Spinner’s Gift Suggestions, 2014

Abby’s Spinning Gift Guide 2014

Do you have a spinner in your life for whom you’d like to buy a gift, but you aren’t sure what he or she would like? I’ve pulled together a list of some favourite items in various price ranges to help, followed by a few tips on shopping for spinners in secret.

UNDER $10

Spinner's Party Tool

The Spinner’s Party Tool from FBN Plastics. Featuring a wraps per inch gauge, angle of twist gauge, and a bottle opener with a keychain ring, this little gadget is incredibly handy. I have several, in various places around the house, my car, and my luggage. Did I mention it’s TSA approved, so I can always measure my yarn AND open my beer, even when I’m on the road? I also keep one hanging from my wheel next to my orifice hook, and one in my spindle bag. $5.

Spinning Wheel Oil Bottle. If you’ve got a wheel, you need oil for it (typical motor oil works great), and you’d rather have it be easy to apply. I really like these Schacht oil bottles because of the long needle tip that lets you get the oil right where you want it. $8-9

UNDER $25:

busy

Orifice Hooks. These are used pretty constantly with most spinning wheels, and most spinners could stand to have more of these. Sometimes the ones you have go rogue, and there you are, bending a paper clip to handle an emergency — if you don’t have a few extras lying around. Some spinners really like to have beautiful ones. They can be made from wood, glass, all manner of things. $2 and up, with a lot in the $10-20 range.

A Pretty Diz. Used to pull prepared fibers into their final pre-spinning state, dizzes are more of a hit-or-miss gift, but they’re usually inexpensive and fun. Many people make them or repurpose household objects like buttons, but you can also find really pretty ones. If your spinner has a drum carder or combs, this could be a win for a small gift. Prettier, fancier ones cost a bit more. You want smooth (so fibers don’t snag) and durable (because fibers are stronger than you might think). Around $20.

Fiber! Dude, there is so much fiber in this price range. Omigod, is there fiber in this price range. Sadly, it’s hard to say there’s one kind of fiber that makes the perfect gift. So instead, here’s a short list of a few of the folks whose fiber I personally always find delightful, and whose stuff I use in classes.

$25-$100

Spindle Spun Cottons

A Nice Spindle. At this price point, you can buy some really nice spindles! Some of my favourites are:
Bosworth
Greensleeves
Wildcraft
Spindlewood
KCL Woods
IST
I have never had a spindle I didn’t really, really like (or more likely, desperately adore) from any of these makers. They’re all unique and individual and worth every penny as workhorse tools that are also beautiful. Even if your spinner doesn’t have a major spindle attraction, these are the spindles that, shall we say, I doubt anybody would kick out of bed for eating crackers.

Hand cards — if your spinner has none, then my choices for all-around hand cards are Schacht curved medium or fine, or Strauch fine, including half-size. Every individual spinner will develop his or her own preferences, so the curved or flat question is pretty much unanswerable. Your spinner won’t know until he or she has used them for a while. So don’t overthink it! If you’ve got a spinner who does not have hand cards, it’s time to remedy that. If your spinner does have hand cards, but only one set, see if you can figure out which set and then call a good fiber shop (like one of the ones linked in various places in this article) and ask for advice on what cards should come next.

Books and Videos! There are so many great resources out there now, many of them free — but I still recommend having an extensive library. The hot new release The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith (you can even get a signed copy). If your spinner doesn’t already have it, he or she probably wants it. Here’s a short list of some other books I recommend:

Take a class! It's fun!

Classes! Nothing helps a spinner get more out of whatever they’ve already got than taking some classes. However, sometimes they can be hard to justify for people, and so they make really great gifts. Contact your local (or most local) fiber shop or weaver’s guild to find out what options exist in your area.

$100-200

stack_o_yarn_01

Yarn Handling Tools — often overlooked, these tools actually make an enormous difference in the life of a spinner. Eventually, every spinner probably should have a way to make skeins of yarn, a way to hold those skeins to wind them into balls, and a way to easily wind those balls. So, that’s a skein winder or niddy noddy (for making skeins), a swift (for holding skeins), and a ball winder (for, um, winding balls). YES, there exist tools out there that do double duty, but I’m going to tell you the truth: almost none of them do a truly great job, and in the long run, your spinner will probably be happier with great tools that really work reliably for the purposes for which they were made. So here are my faves:
Schacht Niddy Noddy. Like real antique ones, this niddy noddy is extremely lightweight, making it easy to work with when winding skeins. Unlike antique ones, this collapses and folds up small, and can make more than one size skein. $75.
Fricke skeinwinder. I have both a motorized, and non-motorized, version of this winder, equipped with a rotation counter that tracks your revolutions so you know how long your skein is once you’re done winding. These are probably the biggest time savers of any single piece of equipment I own — no exaggeration.
Swift! The umbrella style is terrific and sturdy and usually repairable, unless you get a really chintzy one (they’re out there — if the swift is half the price of most of the others, I would probably give it a pass). You want one that says it can handle 2-yard skeins. You can get them that clamp to a table or surface, that rest on a surface, or that stand on the floor. I have one free-standing and one clamping, because different circumstances call for different things. I’ve been very happy with the decades of hard work I’ve gotten from my Ashford swift and my Glimakra swift. But counter to what I said above regarding multi-tasking tools, I have only had great experiences with the Strauch skeinwinder, so that makes the list as well. One of the things that’s great about the Strauch ones is that you can get table clamps that work even with those newfangled plastic folding tables that have a lip on them — a perpetual irritation for the fiber artist who wants to clamp stuff to stuff!
Ball Winder. I grew up with plastic ball winders that were pretty great, but sometime this century or so I guess the quality really diminished. I think it was 2004 when I went through 3 ball winders in 3 months, and swore off buying the cheap ones, having concluded that for the price of the three cheap ones with broken plastic gears I could have bought one really good one instead. As it happens, I still have that one really good one, which was a Strauch that I initially expected to be overkill for my needs. Turns out it hasn’t been. The other really fabulous one out there is from Nancy’s Knit Knacks — when Nancy says heavy duty, she means it.
Bobbin Winder. My Schacht bobbin winder is my most reliable and dependable. After the skein winder, the bobbin winder is probably my biggest saver of time and money. With it, and an assortment of cheap plastic bobbins, it simply doesn’t matter how many bobbins I have for which spinning wheel.

