Dubbing/Spinning Loop Intro

Here’s a little introductory piece on dubbing loops (BTW, I generally prefer to use the term “spinning loops” since I grew up using waaay more than just dubbing with this technique). Dubbing/spinning loops are an integral part of my fly-tying skill base, and they offer vast design latitude. Below you’ll find both text instruction and an attached vid, which is a little QuickTime-based slice from a tying-kit DVD I did a few years back.

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The real key with getting the most from dubbing/spinning loops is to view them as *design tools,* not skills that are locked into a set of patterns. In other words, use them as you see fit, wherever they’ll give you an advantage. With that in mind, I have a “boilerplate” dubbing/spinning loop definition that I use widely: A dubbing/spinning loop is a loop of material(s) into which fibers are inserted and the loop twisted shut. The twisting creates either a dense “dubbing noodle” and/or a three-dimensional (3-D) hackle, depending upon the type(s) of fibers used. The loop can be made from thread, yarn, or any other material(s) that can be made into a twistable loop. The fibers in the loop can be dubbing, hair, feathers or just about any other fibrous material(s). What follows are instructions for forming a basic, thread-only dubbing loop. I’ve set this up as a “tying exercise,” not a set pattern.

(1) Make the loop and take the thread over the loop; (2) Take the thread around behind the loop; (3) Bring the thread back up to the hook shank and lock the loop down.

Get a hook in the vise and wrap the front half of the hook shank with thread, ending at the middle of the shank. This is an easy position on the hook from which to work on your loop skills. Pull approximately six inches of thread from your bobbin, and place a finger of your materials hand in the center of the length of thread (try using your pointer or middle finger). Now bring the bobbin back up to the hook shank (this makes a loop shape) and take a wrap of thread just forward of the loop. This forms a basic, completed loop of thread—a little too basic, however. We need to “lock” this loop, so, (1) take the bobbin (and the thread) back over the top of the loop (this in on your side of the hook), and then (2) around under the loop, bringing the thread back up at (3) the front of the loop. Take a couple more wraps around the hook shank. This locks the top of the loop shut, which allows for a better end result. The dubbing loop can be kept open and as you prepare materials to insert into it by either using a dubbing loop tool (see the video for an example), or by simply by placing the loop around a knob, lever, etc. on your vise until the materials are ready.

At this point, the loop can filled with a variety of materials, twisted tight, and wrapped forward to create a dubbed body, a hackle, or any of a variety of other useful effects. The fine details of dubbing loops and the variations of materials that can be used could fill a small book, but I’ll keep it basic for this post. So, we’re going to look only at the creation of a thread loop, using a basic dubbing-type of material in that loop. This will allow you to start working with loops and get some confidence, and then begin to go for more complex variations later (there are heaps of articles and books out there that have dubbing-loop-based patterns, and a web search will turn up many more, too).

I suggest practicing forming dubbing loops of various sizes and at various positions on the hook until you are feeling comfortable with the process. Try making larger loops (use seven, eight, or more inches of thread to start), and smaller loops (try four or five inches of thread to start). And try making those various loops loops at the rear of the hook, the front of hook, and other places in-between. Once you can make dubbing loops quickly wherever you want them and however large you want them, you’re on the road toward making this skill really useful.

Note: This illustration is shown with dubbing in the loop, as well as longer fibers, ready to make the thoracic area of a basic mayfly nymph. I’m using this illustration for two reasons 1) It gives you a hint about how to do more advanced techniques (dubbing + 3-D hackle); and 2) I’m lazy! I just scanned some of my old illustrations from GB’s Designing Trout Flies book, published back in 1991. With that disclosure out of the way, here’s what you need to know: (4) Use your thumb and forefinger to hold the fibers that you’ll insert into the loop (or use a clip of some sort if you prefer tools); (5) Insert the fibers into the loop and get some tension on the loop so you can more-easily spread the fibers out; (6) Twist the loop tight to create a dubbing “noodle” or “3-D hackle” (or both, as the case my be).

Before you start stuffing your loops full of various fibers (4), take some time to practice with easier stuff like dubbing (see the video for an example of this). The key to getting fibers to sit properly in the loop—and to allow them to be moved more easily in the loop—before the loop is twisted tight, is tension. That tension can be provided by fingers or a tool, but it needs to be there (5). If the loop is under tension and the two strands of the loop are relatively tight against one another (in other words, a closed loop, but not yet twisted), it makes handling of materials much easier. So, practice not only forming and handling loops, but also keeping them under tension after you insert materials.

Handling fibers in the loop can still be a tough thing if you are not used to doing so or if the fibers have a slick surface. Until you get used to handling various materials, you may wish to insert the fibers and then close the loop and give it a half-twist to provide some extra tension. And, when adjusting the position of fibers in the loop (up or down), just touch them lightly with your fingertips as you slowly move your hand up or down along the length of the loop (5, again). This will allow the fibers to be spread out slowly and easily, versus being pulled out of position or potentially being pulled free of the loop.

Once it is time to twist the loop tight (6), you have two options: clockwise or counterclockwise (when looking at the loop end-on from the bottom). I will use either direction depending on what I’m doing, but for this basic discussion, counterclockwise will be the direction of twisting. This helps to keep the loop nicely closed as it is wrapped forward.

As far as wrapping forward goes, make sure that you brush back (with your fingers) any previously wrapped dubbing or 3-D hackle before taking subsequent wraps. This prevents the forward-oriented parts of the dubbing or 3-D hackle from getting trapped under those wraps. Once you get faster with dubbing/spinning loops, you will likely find that you can do the wrap-and-brush-back sequence very quickly. When you’ve wrapped your dubbing or 3-D hackle forward to the needed point, tie-off the loop and admire your handiwork (see the sequence below). Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move onto the video clip….

Above: (left) An example of a dubbing/spinning loop that has been wrapped forward. (middle) Since this fly incorporates a wing-case, the 3-D hackle is pushed down and out of the way to avoid trapping fibers under the case. (right) The wingcase is pulled forward and the fly finished (in this example, the legs have also been trimmed off the bottom of the fly to make a cleaner profile).

The clip below does double-duty, showing how to create and use a basic, thread-only dubbing loop (with coarse dubbing), while also showing a basic (but effective) pattern that can be created with that dubbing. You’ll see me using certain tools, too. They were part of the kit that I mentioned at the start of the post. You can choose to use the same or similar tools, or whatever you prefer. The instructions already covered above can be seen in action in the video. Keep in mind that you certainly don’t have to use the same materials as shown in the vid; indeed, it pays to experiment and see how various materials react when spun in a loop. (I should also mention that the FoxxFurr shown in the vid also goes by the name of “Extra Select Craft Fur” out there in tying land.)

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QuickTime format – 7.5MB
You may download this video to your computer for personal use, but this video may not be re-distributed/re-posted elsewhere. Thanks.

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