Years ago, I did a static-image blog post about how to use a half-hitch on a low whorl spindle. Thing is, I did it really quick, after finishing up a dye day, and I was never happy with it for a million reasons, not least among them that my fingertips were stained from dye.
What’s more, over the years, I’ve refined the way I demonstrate the technique — putting on half-hitches quickly using the spindle holding hand, which is advantageous for several reasons. First, it doesn’t matter how much yarn you have between your fiber hand and the spindle — you can maintain tension and put on half-hitches without risk of tangling, especially once combined with being able to wind your yarn up in a butterfly as you spin. Second, it doesn’t take much practice to get very fast with this, partly because you don’t need to look at what you’re doing. Third, well, you don’t need to watch what you’re doing, so that makes it pretty foolproof.
So, with all of those things in mind, I chose to make a video about half-hitches the start of a series of new short technique videos I’ll be posting much more frequently. Without further preamble, then, here it is! I’d love to hear thoughts about videos you’d like to see, by the way — feel free to share them.
The fall teaching schedule is always jam-packed and exciting, and when I get home — usually just before Thanksgiving — I tend to have a huge email backlog from being on the road, and a staggering to-do list that I always expect to complete in the relative lull (well, at least it’s a travel lull) of late November to early January. Topping that to-do list is always “update the class list.”
Throughout the year, I keep notes about the things people ask me to teach, and the things I hear people asking. In November, I do outlines and descriptions and materials workups for the new classes, check out all the details and work out pricing, all that sort of thing. I’m always amazed — even though I should know — at how much longer this takes than I expect! But, I’m done for the year! Huzzah! Here it is.
It’s a PDF and there’s a ton of information in there! So I figured I’d summarize things a bit. My class list allows for three main ways to hire me to teach for you (although there are always unique considerations and special cases). First, in what I call the “hosted model,” you can hire me and pay my flat daily rate, plus travel and lodging, and then I’ll show up and teach while you promote the event, deal with registrations, and fit things into your pre-existing routine. This usually works out well for guilds, shops, and some festivals and retreats. Second, in what I call the “grassroots model,” you can have me handle registrations and collect an all-inclusive per-student fee, while you find a location where you are, do some on-the-ground logistics and advertising (like arranging for the location and telling your friends). This tends to work out well for informal groups or for a group that doesn’t have a pre-existing structure for holding classes. Third, you can come where I am with a small group, and we can put together a retreat with me at the Golden Lamb, where we’ve held Stringtopia retreat events over the past few years. This can be done either paying me the flat rate to have me deal with the logistics at this end and for you to show up with up to 7 of your friends (more by quote), or it can be made into a grassroots model retreat which I host and handle registrations and so forth.
The hope behind having three ways to do this is to try to have as many ways as possible to be as accessible as I can be to the widest range of people in the widest range of places. Of course, next year I’m going to finally have developed the online automated quote generator system with date scheduler and a robot that handles everything. I say that every year, but somehow, I never seem to do it. So if you’re interested, just email me — abby at abbysyarns.com — and we can go from there! And if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments for all to see.
Looking forward to seeing lots of you this coming year — and beyond!
A few weeks ago my husband said to me, “So have you ever heard of EDC?” I thought about that. The only thing that leapt to my mind went way back to being pregnant, when that stood for “Estimated Date of Confinement,” and referred to, you know, your due date. Somehow I didn’t think that was what he meant, though, so I said, “I’m not sure.”
“It stands for Everyday Carry,” he told me. “Check it out — there are forums and stuff, where people are talking at length about what they carry around every day.”
I thought about that for a minute. “You mean,” I said, “like my pocket stuff?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “And then there’s extended EDC — and that’s like your bag that you always take with you.”
“Huh,” I said, pondering this idea as a discussion topic. Now, don’t get me wrong: as a fiber geek, I frequent a range of forums and mailing lists and the like where people discuss exotic and obscure stuff in excruciating detail. So I’m definitely not down on the idea — it just hadn’t occurred to me that this was, you know, something people got into talking about. “So,” I asked, “what is there to say on the subject? I mean… what, like, this is what I have in my pockets and why?”
“Exactly,” he said. “Plus details about the stuff, and what you could do with it.”
“Huh,” I repeated, still thinking. I mean, I actually have a specific list of things I truly can’t cope with not having on my person, and I’ve been known to totally rant about it. I’m an extremely pocket-oriented person and I like my tools. I’ve come a long way and stripped down to a point where I actually carry a lot less stuff now than I used to. But still, there’s a core list of things I can’t cope with being without, and my wardrobe choices and lots of things about my lifestyle actually revolve around what I now was realizing was a concept people actually, er, have a name for. And forums about.
“In fact,” said my long-suffering better half, “people even make YouTube videos about their EDC.”