Combs! Oh, man, where to start with combs? If your spinner has none, then I’d go with either the double-pitch Valkyrie fine hand combs, or St. Blaise combs (designed by master comber and spinning teacher Robin Russo, and made by her husband Pat). These two are actually the ones I use the most, as generalist combs. However, your spinner may have specific wants and needs and if he or she has combs already, there could be another set that are needed in order to perform specific tasks, in which case, refer to the upcoming advice about sneakily finding out what your spinner really wants.

Blending Board. These have been the hot item in fiber prep for the past year or two, and there are lots of designs. I really like the Clemes and Clemes one and the Ashford one, which can sit on your lap but also feature a keel that you can hold between your knees to keep things steady while you play, or set on a table in front of you.

$200-$400

Captive Ring Spindles

This is a tough price range — it represents a price point where you can often find more expensive equipment used in good condition, and where you start to see the most entry-priced higher-end tools and equipment. However, most of the new equipment in this price range doesn’t wow me in terms of fit and finish, durability, and bang for the buck. If this is your budget, I’d put together a bunch of mix and match stuff from lower price ranges, such as a skein winder, swift, ball winder, and bobbin winder. Or a spindle and a lot of fiber. Or lots of extra bobbins for your spinner’s wheel of choice. Or, see if you can get your spinner to divulge a wish for an add-on to his or her wheel, because you can also find a lot of things like that in this price range.

Another good option might be to pick up your spinner a way to use up some of that yarn, and a great option in this price range is a rigid heddle loom with accessories. I’m partial to my Schacht rigid heddle looms because they’re laid out similarly to floor looms, and because of the range of accessories available (one of my faves is the heddle solution that lets you mix and match so you can do a lot of varied things with your warp). One of the great things about giving a spinner a rigid heddle loom is that it’s going to eat up lots of yarn, and it’s easy to mix and match and combine small skeins and leftovers into cohesive finished projects. I realize it’s a whole new slippery slope, but… you never know, you might just want to give your spinner a gentle nudge. You’ll doubtless be repaid in all kinds of new textile goods.

$400-$800

class-of-2008-03

Now we’re in the entry priced spinning wheel price range! You might want to take a stroll through my article on choosing your first wheel to help you think this one through. The brands I most recommend are Ashford, Lendrum, Louet, Majacraft, and Schacht. My two top picks for wheels in this price range are the Schacht Ladybug and the Lendrum folding wheel, but all the brands I mentioned are dependable, excellent performers, and well-supported. I recommend finding the closest dealer you can for these, so you can get local help and support for the new wheel.

This is also the right price range for a drum carder. Myself personally, I have three — a Strauch, a Pat Green, and a Louet Classic. They all do different things, and it’s really no coincidence that these are the three I have: these are the ones that I’ve kept after working with lots of others. The Strauch is my best all-around, the Pat Green is the best for superfine fibers, and the Louet Classic is the best for more medium and wild and crazy fibers. Find whatever’s in your price range from one of those brands, and you pretty much can’t go wrong. If I could only keep one of these carders, though, it would be the Strauch, based on over a decade of extensive drum carding experience. My top pick for an entry-priced drum carder is the Strauch Petite, based on almost a decade of working with them in classes.

As another thought for this price range, sending (or taking) your favourite spinner to a class (these can be pretty cheap and local, or they can be pricier with national instructors and involve travel), retreat, or fiber festival would be the kind of gift they’ll talk about for years.

$800-$1200

Abby and the Pat Green Supercard

At this price point you can either buy a heavier duty drum carder, a higher-end spinning wheel, or put together a spinner’s studio package. My top picks for spinning wheels in this price range are: Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Rose and Suzie, Louet Julia, Ashford Elizabeth, Lendrum Complete package. My top picks for drum carders are Strauch Finest and Pat Green Blender/Carder.

For a package that will give your spinner pretty much everything he or she really needs, here’s what I’d do. This list is ordered by priority, based on my experience.
– spinning wheel
– skein winder or niddy noddy (go for the skeinwinder if budget allows)
– books and videos
– swift
– bobbin winder
– hand cards
– combs

$1200 and up

Okay, I’m going to talk turkey here: if you’ve got this kind of budget for gifts for the spinner in your life, you probably shouldn’t be taking the word of some stranger on the Internet, even if it’s me. Chances are good that your spinner already has a wish list of things he or she really, really wants, and you’re going to have to get that information somehow.

There’s always coming right out and asking, but if you wanted to be less direct (so you can definitely surprise someone), you might consider contacting the fiber or yarn shop that he or she frequents, and asking if they know your spinner and whether or not there’s anything the folks at the shop think he or she wants or needs. That’s also a way to find out what’s new, what’s hot, and that sort of thing. Your spinner also might be a member of public fiber arts groups online, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest stalking someone on the internet, you might well find that a public forum contains posts where your spinner has outright stated what he or she most wishes they had. It’s been known to happen. Lastly, it’s possibly slower to get answers, but watch your spinner doing what he or she does and see if anything seems slow, cumbersome, or awkward. Then ask if there’s something that solves that. For example, “Hey, that niddy noddy thing seems kinda slow. Is there a faster way?” You’ll probably hear “Oh, yeah, there are skein winders, but they’re $100 and up and I can’t warrant spending that.” And then you’ve broken the ice! Then you can simply say things like “Wow, I had no idea there were so many things like that! Tell me more about some other interesting ones!” and there you go, you’ll probably hear more than you ever imagined.

Cardzilla!

