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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.

38 thoughts on “Summer Q&A: The Wheels — Why, and Which?

  1. But OMG, I would so not love jeans anymore if I had to spin them, weave them and sew them myself.

  2. AHAHAHAHA! I vote we have the type of apocalypse where I have time to pack up and get out to where you are, so I can borrow…er…ADD, yes, ADD to your collection. Yeah.

    I think I’m keeping both the bulky flyer and the electric spinner, btw.

  3. Well, I’m glad this is not a wheel review or then I’d feel obligated to ask you what you think of the Wee Robin traveler that I just ordered! I’m down to three, plus the non-operative antique gossip wheel, but there is no way I could get by with just one!

  4. …so I wouldn’t be the only one with a copy of Alden Amos in my “In Case Of Apocalypse” cache? 🙂 Although Hubby has pointed out one problem there: sheep are not exactly thick on the ground in my area.

  5. I find myself wanting another wheel. Then, I wake up and realize I have a kid going to college. But when they both graduate? Nothing is stopping me!

    Thanks for the fun and informative read.

  6. I think I already lived in the latter type of apocalypse – in ex-USSR 🙂

  7. Note to Cathy W.: There is *always* something available to spin. Sheep are not the only suppliers. And yes, take Alden with you.

  8. Yes, multiple tools are very good. I have three wheels (Ashford Joy, Louet S-10, and a rescued Baynes kit wheel) and 5 handspindles and have been spinning regularly for less than a year. I’ve found the Joy great for finer yarns and the Louet good for plying and heavier yarns. The Baynes will be very handy for when I’m re-enacting at the state fair this year.

  9. Hehe. You know, if woodworking was even your hobby, not your profession, you would have a huge shed filled with lots of unidentifiable equipment and all kinds of stuff which will ‘come in handy someday’. I know, I have a dad like that, and a younger brother who’s making a pretty good effort at filling his shed too now he has one.

    Did you particularly write the first part of your post to be a useful resource for those wishing to convince their other halves that a second (or third) wheel is a necessity? Cause even if you didn’t – thanks awesomely dude 🙂 (evil cackle).

  10. Dude. Step away from the Cormac McCarthy. 😉 Or TAKE ME WITH YOU!

  11. I love the “foster parent” concept!

  12. how’d you get the spinning wheel foster mom gig? all i seem to foster are dust bunnies, crumbs, and dirty clothes….only, they never seem to leave my house and go home with someone else….they are actually taking over…it’s kinda scary. occasionally i try to cull the herd, but it doesn’t seem to help or put them off in the least…

    i thought of another couple good questions to ask!!! ooo!!! oo!!!! pick me!!! pick me!!!!

    -what is the benefit of having a double drive? vs scotch tension? how does it effect wheel performance? and what kind of yarn would you use it on?

    -what size wheel is considered a “production” wheel? i know all wheels can technically produce, but how big of a diameter is a wheel that is considered production vs any other wheel?

  13. Today for the first time i really thought about getting a second wheel.

    You have turned me to the dark side.

  14. Where do I sign up to be a spinning wheel foster home? I wonder what kind of questions are on the paperwork.

  15. I love this post. I love your passion for your family of spinning wheels. I love that you felt the need to include multiple different types of apocalypse. In any reasonable apocalypse I would definitely nominate you for “sage textile lady to save civilization”. Thanks for making us smile, making us laugh, and making us think.

  16. shit!!!!!! grab cardzilla sage textile lady.

    We can run it off horse power.

    Cause apocalypse or not, you’ll always be my battbitch

  17. Delightful post.

    Thus far only 1 wheel has followed me home and that is my much-loved Lendrum, so it would be coming with me should I have to flee.

    Also, my little family of spindles, which now includes a bottom whorl spindle, a real clonker – great spinner, would come along too so I could make yarn no matter where I went.

    You made me stop and think how much I value these tools which are a part of my world. Thanks Abby.

  18. That apocalypse riff made me think of someone I knew whose house burned in some bad fires in California a couple of years ago. I remember her reporting that they got out with the clothes on their backs, the dogs, and two antique spinning wheels. So it does happen, I guess. And they went for the irreplaceable.

  19. WHew. All of the above. I think that planning for the apocalypse with post-apocalyptic skills and tools is not such a bad idea.

  20. You so need a
    “I am a textile professional”

  21. You know, my ambition is to become a wise old lady with textile knowledge for the masses in the event of civilizational collapse . . . I suppose I better get crackin’.