He showed me some. I felt torn. On the one hand, it seemed… strange. Self-important to think of making a video about the crap in your pockets. And voyeuristic to watch. But, you know… interesting. “You should do an EDC post on the blog,” Chad suggested, half-joking. O, the absurdity — after all, who’d want to know what’s in my pockets, or the bag that hangs by the door so I can grab it on the way out? And what’s next after you start telling people that, going into detail about the stuff that lives in your car? I mean, I’ve talked about the emergency knitting and spinning stuff. I’ve thought about blogging my packing process, and then concluded I just am not sure I want the world to know what my real life ratio of socks to spindles in my suitcase is.
But with a few weeks of consideration, I decided I really was going to do an EDC post. And this is it. And it even comes with YouTube videos. Seriously, I’ve emptied out my pockets and my little carry-around-town bag (it’s totally not a purse, I would never carry anything so girly as a purse!) and decided to share. Here you go. First, what’s in my pockets…
…and what’s in my carry-around-town bag.
I’d love to hear from all of you about your EDC. I wonder what we have in common and what we don’t? For example, most chicks would probably have makeup in their EDC. I do own makeup, but… it’s not an every day kinda thing for me. And some people are capable of feeling comfortable without a knife and fire, but I’m not — I don’t even really like going outside and walking around without those things. I started carrying a knife and fire of my very own when I was 8. Anyway, I’d love to hear what you carry! Tell me about it, blog about it, let’s go!
Updated as of 11 February 2015, to reflect the latest wheels on the market and latest pricing.
Choosing your first spinning wheel is somewhat like choosing your first car. There’s a level on which it doesn’t really matter exactly what it is, because it’s going to do the trick to get you started, and odds are it’s going to be a little while before you’ve refined your spinning and your ideals for your spinning to a point where you really know what your exact needs are.
HOW TO FIND A WHEEL
In some respects, the best spinning wheel to start out with is one that someone will let you borrow or rent; this is especially true if the person doing the lending is going to be able to spend some time with you in person showing you how it works and getting the ball rolling for you. If you have such an option, it’s an unbeatable first choice. You might be surprised at how readily you can find such an option, too: handweaver’s guilds and sometimes knitting guilds may have loaner wheels, and so may spinning teachers. Shops may do rentals and layaways. Experienced spinners may have extra wheels to lend out as well. At any time, I usually have at least one wheel out on loan to a new spinner — and often more than one.
The second best thing you can do is find a fiber shop or fiber show that you can get to in person, where there is a selection of wheels that you can try out, again with expertise handy to help you figure out how things work. This is what experienced spinners will generally tell a new spinner to do if at all possible — there are so many individual variables that it’s impossible for someone to be sure that what really works for one person will work as well for another person.
It’s not an absolute requirement that you find in-person assistance, but if you have never spun before, never seen anyone do it, and have no idea how wheels operate mechanically, it will make a huge difference to be able to get a little orientation. A few minutes with an experienced spinner can save you a world of frustration and possibly even prevent unnecessary damage to your equipment. If you absolutely can’t meet a real live spinner or do any in-person testing, don’t let that stop you from learning to spin — but if you have the option of going to a real full-service spin shop, or meeting with experienced spinners, don’t miss out. It’s an incredible leg up on getting started.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW WHEN I GO SHOPPING?
Those things said, there are a few things to consider when you start wheel shopping, which a little advance thought about can really prepare you to get the most out of a trip to try out wheels. The first is your lifestyle: where, and when, do you expect to spin? Do you have a good-sized dedicated space that’s where you expect you will always be spinning, or are you uncertain? Do you want to be able to spin sitting on the sofa watching TV or visiting with other people? Do you think you’ll want to take your wheel with you from place to place, or travel with it? If nothing else, this can help you rule out choices because they simply won’t fit your lifestyle or your space.
The second thing to consider is if you have a sense of what kind of yarn you feel you’re most interested in spinning. Although a skilled handspinner can spin pretty much any kind of yarn on pretty much any type of equipment, the fact remains that different setups are not always best suited to the same things. Although the majority of modern “mass-produced” wheels are aimed at being multitaskers that can easily handle a wide range of things, if you know for certain that you have a specific interest that’s on one side of the spectrum or another, you might do well to choose a wheel that’s less aimed at versatility across the middle ground, and more tuneable for what you think you want to focus on specifically. If that’s the case, a good idea might be to contact people who you know regularly spin yarn like what you want to spin, and ask them what kind of wheel they use. Chances are spinners will be delighted to expound upon their wheel choices and give you all sorts of useful information that you can add to the pile of things to think about while you shop.
Most newer spinners shopping for a first wheel, however, are not likely to have complete confidence that they know exactly what they want to spin most of the time. In this case, it makes very good sense to choose one of the aforementioned multitasking wheels that currently dominate the spinning wheel market. In addition, many new spinners these days do not have ready access to a real live spinner who can help troubleshoot or answer questions or show things in person, and must rely on literature and the Internet for help. This can mean it’s a good idea to choose a wheel that many other people use, so help is just an email away, or even already present in searchable, archived mailing lists and forums on the web. Don’t discount how instantly you can find the answers to your questions by searching through past discussion! Chances are good that if you have a question, someone else had it first and it’s been answered. The Internet is a great resource.
NEW OR USED?