Wrapping Up

Believe it or not, I get asked this question pretty regularly: “If you were going to set someone up with a really awesome spinning studio for the best bang for the buck, what would you get?” As with all things spinning, the answer is really “It depends,” but if this were some sort of game show which I’d win by just handling that question, I’d budget $1500-1700 and go this route:

  • Lendrum DT Complete – $790 OR Schacht Ladybug – $650
  • Fricke Skeinwinder – $142
  • Ashford Umbrella Swift – $145
  • Strauch ball winder – $170
  • Schacht curved hand cards – $85
  • Valkyrie fine double pitch combs – $95
  • Start Spinning by Maggie Casey, book and DVD (about $40) if it’s a brand new spinner
  • 5 pounds of assorted fibers – up to $200

That pretty much does it for this by-price-point gift guide! Please leave your comments and let us know if you have suggestions I’ve missed.

Summer Q&A: The Wheels — Why, and Which?

Allright, I’m going to do a few questions relating to my wheel collection, because it’s been a long week and that’s what I think I have the cycles to do.

Ok, devil’s advocate here: Why do you have so many? Are certain wheels better for spinning certain kinds of yarns? And how do you justify buying a new one? (I know I’d have a hard time convincing my husband that I needed more than one wheel, thus I ask.)

So, here’s the thing: I’m a textile professional. It is my career. Right now my focus is spinning, so I spin, and I write about spinning, and I teach people to spin. Those things, plus producing handspinning fiber, are what generate income for me. These are the tools of my trade.

If I were a woodworker, then chances are I’d have lots of saws, lots of specialized equipment for doing specific tasks, a stash of custom and hard-to-find sandpaper, piles and piles of various types of wood, and even more than one of what seems like exactly the same thing. Being a professional spinner is no different.

Different wheels do have different strengths and weaknesses, and different purposes to which they’re ideally suited. It’s the same as how a mechanic has different wrenches and screwdrivers and jacks and ramps for the cars to go up on and a stash of spare parts and a creeper to get under cars and maybe an engine lift or might choose to buy the house with a huge garage that has a pit in it. I have wheels that excel at super fine yarn, wheels that multitask, wheels that do a good job plying or dealing with bulky stuff, wheels that are great for a beginner, wheels that are compatible with each other in the event of a problem occurring, wheels that are expressly for travel.

Because I do this professionally, I may have a real need to have multiple kinds of things going on multiple wheels at a time. I can’t fail to sample something on a wheel because I have a lengthy project in progress, and queue up work behind me finishing that. I really do need to have a wheel open at pretty much any time; if I have a big project on a given wheel, that doesn’t mean I won’t need to do a smaller one in the interim. I can’t have the bottleneck of only one wheel.

I also have wheels because some time ago I recognized that the cosmos had appointed me to a position of great responsibility in which I am required to save wheels from uncertain fates, and often find them new homes. I’m like a spinning wheel foster parent. I save the wheels nobody wants from ending up living under bridges and spare-changing. Sometimes there is rehab. Sadly there is no government support for these activities, but that’s not why I do them. Often there is no reward but the joy of ultimately finding these poor beleaguered wheels a loving home with a spinner or would-be spinner who has been trying to get a wheel for a while, to no avail.

And then too, I need to have extra wheels in case there’s someone who simply has to be turned to the dark side taught to spin and given a chance to work through it. Sometimes people don’t realize they want to be spinners, and may argue with you about this. They’ll say all kinds of things — oh, it costs money, I can’t afford a wheel, where would I put it, I just don’t know if I’d use one, maybe I wouldn’t like doing it, I tried with a spindle but something doesn’t feel right. Most of these people are wrong and must be re-educated are ripe for indoctrination actually ARE interested, and if loaned a wheel, are easy pickings and become addicted, providing a captive audience in the future have an opportunity to explore spinning at their leisure before going out and starting their own wheel collections and decide if they want to make an investment in spinning equipment.

I’ve also had times when I’ve been working on an article for which I had to provide photos, and it’s been a drag going around saying “Hey, do you have a good picture of a double drive wheel?” and “Can I just borrow your Traddy for a bit while I’m working on this technical piece?” It’s much easier to just walk over to my own Schacht Matchless, set it up, and do what I need to do.

Then too, I’ve got to be familiar with all the major wheels out there. Why? Let’s say I’m teaching a class, and someone is having trouble with a technique. 9 times out of 10, the reason for this trouble is a wheel adjustment. I need to be able to find the source of the problem, correct it, and move on, very fast. If the problem is with the wheel and it’s broken and it’s not an adjustment, then in the interests of keeping that class moving, sometimes another wheel must be found. Fortunately, I often have one. But seriously, teaching spinning often involves teaching people about wheels. A good spinning teacher who covers wheel spinning should, in my opinion, know a lot about wheels, and also shouldn’t be one of those people who propagates misinformation. I like to speak based on my personal experience whereever possible, and I try to make that a broad range of possible places.

If you had to narrow the collection down to only four wheels, which ones would you pick, and why? Could you choose only one, and if so, what would impact that decision most strongly?

Well, why do I have to narrow my collection? Is it the apocalypse? I’m trying to think about what conditions would cause me to have to choose only four, or only one, wheel. Totally sounds like the apocalypse. That has to be it.

What kind of apocalypse? The kind where I’m going to hole up in the house and take potshots at approaching zombies until things stabilize and we live in a world without a lot of modern conveniences? Because in that case, none of them go, and in fact, I need more, because I have to set up to teach people to make textiles so we don’t have to live in a “The Matrix” world of ill-fitting and shabbily knit raglan sweaters in which nobody owns a crochet hook to pick up the dropped stitches. I mean, seriously.

Or is it the kind of apocalypse where I have to flee jack-booted thugs and go into hiding in a tiny attic?
That would be like living in a small house, and I already did that. That was why I got the Suzie Pro: a production wheel that takes up less space than most folding chairs. In this case, I’d keep the Suzie Pro, the two Louets, the Journey Wheel, and the Schacht. I know that’s five. Shut up, they’re small. The charkhas don’t take up any space either.

