sometimes flat or slightly concave. On many whorls the center shaft hole is thicker than the surrounding wood, tapering down to a thinner outer edge of the whorl.

[Photo: Salish spindle on display at
the Royal BC Museum]
The Salish spindle was used for spinning goat wool mixed with dog hair from the Salish Wool Dog. The yarn created was a thick yarn used for blankets. Later the spindle was used for yarns used in the Cowichan sweater industry.

There are a few things about this spindle that I find intriguing: its size; the way it is held; the method of tossing and turning; the use of a tension ring to add the tension to the drafting process. Intriguing enough to try to recreate one and to try it out. I will let you know how it works.
Edited to suggest a great book on the history of Salish Wool and sweaters:
Working with Wool, a Coast Salish Legacy . Although it looks at the history of the Cowichan Sweaters, it covers the history of the wool too.


  1. I'm fascinated with these spindles as well. I have a large page of images and information over at

    I would like to make one as well. I finally got a hole cutter so that I can easily make a round whorl of the size required. I'll probably clean it up with a bit of lathe turning after.

    Where did you find the information about how it is held, the tensioning ring, etc.? I have yet to read up on that.

    - Lisa C.
    Gripping Yarn

  2. Hey Lisa,
    I have seen your flicker site, but not your blog, nor the wiki site. So thanks for commenting so I could connect with you and your sites, it is great to meet up virtually with another spindler. Nice spindles on your blog, by the way. Works of art!
    I found the info on how it is held in an article written in 1916 (if I remember it correctly) by a textile expert who visited the NW Coast and wrote about it (Mary Kissell, A New Type of Spinning in N.A.). Take it with a grain of salt as she visited only for a few days. I am doing a research project on this and have much more research to do to validate it. Check out my blog on the Coast Salish Wool dog and look closely at the Paul Kane painting and you can see someone holding the spindle in the background with the yarn going up to the tension ring.