Used wheels can offer a great value, and with proper maintenance will retain essentially the same price value that you paid for it; if you decide you don’t like it after all and want to sell it, you’ll get almost all your money back. You can often get a much higher-end wheel used than you’d be able to afford brand-new; and sometimes, someone who is selling a used wheel will be selling it with a range of add-ons, accessories, and extras which they won’t be using anymore without that wheel.
However, as a new wheel spinner, it can be hard to know whether or not a used wheel is in good working condition and operating as it should. In some cases, people are selling wheels that have sat unused for a long period of time, often deteriorating or having pieces run off without anyone even realizing it. And sadly there are a handful of disreputable folks selling wheels that they know have problems, and such problems may not be apparent right at the outset. Consider, too, that you may not get much (or anything) in the way of documentation or manuals with a used wheel. You may be able to find such information online, but it’s not a guarantee, and even if you do, accuracy might not be 100% either.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR USED WHEELS
Don’t rule out a used wheel, but if you don’t have an experienced wheel spinner handy to help you evaluate it, or you can’t check it out in person, or you don’t really know the seller, be aware there are risks and potential frustrations that you might encounter with your purchase. Excellent sources for used wheels can be a local spinning and weaving guild (where you also might find rental or loaner wheels), local fiber or yarn shop (perhaps they’ve got a for sale bulletin board), and several online sources, such as the Spinners, Weavers & Knitters Housecleaning Pages, Facebook groups like All Fiber Equipment For Sale, and various for-sale and marketplace groups on Ravelry. Although there are often used spinning wheels on eBay, condition is a much more hit-or-miss proposition with those wheels than these two sources; and the same goes for the classified ads in your local paper, or your local Craigslist, where you might get very lucky, but you also might not. If you are able to make contact with other spinners via the Internet, ask them to take a look at online listings for you and give you an honest opinion before you buy. You could save yourself quite a bit of time, money, and disappointment.
A used wheel that isn’t in good working order can end up costing you more than buying new. This doesn’t mean there aren’t great deals out there, but don’t assume that $200 used wheel is actually a better deal than a $450 new one — it could easily cost you $250 to get it working again. Or more. If you aren’t sure, and you can’t spin on it, you may not want to take the chance.
That being said, if you do want to see about a used or antique wheel, I’ve made a video that covers just the basic things you need to check out to be sure it’s even remotely viable.
ANTIQUE OR MODERN?
Antique wheels, while often beautiful, will be subject to all of the potential down sides of any used wheel, in some cases multiplied over a longer span of time. They also may be incomplete and really being sold as decorative items rather than working wheels, and can be expensively priced because of that as well. Even when an antique is in good working order, another thing to consider is that such wheels were generally made to spin specific kinds of yarn, and aren’t likely to be strong multitaskers. They’ll also often make use of more complicated systems to operate, and finding replacement parts or someone who can do repairs can be a bigger challenge. Unless you have someone handy who knows a lot about old wooden machines (or you are such a person), as well as about spinning, an antique wheel could pose a significant challenge for a new wheel spinner.
Most modern wheels, by contrast, are designed with versatility in mind rather than being aimed at production spinning of specific types of yarn; they often use modern materials and design elements like sealed ball bearings which make for less maintenance, simpler systems, and more readily replaceable parts.
While antique wheels are often quite fabulous, they can also be a labour of love to get working and to care for, and that doesn’t always make for an ideal first wheel experience. Does this mean you shouldn’t let your grandmother give you her old spinning wheel? Absolutely not — see the first paragraph of this article, that says a gift wheel is almost never worth turning away, and this is particularly true if it’s a wheel with which you have a personal connection. However, bear in mind it might not be the easiest first wheel in the world, and you might not be spinning the yarn of your dreams on it immediately.
Here’s how I boil this down: unless you are a spinner, don’t buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner. It’s like buying a used car from someone who’s never ridden in a car. They may not even know if it’s a spinning wheel. In fact, experienced spinners sit around all the time talking about the unbelievable thing they saw on craigslist (or wherever) that someone thought was a spinning wheel, but actually, it was a lamp or a plant stand or an antique grinder for wheat. There’s many a would-be spinner out there who has been taken in by a SWSO, or Spinning Wheel Shaped Object.
SINGLE VS. DOUBLE TREADLE
The cold hard truth of the matter here is that it pretty much doesn’t matter. Both systems work well, both are implemented in a variety of different ways, and there are good ones and bad ones of either variety. If you happen to know (say, from having used a treadle sewing machine) that you really like, or really hate, one kind of treadle mechanism or another, you can take that into consideration — but barring a known physical problem that pushes you to one side or another of the debate, the bottom line is, this is a question of personal preference. Don’t rule out a wheel because it’s one or the other, unless you’ve tried it or you have firm and absolute reason that you must have one or the other (like you only have one leg you can use to treadle, or you have knee problems that rule out getting one leg very tired). As it happens, I have the latter issue, so most of my wheels are double treadle — but I do have at least one single treadle wheel which causes me no trouble at all because I can switch legs easily, so long as I remember to do so. I also have multiple double treadle wheels which can be operated with only one foot.