Maybe it’s the kind of apocalypse where we have to get in the truck and drive as fast as we can away from a fast-approaching lava flow which has come all this way from the Yellowstone volcano blowing its top. There is no room even for the cats, and I can only take the Journey Wheel, and I never recover from the loss of all the others, but live out my life in a strange post-apocalyptic bunker talking about everyone I left behind.

I’m totally disinterested in the type of apocalypse that requires wheels to go away. I vote we only have the kind of apocalypse in which I become the sage old lady everyone loves for making civilized life possible when you can’t buy jeans from Bangladesh anymore.

Well… so that covers two questions, anyway. We’ll be talking lots more.

Guess Who’s Hanging With Me For A Few?

Some boxes got here just after dinner last night.

Hrmmmm… says Louet all over those boxes. Let’s look closer.

In case you can’t tell, that says S-11 Julia. What I have here is a prototype/demo of Louet’s latest spinning wheel, the first round of which are due to arrive at US and Canadian dealers who’ve pre-ordered them, real soon now (in the next few weeks, once their container clears customs). I was so eager to give this wheel a real Abby-style test drive, though, that Louet kindly agreed to let me borrow the prototype. They packed it up and shipped it to me and, well, okay. I may have blown off some of my evening chores last night.

You don’t think less of me for that, do you? You would have done the same thing when FedEx came. You know you would have. Anyway, so the first thing to come out of the box was the base. The treadle and footman assembly is very similar to the Victoria travel wheel, but larger.

I shut myself in my office and got to unpacking. The drive wheel, made from furniture-grade hardwood composite with a beech veneer, is attached to the upright maiden/mother-of-all with sealed ball bearings. Like the Victoria, the flyer detaches fully and secures with a pressure seal, and the scotch tension system is found on a crosspiece just for that purpose. There is no friction bearing for the orifice, a design element that lessens drag and wear and tear. There’s a lazy kate (more on that later) and a total of 4 bobbins and a stretchy drive band. That’s it! Nothing complicated. That’s what she looks like disassembled.

So, how to assemble it?

Just unscrew this fella at the back of the treadle assembly, revealing this bolt…

…which in turn fits right into this spot on the upright…

…and tightens by hand, no tools required.

Like the Victoria, the footman connects with a polymer fitting…

…that goes over this zero-maintenance sealed bearing and secures with a snap-in-place polymer ring. This was the thing I most expected to see wear on the Victoria, but over a year of fairly rigorous use has shown me that in fact, it’s quite durable. “Why wouldn’t it be?” my husband pointed out when I commented to that effect a while ago. “They make lots of very sturdy things from polymer. I mean, they make firearms from it, an skateboard wheels, and all kinds of stuff that takes a beating.”

The whorl, too, is heavy-duty polymer. And groove (hahaha, I said “groove!”) on its range of ratios.

With a drive wheel measuring 20″, these ratios run from 5:1 to 20:1. Very nice. Did I measure the intermediate ones while I was in the throes of setup? No, of course not. LATER! I’ll get to that LATER! Must. Set. Up. Wheel.

The scotch tension system needed screwing onto the upright. I, of course, had a screwdriver handy. But if I didn’t take this off when disassembling the wheel for transport, I mused, there’d be no need for a tool, and there would be one step less. So I’d probably just leave this attached most of the time.

This is also pretty much just like the Victoria one, except this one mounts the other way (so the knob is to the inside rather than the outside) but you could, if desired, screw it on the other way. And as evidence of Louet’s process of integrating customer feedback, you can see that whereas my Olde Victoria From The First Batch(tm) has a removable knob, this one is secured with a screw, preventing the knob from coming out unexpectedly. It was a point of frustration for some Victoria owners that this knob would tend to jounce loose when transporting the wheel, rattling in the carry bag and in some cases, resulting in the brake band snagging on something when you opened the wheel back up. Indeed, Louet offered to retrofit my Victoria thus (but I declined), and I believe that’s one of the things they do if people bring them or send them Victorias for updates.

But, anyway, like I say, I screwed that scotch tension rig on there…

and then basically, the wheel was all set. Put drive band in place…

…and now it just needs the flyer…

…and a bobbin…

Right, so speaking of the flyer, if you’ve seen the Victoria, the flyer will look similar. Except the orifice is different.

It’s trivial to thread with no hook, with a frictionless insert. Between that, the powder-coated (and thus very durable) hooks at the edges of the flyer, and the positionable sliding flyer hooks, and scotch tension… I could already tell this wheel would do sme neat things.

And the bobbins are redesigned too, but we’ll talk more about that later. First, check out the lazy kate!

Were this not the prototype, I’d have the other support for the kate, allowing it to be positioned in a wide range of ways, so that no matter where you put it, in what orientation, you get side-feeding, which is really essential for optimum yarn management. But even so, tensioning is simple friction provided by felt washers — a simple yet forgiving and flexible system — and little rubber endcaps keep bobbins from being at risk of coming off the kate no matter how you position it. I’m eager to test it out for sure.

So with that in mind, I oughta start spinning, eh? So, right: back to the bobbins, then. You may have noticed no leader; instead there’s a slit with a wide part in the middle. Huh? Okay, tie a big chunky knot in something, like so.

With me so far? Now, over at the bobbin…

…put the knot in the wide part and press it in, then…

…tug towards you, and…

Voila, leader attached.

No threading hook needed here…

Or there…

Just use your fingers to get your leader threaded through the orifice. Voila!

Oddly enough, at this point, I stopped taking pictures. I think it’s that I got distracted with spinning. I did snap a photo of some yarn on the bobbin though.

Leftover fibers from sock yarn class, and these will be sock yarn, for the first test skein off this wheel.

Speaking of which, I totally have to go. To, um, do chores. And laundry. Yeah. I swear, I’m NOT just blowing you guys off to play with the Julia. No, really! I wouldn’t do that, would I?

