Tie Talk: The Basic Thread Dubbing/Spinning Loop

Another typing tip for master fly tier Jason Borger. Rather than a specific pattern, Jason delves into the world of … Continued

Another typing tip for master fly tier Jason Borger. Rather than a specific pattern, Jason delves into the world of the dubbing loop today. A handy skill that has applications for a wide variety patterns and tying situations.

Enjoy and hopefully the insight below should be of some help to all of you practicing this move.

_Dubbing loops (a/k/a spinning loops) are an essential part of my own fly tying repertoire. I grew up tying with them, and find that they to allow me to have enormous latitude in fly designs ranging from tiny midges to off-shore squid imitations.

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 loop definition that I use widely. It goes something like this: A dubbing loop is a loop of material(s) into which fibers are inserted and the loop twisted shut. The twisting creates either a tight dubbing “noodle” and/or a three-dimensional 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.


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 literally fill a small book, but we only have so much space here at FlyTalk. So, we’re going to keep this very focused, and 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 7, 8 or more inches of thread to start), and smaller loops (try 4 or 5 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.

Before you start stuffing your loops full of various fibers, 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. 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 (like guard hairs). 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. 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, 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.

Okay, with that basic loop intro out of the way, let’s get into the video clip. The video in this post is snipped from a DVD that I worked on a few years back. The clip 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 that are part of a tying kit from which the DVD comes. 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 don’t have to use the same materials as shown in the clip; indeed, it pays to experiment and see how various materials react when spun in a loop.

While I fully realize that a relatively short blog post isn’t the ideal place to learn how to create dubbing loops, I hope that the instructions and video here will help get you on your way. Take some time to practice, and you may soon find yourself using using dubbing loops in many of your patterns, and well as having a whole new world of fly-tying options available to you.