You can spend a lot of time thinking about whether you want single or double treadle, and the truth of the matter is, it’s not worth worrying about extensively in most cases, not for a first wheel. Let your gut decide.
SCOTCH TENSION, DOUBLE DRIVE, WHAT?
The short answer here, too, is that it sort of doesn’t matter, because as a new wheel spinner you don’t have preferences yet, and whatever you learn with is going to be part of what shapes those preferences, at least for a while.
The longer answer is that there are basically two kinds of systems for driving spinning wheels, and these are single drive and double drive. In single drive, the drive wheel is connected via a drive band to only one thing, a whorl connected to either the bobbin or the flyer. In double drive, your drive wheel (the big wheel) is connected via a drive band to both of those things. A single drive wheel has a drive band that is one single loop, and only drives one thing; a double drive wheel has a longer drive band that is in two loops and it drives two things — the bobbin and the flyer.
In order for a bobbin and flyer mechanism to allow yarn to wind on to the bobbin, both things need to be able to turn together at the same speed, and turn at different rates; when they’re turning in unison yarn isn’t winding on, and when they’re turning at different rates, yarn will wind on to the bobbin. Depending on the setup, and how you have things configured, the amount of pull you’ll feel on the yarn as you’re spinning is going to vary. So, all types of flyer wheels do offer some mechanism by which you can adjust this. On a double drive wheel, it’s generally adjusted by managing how tight the drive band is, which can be done in various ways. Examples of double drive spinning wheels include the Schacht Matchless, most antique Saxony-style wheels, and double drive Ashfords and Kromskis. Most modern double drive wheels can also be easily rigged as single drive wheels, operating in either Irish tension or Scotch tension mode (see below).
With single drive, braking action is applied to whatever item is not being driven by the drive band. If your drive band goes around a whorl attached to the bobbin, the bobbin is the thing that will start moving first, and this is called a bobbin lead system. In this case, braking action will be applied to the flyer, often with a leather strap that goes across the front of the flyer near the orifice. How tight this strap is controls how hard the pull is on your yarn as you are spinning. Single drive and bobbin lead with a flyer brake is sometimes called Irish tension. Examples of Irish tension wheels are most Babes, most older Louet wheels, and the Roberta electric spinner.
Single Drive (in this case, flyer lead or Scotch tension)
If, on the other hand, your drive band goes around a whorl connected to the flyer, then the flyer will move first, and the bobbin will follow after, and braking action must be applied to the bobbin in order to allow for wind-on to happen. This type of setup is commonly called Scotch tension. You can identify a scotch tension wheel by the presence of a separate brake band that goes around only the bobbin, often with one or more springs attached to it, and a knob to turn that tightens that brake band. Examples of Scotch tension wheels are the Lendrum upright, Majacraft wheels, the Louet Victoria and Julia.
There are good, and bad, implementations of all of these systems. For the purpose of talking about a first spinning wheel, though, I’m going to generalize a bit about wheels in more entry-level price ranges (which means these generalizations may not apply to someone’s $2500+ custom wheel). Double drive wheels have the most consistent pull-in, but are the finickiest to adjust. Bobbin lead single drive wheels have the easiest treadling action, but the strongest pull-in and it’s hard to get the takeup really really light. Flyer lead single drive wheels using scotch tension offer the easiest-to-change takeup settings that span the widest range, but can be fiddly and require a lot of minute adjustments as you go, particularly in low-cost implementations.
So what does this mean? In my opinion, if you know you want to spin a lot of fine yarn, go with double drive or scotch tension. If you want to spin more bulky yarn than anything else, go with bobbin lead single drive (irish tension) or flyer lead single drive (scotch tension). Yes, you can spin anything with anything if you’re a good spinner, but that doesn’t mean you have to, or that it must be your first choice. Spinning a thick, low-twist yarn on double drive can be frustrating and require more fiddling, and the same thing is true of spinning extremely fine with bobbin lead single drive wheels.
Just as an added consideration, any double drive wheel could, with relative ease, also be manufactured to include a scotch tension setup option, and there are a number of wheels on the market today which offer exactly that combination. These are extremely versatile wheels that offer a lot of room to grow.
WHAT ABOUT DRIVE RATIOS?
Drive ratios, too, affect the type of yarn you can easily and comfortably spin on a given wheel. For a lot more detail on this subject, take a look at my recent articles about drive wheel size and drive ratios, here. The short version is that bigger numbers in the drive ratios mean the twist gets in your yarn faster, which is great for fine yarns; smaller numbers mean the twist goes in slower, which is great for fat yarns. I generally recommend that new wheel spinners look for a wheel which can use a fairly wide range of ratios, as this is a key element in versatility, and one of the things about spinning with a wheel that really uses mechanical advantage in ways that broadens a spinner’s capabilities. Drive ratios are like gears on a bicycle or in a car; you want several, for different purposes, in order to get the most out of your equipment.
WHAT ABOUT BOBBINS AND ACCESSORIES?