(Okay, so I’m busted. Just don’t tell the manchild. He’d use it as ammunition the next time he gets a new Bionicle.)

Batt Club: Update!

For those of you who have been wondering about Batt Club, and if there’ll be another, and what you have to do to get in, here’s a quick update.

First, I have decided to do Batt Club again for Winter 2007. Maybe I should have called it Fall 2007 — but perhaps, with another day promising to bring record high temperatures, I’m eager to feel wintry. Anyway, Winter 2007 will be October, November, and December. Existing Batt Club members have right of first renewal — if you’re in, and you want to renew, you get first crack during the pre-registration period (which is going on now). Current Batt Club members have all been sent email notifications — if you’re in Batt Club, and you have not received an email notification, please let me know!

Second, I really should have instituted a waiting list plan; if I’d been sure I was going to do another round, I probably would have! So many of you have emailed me wishing you’d gotten in, and it’s been heartbreaking to say I can’t. Indeed, I opened up additional groups beyond the initial ten that I expected to do… But there are 40 people, and that is literally as much as I can handle, and still remotely be able to meet other commitments and do other projects. So, anyway, I’m going to start the waiting list now, while pre-registration is going on for existing members. If you’d like to be added to the waiting list, please send me email (to abby, at abbysyarns.com, if that link isn’t clickable for you) and I’ll send you back a waiting list number. You’ll be added first come, first served; and you’ll be notified as slots become available during the pre-registration period. What’s more, your spot in line will be held for next time around too (Winter 2008, in January-February-March) — so even if you don’t get in this time, you’d be in line next time.

Then, once pre-registration is done, and once the wait list has been served, if there are spots remaining, I will announce it here. I can tell you that as it stands right now, we do have quite a few renewals, but we also have some cancellations and there will definitely be wait-list spots available (some are even available now).

UPDATE as of Sun Sep 2 10:10:57 PDT 2007: So far, there are 31 renewals confirmed, 9 pending, and 46 people on the waiting list. To get on the waiting list, email abby@abbysyarns.com.

Third, before you rush to sign up, there are some changes to Batt Club moving forward. The quantities of fiber stay the same, which is to say 4-8 ounces total depending on the blend (in other words, a cashmere blend costs more than a pure wool) and the retail value will always be around $45-50 plus shipping; you’ll always be saving about 25% over what you’d pay to buy the batts without the club membership. Batt Club fibers will still be a surprise, and I won’t tell you much about them before they start arriving in people’s hands. Everyone will still get the same shipment of the same fiber. However, the 3-month subscription costs slightly more than it did the first time around: the price has gone up from $90 for three months, to $110 for 3 months if you’re in the US and Canada. If you’re elsewhere, then chances are that I can ship to you, but I’d need to get your address and give you a custom shipping quote.

Fourth, Batt Club now comes with club benefits: 5% off all purchases from this site during your membership period, and free shipping from eBay during your membership as well. For folks pre-registering or wait-listing, your discount is active as soon as I receive your payment — so if you’re in for October, November and December, your discount could start as soon as, well, now. And lastly, Batt Club membership now comes with the option of signing up to be notified of pending First Dibs, before they’re even active as First Dibs — in other words, Batt Club members get an ongoing discount and first crack at all my new fibers.

Whew! I think that’s it — except to say, the photos all throughout this post are from current Batt Club members, and if you’d like to see more…

…cruise on over to the Flickr group and see what’s there.

Review: Louet Victoria

Christmas of 2006 brought me a Louet Victoria wheel, given to me by my son. I’ve now spent five days treating it as my primary wheel, and putting it to the real-life Abby test. Read on for a comprehensive review.

The Simple Facts

The Louet Victoria, or S95/S96, is the latest wheel from Dutch wheelmaker Louet, whose wheels and other fiber equipment have been well-received over the past several decades by a wide range of fiber artists. Key elements in Louet wheel popularity are modern design and materials, terrific durability, and ease of maintenance. However, some handspinners (including myself) have found Louet wheels to be somewhat limited in versatility for one major reason: they have always been bobbin lead. That changes with the Victoria, a lightweight portable wheel which is also Louet’s first flyer lead / scotch tension offering.

Louet states that Victoria is as of this writing the lightest and most compact portable spinning wheel on the market, an audacious claim but one which appears to be accurate. Lighter than all the competition at about 10 pounds even in the carry bag with all accessories, the Victoria folds up to be slightly taller than the venerable Bosworth Journey Wheel, but also a little thinner. Securely stowed in a well-designed carry bag which can be used as an in-hand tote, tote with shoulder strap, or backpack, the Victoria is a no-brainer to fit in an airline overhead bin, and possibly under the seat in front of you. Victoria’s carry bag secures and pads the wheel and lazy kate and bobbins quite well, and features a capacious exterior pocket which could easily accommodate a number of additional bobbins and several pounds of fiber. If you can carry around a typical laptop bag, you can carry around the Louet Victoria.

As of December 2006, the new Louet wheel comes standard with three drive ratios, 6:1, 10:1, and 14:1; Louet says that a high-speed kit will be available in the first half of 2007, allowing ratios higher than 20:1. Louet’s web site lists the S95/S96 at 3-3.5 kg (6.5-7.5 pounds) with a folded size of 13.5 cm thick, 30 cm wide, and 47.5 cm tall (that’s 5.375 inches thick, 11.875 inches wide, and 18.75 inches tall). The Victoria in its initial sales phase comes with the carry bag, 3 bobbins, and a 2-bobbin lazy kate, and retails for $550 US, although vendors indicate that the price is expected to increase to the $700 US range following the initial round of sales. It is available in beech (S95) or slightly heavier oak (S96).

Louet Victoria from the flyer down

Bobbin Lead? Flyer Lead? What?