  22. Well, that’s what I get for asking, eh? Very interesting. And now someday, when I have a sprawling apartment or house and a little extra dough, I’ll have to get myself a second (or third or fourth) wheel!

    I’m also glad to see that you’d have a Louet if you encountered the apocalypse, as that’s what I have and will likely be my only wheel for a long time.

  23. I will never feel the slightest bit of guilt for buying another wheel or spindle again. I am preparing for the Apocalypse (although I told the last person who mentioned it, why would I want to survive it anyway?) and I am a training to be a certified spinning wheel rescuer.

  24. As someone who just got her first wheel in early June (a Louet Julia), I can fully appreciate the necessity of having multiple wheels. Due to space considerations, I’d love to have a Majacraft Suzie due to her slim footprint.

    Much to my surprise, my husband found the Babe site and is utterly enthralled with the Babe wheels and even mentioned how “convenient” it would be for HIM to have a wheel of his own as he would get lots of benefit from treadling! Producing yarn would just be a secondary benefit.

    Wheels are addictive!

  25. I just blogged about my wheel adventures, and why I hated my first. I have promised myself one wheel only at a time. Now after reading this I may have to rethink that! Ha Ha Ha

  26. Bwahahaha! What a great pack of reasons for having a pack of wheels. 😀

    You do good work, here, Abby, in infecting, er, uh, educating the uninformed amongst us.

  27. Ohhhh…. two things.

    First, I totally have to take a class from you someday.

    And second, please write a book.

  28. Well, I have just succumbed to a Victoria, on your review. I mean to spin some stuff from the fold -ramie which I love and can only spin from the fold, although I’m not doing so great on this round- I’m having to wet it. I love my S10 but get tired of it yanking the wool out of my hand and I wanted a little bitty wheel. I used to be a fiber professional but failed to make any money and now I’m just a fiber maniac with an enabler husband….Your site is so encyclopedic…..I learned to spin with the Indians in Chiapas Mexico-a supported spindle with lots of cotton. Boy, they loved Sea Island cotton which I haven’t seen for a long time. And Romney….

  29. That does it – I’m going to be a textile professional when I grow up. Do you need an apprentice?

  30. I love your thought process – so much that I am saving for a Jensen. I am already a fiber junkie – now I need a wheel for all seasons. Beth will love this reasoning, I am sure!!

    Oh… and, I would sign up to be in your next 5 classes as long as they are at Beth’s! 🙂

  31. I’m not serious, btw and unfortunately.

  32. HAHAHA! just what i needed, thanks!

  33. Ah, my, you are an abler enabler, indeed. Well said.

  34. Love the wheel entry. I am down from about 10 to 6 (counting charkas, but they’re so wee, they hardly count, eh? Oops, been reading that Canadian blog again).

    Your photos of the ponchos your mom brought back prompts a non-wheel question: a friend bought me a fabulous handspun, handwoven poncho from South America (she bought it off the back of a market vendor in Argentina so it was one made for his use, not tourist stuff) and one side is slightly fuzzy and one side is smooth. Which side do I wear on the outside in the rain? I would guess the smooth side to shed the water (with the fuzzy on the inside for warmth?).

  35. Thanks for mentioning the importance of knowing how to adjust a student’s wheel. Last year, I spent a miserable afternoon in a spinning class and, in retrospect, I’m sure it’s because my wheel wasn’t adjusted properly. I also think that the fiber provided was crap (I finally got around to taking it off the bobbin). I’m a beginning spinner and the (novice) teacher really made me feel as though I shouldn’t have signed up for the class. I’ve finally got my spinning enthusiasm back and have my private goals set for the Tour de Fleece.


    habetrot says your collection of wheels is only ordinary. (snerk, snerk).

  37. Do you also have a collection of spindles? While playing with one of my new ones it occurred to me that one can get something like 10 to 20 spindles for the price of a wheel – but 10 to 20 spindlers would be more productive than one person with a wheel. So I think we should prepare for the apocalypse by collecting spindles 😉

    Of course, a spindle is easy to improvise, but I think in a world without chocolate, icecream, alcoholic beverages… we’ll all be very grateful for the uplifting effect of a beautiful spindle.

  38. (intended to be read with the hoity toity medieval accent of royalty)

    your commentary on these potential apocalyptic scenarios are intensely thought-provoking and most amusing! Most amusing. pure genius you know. you really do spin a fine yarn! good form. good form.

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