Ah yes, bobbins and accessories! If you expect to spin a lot of 2-ply yarn, odds are you’ll want a minimum of 3 bobbins. If you are looking to spin 3-ply yarn, go with 4. When you’re looking at wheel prices, also look at what they come with in terms of bobbins, flyers, and any accessories — and price those out individually. You may very well find that some new wheel packages are significantly better buys than they appear simply by looking at the numbers on the total packages — they’re not all the same.
If you’re looking for a setup you won’t outgrow quickly, and that won’t send you back shopping for a few more things in very short order, I recommend either choosing a new wheel package that comes with 4 bobbins and a lazy kate that can hold 3 bobbins, or else buying an additional bobbin and a 3-bobbin lazy kate. Another accessory you’ll likely find very useful is a skeiner or a niddy-noddy, for making skeins from your yarn, which you’ll want to do in order to wash it and finish it and so forth.
Many (probably most) antique wheels will feature only one bobbin. This was common in the era where interchangeable parts were not necessarily easy to manufacture, and where each flyer and bobbin array is a meticulously crafted and matched set that should never be broken up. If you fall in love with a one-bobbin wheel, that doesn’t mean it’s a deal breaker; it just means you may want to invest in something additional, like a bobbin winder and some storage bobbins, in order to get the spinning setup you’re after, because you’ll have to wind off your spun yarn and empty your bobbin any time you fill it up.
By the way: Because there are such things as bobbin winders and cheap bobbins you can usually feel confident that you don’t have to have more than 4 bobbins. So this means you don’t necessarily need to worry if the wheel you love uses expensive bobbins.
WHAT ABOUT ELECTRIC SPINNERS?
In the past five years or so, there has been a surge in the popularity of electric, or motorized, spinning equipment. These consist of a flyer and bobbin array driven by a motor. Because there is no need for a large drive wheel or treadles, they can be made very small, and some can be driven by portable batteries in addition to being plugged into the wall.
Let’s address two common myths: first, that e-spinners are “cheating.” Seriously? Not any more than spindles are cheating because, unlike just using your hands, they give you a place to store yarn you’re making, and they let you set it in motion quickly to generate twist rapidly. An e-spinner won’t actually make it easier to make yarn; you still have to learn all the hand stuff. And that brings me to the next myth: that an e-spinner will make you faster. This is most likely not the case. Most e-spinners function in the same general range of possible twists generated per minute as most wheels do, and most contemporary spinners — certainly new ones — don’t spin that fast anyway.
One possible down side is that a lot of instructional content focuses on procedures like counting treadles, or adjusting ratios. Those aren’t relevant to spinning with an e-spinner, so you’ll have to find other sources of information or your own ways to deal with those questions. I don’t think this is a big deal; you also can’t count treadles with a spindle, but you can make a lot of yarn with one. A more likely down side is that most spinners subconsciously adjust a lot of things to sync their treadling speed with their hands, speeding up and slowing down without realizing it. E-spinners don’t have that capability unless equipped with a rheostat foot pedal, which still feels different, and so one of the things that can feel strange is the relentless, ceaseless steadiness with which they deliver twist. Some people simply do not like that feeling.
The really big down side to a lot of e-spinners? They’re not very quiet. This is a hard thing to work through, because in a lot of the settings where you might go try out an e-spinner, it’s going to be noisy and you’ll have a hard time telling if the machine is noisy enough to bother you or people sitting with you while you spin. One of the things that makes the pricier e-spinners pricier is that they are quieter; the top-of-the-line ones are very quiet indeed.
All of those things being said, e-spinners are the penultimate (which is to say, just shy of being the ultimate — What’s the ultimate in portability? A spindle, of course!) in portable spinning solutions, with many being the size of a shoebox, and that small size is enough to make them appealing to a lot of people. What’s more, because you don’t have to treadle to power the device, if you’re someone who has foot, ankle, or knee issues, an e-spinner can make it possible for you to enjoy spinning with a flyer setup. If you can’t sit and treadle for a long time, an e-spinner might be the answer you’re after.
This is a lot of information. Just tell me what I want.
Okay, okay. For a “you can’t go wrong” versatile, general-purpose first spinning wheel, I think you want one that offers the following:
a good range of ratios, or add-on kits that can extend the ratios you spin at
a scotch tension wheel, or double drive wheel that can be rigged for scotch tension
a wheel that either comes with multiple flyers and different sizes of bobbins, or for which that’s available
a modern spinning wheel, not an antique
at least 4 bobbins total, and a lazy kate or similar device to hold 3 of them
a wheel that you can try out in person and make sure you actually like how it feels!
So how much can you expect to pay for all these things? Used, it very much depends; $150-500 for a lot of entry-priced, very solid wheels with all accessories, in good working order, though there are custom and high-end wheels on the used market as well, which can be priced much higher.
WHERE SHOULD I SHOP?