Simply put, bobbin lead means that what is driven when you treadle is the bobbin, so the bobbin is the first thing to move, and the flyer (which turns separately from the bobbin) follows after. Braking action is applied to the flyer, often with a leather band across the orifice. On a bobbin lead spinning wheel, a drive band connects the drive wheel and bobbin, causing the bobbin to turn when the drive wheel turns. This type of setup is sometimes called Irish tension.

On a flyer lead spinning wheel, a whorl attached to the flyer is connected via a drive band to the drive wheel, and the flyer is the first thing to move. Braking action is applied to the bobbin, which turns independent of the flyer. This type of setup is often referred to as Scotch tension.

On a flyer lead wheel, it is possible for a spinner to easily reduce the tension, or strength of pull-in and takeup of spun yarn on the bobbin, to near zero, enabling the spinning of extremely fine yarn and short stapled and fine fibers. This very light takeup is much harder, and in some cases impossible, to achieve with bobbin lead. Many handspinners who prefer to spin very fine yarns therefore shy away from bobbin lead wheels, opting instead for flyer lead wheels, whether scotch tension or double drive. This being the case, lace spinners have often rejected Louet wheels simply on the basis of being bobbin lead (though many Louet owners have found ways to reduce the takeup on their wheels and spin yarns that are quite fine).

The Setup, and the Technical Dirt

Nothing about the wrapped present under the Christmas tree said “spinning wheel” to me, even when my family gleefully urged me to shake the present and try to guess what it was. Wrapped in its original shipping box, it weighed under 10 pounds (or under 5 kg), the package was maybe 8 inches (20.32 cm) thick, and nothing rattled or sounded like bobbins or moving parts, at all. Mind you, with the wrapping paper off, the telltale LOUET packaging with details on the wheel on the end, shipped from a fiber shop I know well, were dead giveaways.

Opening the shipping box, out slid the wheel packed securely in its zippered nylon carrying case. Unzipping the top flap and opening it, printed instructions leapt right out at me explaining the sequence in which to unpack it. Held in place by two nylon straps with backpack-style buckles, as well as fitted holes and light padding secured to a flexible but sturdy backplate, it was impressive to see what all fit in the carry case neatly. Following the instructions, I removed a bobbin from its secure holding place, unbuckled the first of two nylon straps, gently pulled a knob that held the wheel in its folded state and swung the back bar with drive wheel and whorl upright, at which point that same knob clicked smoothly into place holding the wheel upright. I unbuckled the second of the nylon straps, lifted the wheel out by the leather loop across the top of the back bar (a carrying handle!) and placed it in front of the chair where I intended to spin, noting with surprise that it was only a little more than knee high, and made my nearby Majacraft Suzie Pro look like a hulking behemoth. I looked in the bag for the flyer, then realized (yes, I went back to the instructions!) it was secured in a nylon bushing under the left treadle.

Victoria flyerThe three-grooved Louet whorl is made from a lightweight metal which appears to be powdercoated black, and is mounted securely at the top of the hinged back bar. At the center of the whorl is a slot into which the flyer shaft fits, aided by a magnetic lock; to remove the flyer for changing bobbins or to pack up the wheel, you hold the whorl steady and pull towards you on the flyer and bobbin, and they simply snap out of place (but don’t forget to watch out for your brake band). The entire flyer comes off, shaft included — this is similar to how the Ashford Joy flyer assembly comes off, for those familiar with that. In lieu of a more traditional mother-of-all and maiden bar, the Victoria has a small wooden piece which extends out from the back bar under where the flyer goes, and it is this piece which houses the scotch tension mechanism. As supplied, the scotch tension setup consists of a long spring at left mounted to a peg, with a monofilament that you then route over the bobbin groove, under a hook at right, and forward to where you insert the tubular tensioning knob into a hole in the aforementioned wooden piece. The flyer operates independent of any friction bearing, similar to Majacraft flyers or, again, the Ashford Joy.

The flyer itself is made from the same wood as the wheel (mine is oak), including the flyer arms. Stationary hooks are placed on either side of the orifice (which is also a lightweight metal with an apparent black powdercoat covering), and flyer hooks are nylon rings with metal loops. Bobbins have end caps made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) with a veneer matching the rest of the wheel (one end grooved for the brake band) which contain nylon bushings, and the core appears to be nylon or plastic.

The drive wheel, the widest part of the entire Victoria, measures a full 14 inches (35.56 cm) in diameter — just a tiny bit larger than the drive wheel on the Suzie Pro, to my surprise. It is also made from MDF with a matching wood veneer, very seamlessly done. It is my opinion that MDF is in many respects functionally superior to solid wood for things like drive wheels, due to its uniformity of weight. However, MDF is not particularly attractive; the veneer solves this problem nicely.

One single footman rod connects to the drive wheel using a nylon cup that snaps on and is secured in place by a nylon ring that you slip down to the end of the cup; you must detach this in order to fold the wheel. It actually detaches easier than it attaches, and it is this piece which I would expect to see wear out and need replacing the soonest — but no guesses how long that might take, and it would depend on how you use the wheel as well.

Full bobbin!The single footman rod connects to the right treadle; a wooden seesaw bar connects the two treadles. Each treadle is hinged near the bottom (where your heel would go) but not all the way at the bottom; this allows for a heel-toe treadling action, or a light touch with the ball of your feet further up the treadle. It is entirely possible and comfortable to operate the wheel using either foot, or both feet. Treadles are placed fairly close together, and are slightly longer and wider than my feet shod in women’s US size 8 (metric/European 38) shoes.

To pack up the wheel, you detach the flyer, remove the bobbin, and place the flyer shaft into the nylon bushing beneath the left treadle, flyer hooks facing up. Pick up the wheel and place it into the carry bag so the feet slip into their little holder spots, secure the first strap over the treadles, and twist on the footman rod to detach it from the drive wheel. Pull out the small knob at the hinged back bar’s base, and fold the back bar down — the knob will snap into place automatically when the wheel is fully closed. Secure the second strap across the wheel, place one bobbin in its elastic loop holder and the lazy kate with two bobbins on it in its spot in the carry case, zip up, and you’re done. Setup and pack-up both take 2-4 minutes tops.