Please note that the following prices on new wheels factor in costs such as tax and shipping; and on sale, it may be possible to find them a little cheaper. When shopping for a new wheel, I definitely recommend a new spinner try to purchase one from a full-service spin shop, ideally one close enough to go visit for service and support if necessary. Obviously, not everyone will have a local (or even local-ish) fiber shop, so if you don’t, I’d recommend mail-ordering from a great and reputable dealer who’s been in the business for a while and carries a wide range of products for spinning. Your dealer is your first line of support, and can make a huge difference for you. Even though I am a very experienced spinner and am regularly in direct contact with wheel builders, I still usually get my wheels, parts and service through a handful of dealers I’ve known for a long time. Those dealers with whom I have longstanding relationships know me, know what’s coming out on the market, and can always give me the fastest service and support that’s most tailored to my needs. What’s more, they’re available on a retail schedule, which wheel builders may not be.
WHAT CAN I GET FOR MY BUDGET?
Following are my picks for strong multi-tasking wheels in each price range.
New, for around $300, you can get something from Babe’s Fiber Garden. These are consistent and reliable performers made from PVC, you can get similar accessories and in some cases make your own, and they’re all but indestructible. They’re a great value, and Nels Wiberg, their maker, is a great guy who stands by his products. There is a strong and vibrant community of Babe aficionados who can provide you with a lot of advice about these wheels. Babe’s is transitioning to its new owners as of the start of 2014, and extending its lineup as well.
For around $400, you can get a Fricke S-160. These are durable, rugged, very versatile, quiet, and low maintenance. By default, they come with a delta orifice, but a standard tube orifice is also available. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry — you probably don’t care yet, and won’t until after you have some spinning miles on your odometer.
For around $500, you can choose from offerings from Ashford (the Honda Civic of the textile world — everyone has one, or has had one, so everyone knows how they work, you can always find a used one and you know you can sell yours used too), and Kromski. In addition to its line of traditionally-styled wheels, Kromski offers the Sonata ($600-700), a folding wheel with sealed bearings for lower maintenance (priced higher, see below) and Fantasia (in the $500 range, less unfinished), a very competitive entry-priced wheel with sealed bearings and a modern sliding hook flyer, allowing you to fine tune how you fill your bobbins. Similar flyers are available now for Ashford and Fricke, most Louet wheels, and have been standard on Majacraft and Lendrum for decades.
The Kromski wheels are the most affordable “traditional-looking” and decorative wheels around, so if a historical look is important to you, these are in my opinion your best options. In this same price range, if super-mega-extreme fine yarn (and I mean as in the kind of laceweight yarn you use for a wedding ring shawl) is not an immediate interest for you, consider bobbin lead offerings from Louet, which are modern in design, durable, and much loved by their owners for their extremely strong performance and ease of maintenance. These wheels, such as the S17, S10, and S75 are icons of the spinning world — especially the S10, which is quite possibly the most indestructible wheel ever built, even without factoring in Louet’s superb lifetime warranty.
Perhaps the strongest offering to come on the scene in this price range in the past decade is the Majacraft Pioneer — fully compatible with all Majacraft accessories except the accelerator head, the Pioneer is an exceptional value in a wheel you won’t outgrow soon. I’d rate this wheel as the most versatile all-around option around $600, although it faces very stiff competition from Schacht’s Ladybug wheel — in fact, the only thing that makes me pick the Pioneer over the Ladybug is that Majacraft has a more varied line of accessories. However, Schacht’s accessories are incredibly well-designed and tested by a wide range of spinners, and they work beautifully for an extremely broad range of wants.
For around $700, an extremely popular choice is the Lendrum folding wheel, or a Fricke that’s been equipped with level-wind flyer and bobbins. New in the past couple of years from Schacht, the Ladybug is a terrific lower-priced sibling to Schacht’s venerable flagship wheel, the Matchless. Capable of double drive and scotch tension, and with all bobbins, flyers, and accessories entirely compatible with the Matchless, the Ladybug is a winner for any spinner at any level. Also in this price range you can get Louet’s Julia, a wheel with all the benefits of Louet’s experience and warranty and everything, in scotch tension.
So what’s my number one recommendation, supposing you just have to order something right this minute, and you can’t go try anything out, and you want to get the best bang for the buck? Well, it still depends somewhat on you. All around, The Fricke S-160, which of all the teaching wheels and student wheels I’ve owned over the years, is the only one I’ve kept, and the one I find most of my students get the most mileage out of the fastest, and keep the longest. The number 2 spot goes to the Lendrum, followed closely by a tie between the Majacraft Pioneer or the Schacht Ladybug, with Louet’s Julia rounding out the top 5.
Supposing the same thing, but adding in a desire for historical appearance combined with modern conveniences like interchangeable bobbins and add-on flyers, I recommend the Kromski Minstrel or one of their larger Saxony-style wheels.
Supposing you’ve no idea if you’ll like having a wheel and you don’t know how long you’ll keep it and you want to be sure you can destash it quickly, get the ubiquitous Ashford Kiwi, Traveller, or Joy, or look for one of these used. For my money, Ashford’s best value is in its workhorse Traditional wheel — many spinners have had a Traddy and nothing else for decades and they’re easy to keep running and get fixed.
WHO MAKES SPINNING WHEELS?
Almost nobody, in real life. Seriously — I’d be willing to bet there are more people who have recorded albums of classical music played on the kazoo than there are people who make spinning wheels in the 21st century. Even the largest makers of spinning wheels have fewer employees than a typical small town fast food franchise, and mostly, they’re family operations. In other words, there really is a Barry Schacht, a Richard Ashford, a Jan Louet, a Gord Lendrum, and so forth. So no matter what brand you buy, you can feel confident that you’re buying from a small, independent business. It just might be one that has been small and independent for 40+ years. But even the “big names” are mom and pop operations.
Longer-standing spinning wheel makers will have dealer networks who can supply you with service and support, and generally produce in sufficient quantity to meet ongoing demand meaning there will be wheels in stock at those dealers. Since they’re production items, that also means buying things like more bobbins, add-ons, or replacement parts will tend to be easier. What’s more, since there will tend to be large numbers of wheels out there from longer-standing makers, you’re more likely to be able to find support online from the extended community of spinners who will know how your equipment is supposed to work just from you saying “It’s an Ashford Kiwi” or what have you. They’ll also have had the opportunity to work out the kinks in their designs, which can be a really big deal for a new spinner who doesn’t know yet if problems are encountered with the wheel, the fiber, or the technique.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a chance on a new maker if the deal is right (or right in front of you). It just means that, if you’re hoping to buy a wheel and ask the internet how it should work, you might be happiest being able to say “I can’t figure out why my Schacht Ladybug feels stiff to treadle,” and hearing immediately from a bunch of people who also have Ladybugs in front of them.
WHY AREN’T SPINNING WHEELS CHEAPER?
There’s a lot of stuff on a spinning wheel that takes attention to detail in order to make it work well. Yes, these are very simple machines, but they’re machines that have to work seamlessly in concert with a human being, and that’s not easy. There are many moving parts and wheels need to be quiet enough that you can stand to sit at them, or that other people don’t hate sitting in the same room as you. These moving parts also need to handle wear and tear and sometimes be replaceable or interchangeable with others. At first blush, many people think “How on earth can these things start at $400 new?” and I really get that it’s a lot of money to put out for a new hobby, which is the big reason why it’s common for people to suggest learning to spin with a spindle first — they’ll almost always be cheaper than wheels. It’s also why I recommend looking for spinners near you as a first move.
WHAT ABOUT BUILDING MY OWN WHEEL?
Spinners on a budget often ask if I’d recommend building a spinning wheel, potentially using some of the low-cost plans out there, as a way to save money getting a working wheel. My answer is always no — not if your goal is to save money. There are lots of other great reasons to build a spinning wheel, which could be a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding project. However, it’s a tricky one to tackle without some knowledge of spinning, wheel types and wheel mechanics, and some mechanical aptitude as well as general building / carpentry / woodworking skill. Even master woodworkers and mechanics have made spinning wheels that don’t perform well. A lot goes into building a good wheel. So, I wouldn’t generally recommend building a wheel from scratch in order to learn to spin, any more than I would recommend building a bicycle from scratch to learn to ride a bicycle. It’s just very hard to know if you’re on the mark, and once learning, hard to know if a problem you’re having is you or the equipment. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great project to do — just that it may not be the ideal way to get your first spinning wheel, and most likely won’t save you anything in the way of money if you’re looking at a flyer wheel.
What if the wheel plan you’re looking at is for a driven spindle? In that case, you may be able to do it very cheaply indeed — but you’re also going to get something entirely different from a flyer wheel. That’s not bad, but what draws a lot of new spinners to look for their first flyer wheels is the search for a shallower learning curve to achieve productivity than the handspindle typically offers. I love spindle wheels, and would never say one doesn’t make a good first wheel (actually, my first wheel was an antique great wheel) — but you should know it’s a different experience than you may be thinking of when you’re a new spinner considering a first spinning wheel.
A FINAL NOTE
The specific wheels I’ve discussed are all generalist wheels, multi-taskers, and I’ve left out serious travel wheels, specialty wheels, driven spindles, and wheels priced over about $1000. Price ranges given figure for paying tax or shipping and possibly an extra bobbin or something of that nature. I’ll cover wheels upwards of $1000 at another time, but generally set that as a likely ceiling for a first wheel purchase. Links provided are to wheel manufacturers or reviewers, and not to vendors; I strongly recommend finding a local fiber shop if at all possible, and giving them your support as well as making use of them as a resource.
If you have questions or comments about any of these wheels, I’d love to hear them — please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and share your experiences, or ask about wheels not mentioned here.
In that way that things sometimes go, a wheel followed me home yesterday…
It’s an older Country Craftsman, a 24″ Saxony wheel, literally never used. It needs some cleaning up and minor tweaks, but should be a solid enough spinner once those are all squared away.
Posting the picture on Ravelry, though, resulted in folks asking to see pictures of all my wheels. At first I laughed that off, but then, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a neat idea. The boys helped me get everybody lined up on the deck for a class picture:
We took a couple.