The Road Test

In five days, I spun a range of fibers and types of yarn which I felt would represent a fairly broad spectrum of spinning, though focusing in particular on what has always been the Achilles heel of Louet wheels, extremely fine yarn. Because the highest ratio presently available is 14:1, I excluded cotton from my tests for the time being. I put both spinning and plying to the test, as well as the lazy kate, and specifically looked for idiosyncracies, quirks, and limitations.

Let me start by saying that I am largely a spinner of very fine yarn; I’m also a very fast drafter who likes to spin at very high ratios, even for types of yarn which most people spin at lower ratios. 12:1 is about as low a ratio as I typically spin at, so the Victoria’s default top ratio is on the low end of what I like to spin with personally. I’m also an admitted flyer lead aficionado, and someone who spins for sometimes as much as 10 hours in a day. Lastly, I have bad knees due to a hereditary issue that results in very easily dislocated kneecaps, particularly with uneven fatigue (so I no longer drive stick, run, or spend really long periods of time with single treadle mechanisms).

All three bobbins were equipped with a loop which worked well as a leader to attach a yarn for plying; for spinning though, I prefer a fairly long leader, so I tied a length of other yarn to the loop (with an open loop, so as to be able to replace it easily when/if needed). Threading the leader through the flyer hooks and orifice was a breeze; with the openness of the metal loops in the flyer hooks, and the length of the opening atop the orifice tube, no hook was really necessary at any point. Sliding flyer hooks which are also able to be twisted around on the flyer arms are a major selling point for any wheel in my book; this allows me the most fine-grained control of my wind-on, enabling me to fill bobbins completely while really fine-tuning draw-in as well. Sliding flyer hooks, preferably adjustable in the sense that they can be rotated on the arm, are a personal requirement for me for any production wheel. I also find there are advantages to be had from not needing a hook to thread a flyer and orifice; first of all, no hook to lose, and second of all, no hook to find if you need to rethread it due to a break or what have you.

Boucle on VictoriaThe Victoria’s orifice height is the lowest of any wheel I can recall spinning on! Seated on a typical sofa, the orifice is just barely above knee height. However, it’s angled up slightly, and the orifice tube itself is long. To my surprise, the lower orifice height actually proved beneficial, lengthening my potential drafting range and the distance between my hands and the orifice, compensating more than I anticipated for a top speed slower than is my usual choice.

Expecting that there would be at least a little break-in, I opted to start with a fairly pedestrian yarn: I took about half an ounce of commercial merino top, split it roughly in half, and spun it from the fold into a single that felt comfortable with languid treadling at the medium ratio. I put half on one bobbin, and half on another, and then put those onto the lazy kate / bobbin holder and plied them onto the third. This allowed me to check out each bobbin and give them all a chance to get a bit broken in. Each bobbin had a tiny bit of a tendency to grab the monofilament at first. After verifying there was no abnormal wear on the monofilament, and no definite burrs or anything like that on the bobbins, I simply spun away.

On the initial runs for each bobbin, there was a mild tendency to catch the brake band; however this was gone by the time I had about 75 yards of yarn onto the first, and eliminated with a tiny bit of wax on the second, down in the groove for the brake band. The problem was more marked on the initial plying run; as suggested by the instructions that came with the wheel, I rerouted the brake band so that it included a cross (meaning that the direction of spin was opposed in relation to where the spring on the brake band is located). This did make the scotch tension more responsive; however this particular bobbin also made a little bit of a whirring-scraping noise. Having encountered that before on other wheels, I applied a tiny drop of spinning wheel oil directly to the bobbin groove while plying. I suspect that changing to an all-cotton brake band would also eliminate any such noise. When the monofilament wears out, that’s probably what I’ll replace it with.

The scotch tension knob is pretty sensitive, though it could turn a little more smoothly in its hole, to facilitate minor adjustments. I’d like to give it a little longer to break in than I’ve given it so far; in another week or two, if it doesn’t turn a bit more freely, I may try a tiny bit of beeswax on it.

Treadle action is incredibly smooth and easy; I was able to operate the wheel with ease while sitting in a rocking recliner, without causing myself to rock! By the time I was done plying the first yarn, there was a mild squeak coming from the treadle area. This took me a while to track down; however, to track it down, I picked up the small, lightweight wheel and operated the treadles with the wheel essentially laying in my lap and my ear to it while watching things move. It turned out to be the pin connecting the footman rod connector to the right-hand treadle, rubbing against the wood in the footman rod at one particular point during the stroke. I ran a super-fine emery board through the crevice and applied a single drop of synthetic lubricant (I’m sure beeswax would have worked equally well). This squeak would, I’m sure, have worked itself out in another few days of break-in.

Boucle spun and plied with Louet VictoriaWhen treadling at over 100 treadles per minute — not a speed you’d sustain for long! — I did manage to get some vibration and wobble from the wheel. Short of that, however, nothing — and the wheel did not walk or slide on a hardwood floor at normal speeds, and did very well with being placed on a somewhat uneven surface.

So how does Victoria travel? Well, I packed it up and took it with me over to the in-laws for Christmas dinner, and spun there for a while as well. Since we were also taking presents and part of Christmas dinner, vehicle space was a little limited, and the wheel rode on my lap in its carrying case, outside pocket containing my small carry-around bag (don’t call it a purse! it mostly carries my spindle and fiber!), a pound of Falkland top, and about 3 ounces of fresh sock batt seconds. Setup, spinning, and packing up were completely unobtrusive.

By the time I was done with the second yarn (sock yarn from my own blend), I’d found one more idiosyncracy, which in truth only gave me greater appreciation for the attention to detail Louet put into this wheel. The brake band attaches to the scotch tension knob with a small screw, and the flyer hooks’ nylon rings are 2, maybe 3 mm thick. In one specific position, it is possible to get the nylon ring to touch that screw on the scotch tension knob, making a very quiet clicking sound! This did not interfere with operation at all while spinning, even spinning very fine yarn; and moving the flyer hook or turning the tension knob the tiniest increment eliminated it. This discovery came close on the heels of me concluding that it wasn’t a good idea for me to adjust the scotch tension brake band while the flyer was in motion (ow). Later, packing a bobbin to the max with plied yarn, I did manage to run across the slight clicking again and knock the tension knob loose; a minor surprise, but a total non-issue, something I mention only to illustrate just how carefully fitted this wheel is; you literally could not pack more into the space available, and the engineering and fit and finish are exceptional.

Discovering that, though, caused me to really look closely at the layout of the wheel. Clearances for all moving parts really push the limit of what you can pack into the space available. I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible to get good operation out of something with such tight clearances; in places they are even tighter than the Journey Wheel, which for me sets the standards in “packing a lot of function into a tiny package.” That said, though, you could say one limitation the Victoria will have if used as a primary wheel is that there’ll never be a jumbo flyer; the flyer provided is as large as you could get on there. However, this is not a major limitation, as bobbin capacity is more generous than I’d have expected, being similar to if not greater than that of a standard Ashford bobbin when pushed to the limit, even with bulky novelty yarn wound on pretty loosely.

Victoria lazy kate

Untensioned on the flyer shaft, the bobbins do make a rather annoying squealing sound, which the instructions do mention and explain is normal; they did so as well on an untensioned vertical lazy kate as well as an untensioned horizontal one with metal shafts, but did not do so on my Will Taylor tensioned (also vertical) lazy kate. The bobbin rack/lazy kate supplied with Victoria holds the bobbins only by the ends, and is totally silent. To my surprise despite its light weight, it was also extremely stable and didn’t have a tendency to scoot around, due to good-sized rubber feet. Yarn wound off the bobbins on it very smoothly when plying even at varying speeds such as for the boucle, and the lazy kate didn’t slip even when I wound skeins from it very quickly. Winding one skein, rather than taking the bobbin off and carrying it over near where I usually skein my yarn, or carrying my skeiner to the wheel, I simply carried the Victoria to the skeiner — and imagine my surprise when I realized that the Victoria, set up and with a full bobbin on it, was noticeably lighter in hand than my freestanding Fricke floor skeiner!

How Does It Stack Up To Competition?

Journey Wheel, Louet Victoria, Majacraft Suzie Pro

For usability and scope of capabilities, I would rate it as roughly similar to a Journey Wheel, but lighter, though it takes longer to set up and pack up, and lacks double drive or a single treadle option, and larger-footed spinners may find it cramped in the treadle area as a result, even though it can be worked with only one treadle easily. Ergonomically the wheel is excellent, and extremely low impact, with smoothness and ease of treadle action comparable to most wheels in the $700+ range. It lacks the sheer bobbin capacity and versatility of a Majacraft wheel, but is substantially smaller than most and lighter even than the Gem. Compared to the Lendrum, it’s faster to set up and take down, but not as versatile in terms of speeds, though I found Victoria’s flyer design is a little friendlier. Smaller, lighter, quieter and smoother in operation than the Ashford Joy, bobbin capacity for the Victoria is similar if not larger than Ashford’s standard bobbins, in part due to sliding flyer hooks which enable the spinner to fill the bobbin evenly.

Fine 2-ply yarn spun with VictoriaI spun 6 yarns with equal ease and comfort, encountering real limits only when spinning loose camel down into fine yarn; for my liking when it comes to down fibers, I just want more speed than Victoria can provide right now. I expect the high speed kit will remedy this when it becomes available in 2007. As a longtime critic of bobbin lead, and someone who has ruled out a number of very nice Louet wheels for myself in the past, I can absolutely say those issues do not exist with the Victoria, as evidenced by an 11-gram, 195-yard skein of approximately 7500 ypp 2-ply tussah silk (pictured at left, the finished 2-ply yarn wrapped around the edge of a penny).

The Actual Opinion

Yarn from 5-day test of Louet VictoriaThe bottom line is that I’ll use the heck out of this wheel, and would recommend it as a travel wheel for any spinner, and as a primary wheel for spinners with limited space. I would also rate it highly for spinners for whom ergonomics are at issue. If spinning down fibers or cotton are your primary goals, wait and see on the high speed kit; if super-bulky is your main thing, you might prefer a larger wheel. However, if you’re looking for all-around versatility in a tiny, lightweight package, you can’t go wrong with Louet’s newest wheel, which I also expect to be entirely maintenance-free after break-in, needing nothing more than a very occasional replacement of scotch tension brake band. And if you’re a flyer lead fan or super-fine spinner long disappointed in bobbin lead wheels, this is the wheel you’ve wished Louet would make.

Here are the yarns I spun during my 5-day road test of the Louet Victoria S95/S96:

  • 2-ply white fingering/light sock weight yarn, from commercial merino top: 18 grams / .625 oz, 125 yards — 3200 yards per pound
  • 2-ply pink sock yarn, from Franquemont Fibers sock blend (superwash merino, mixed silks, kid mohair, nylon): 68 grams / 2.375 oz, 370 yards — 2500 ypp
  • 3-ply orange bulky yarn, from Franquemont Fibers Luxury Batt (merino/falkland/tussah silk/firestar nylon): 88 g / 3.125 oz, 205 yards and 68 g / 2.25 oz, 150 yards — 1000 ypp
  • 2-ply green threadweight tussah silk, from Franquemont Fibers “Sea Foam” colourway: 12 g /.42 oz — 7500 ypp
  • Green boucle, Franquemont Fibers luxury single (merino/silk/firestar) with handspun tussah silk first binder and commercial nylon second binder: 18 g / .625 oz — 60 yards, 1500 ypp

For more photos from my 5-day test, including larger, higher-resolution photos, you can take a look at my Louet Victoria Road Test Photo Gallery.