The tall kids are standing at the rear. We let the Autoknitter join in despite not being a spinning wheel, on account of it’s a very cool machine, and tall. In the middle of the back row of tall kids is my old Majacraft Suzie (more on her later), which I really need to ask Glynis for more info about one of these days. At right in the back row is the Country Craftsman you saw earlier.
Middle row, from left: Bosworth Journey Wheel, Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Suzie Pro with accelerator head, Majacraft Saxonie, Louet Julia (S-11), Fricke S-160F.
Front row (seated), from left: Bosworth Book Charkha and Bosworth Book Charkha B-1, Ertoel Roberta, 1964 vintage double drive electric spinner (LOUD!), Louet Victoria.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be telling you in detail about each of these wheels. And by the end of the summer, I’m expecting a couple of them to matriculate and move out.
(That means I’m going to sell 2 of them before the summer is over)
Our drought has finally ended, giving way to record rainfall. However, they say it’s probably too late to save the trees that have been so confused this year, starting with an ice storm, then an early thaw, then a late freeze, then a dry spring, then an outright drought.
But this was a beautiful fall day.
Just look: the grass is green, it’s raining and wet everywhere, and those trees are all turning colours normally. I could have just stood on the porch staring for ages.
SOAR, it turns out, left its mark on all of us.
Cosmetic really, I swear. We’ll get the old girl fixed up in short order. The poor thing. I believe she was garrotted by the seat belt when I braked hard on the drive home, because she had the wound upon arrival, but not when loading up the truck.
And she’s spinning fine.
I’m having a finer spinning binge right now, which I think may well be Margaret Stove’s fault. I took her 3-hour retreat session at SOAR, and it was truly spectacular. Loyal readers of this blog will know I’ve always had a tendency to spin fine yarn. However, I’ve never been able to get quite as consistently fine with a wheel as I can with a spindle, and I produce fine yarns much faster with a spindle than a wheel (which is partly, I suspect, because I really like fine, high-twist yarn). Margaret Stove, on the other hand, produces insanely fine yarn using a wheel, and it’s less extreme in twist. One might think that the last thing I needed was a class on spinning fine yarn. That’s exactly why I signed up for it. Well, that and the fact that Margaret doesn’t teach in the US very often — I think the last time she was here was ten years ago. Always take a rare opportunity to learn from a master. Always.
Anyway, her methods are different enough from my old routines that they’re work, but they are also comfortable production methods, easy to settle into and work for a while to learn new habits. And satisfying. And right now my problem is not having enough truly fabulous fiber. I obviously need some of the 16 micron raw merino Margaret brought to her classes, raw, to teach us to wash and spin carefully from the lock.
Speaking of washing, Margaret’s washing method is actually very fast. Okay, I mean, it’s not going to get you a spotlessly washed merino fleece in minutes. But it is completely unintrusive and sustainable as a washing method for superfine fleece that you’re going to spin into froghair — 20 minutes of lock washing would definitely produce a day’s worth of spinning.
Anyway, the mill fibers I’m spinning are very nice; they just aren’t that nice. So that should tell you how nice the stuff Margaret brought was.
So what is that on my wheel? Oh right. It’s a Chasing Rainbows merino/cashmere.
…it’s coming out pretty fine. But the itty bitty neps and the commercial prep are not All That They Could Be. Also, look! Evidence that I need to just go buy a macro lens.
I’m also — because I have to take breaks — spinning this not-so-fine yarn:
“Not so fine” is of course a matter of contrast with the merino/cashmere. This is 50/50 merino/angora, which was someone’s door prize at SOAR. All I remember about it, really, is Jeannine saying “Is this something you can use?” and me saying that I do sometimes spin angora, and then it was in my bag. It’s very nice merino/angora. I split it in half and it’ll be something lace. I think. I finished this bobbin from half of it, and I’m deciding if I’ll do the other half on another bobbin and ply, or else spin something else and ply it with it. Right now I’m leaning towards just spinning the other half on another bobbin — I never do anything with That Much Angora, and since this is fine and firm, it won’t shed much.
In both cases, I’m working on learning Margaret Stove’s worsted join, and eventually I’ll have some good one-handed photos of that for you. You know, as soon as I come up with a good way to take one-handed worsted photos. There are several tricky elements to that. I now realize exactly why it is that my father taught me to take pictures at an early age, and why he pressed me into service as a hand model for many techniques as well.
So I have two questions: can you park and draft on a wheel? I have always been told that’s the easiest step to start with on a spindle but it seems like it would be handy, but a PITA, on a wheel.
I love park and draft. You can park and draft with anything! The basic premise remains the same no matter what equipment you’re using. What you’re doing is using your spun yarn as a twist battery (or that’s how I think of it). Just keep the twist from moving into the fiber supply, and build up a bunch of it. Like Maggie says, pinch off the twist, treadle for a while, and when you have enough twist built up, stop treadling, let the flyer come to rest, and there you go — you can draft at your leisure.
Park and draft is great, because you can really get a sense of the fact that twist moves independent of whatever you’re using to generate it. The fact that twist is its own entity is what makes a lot of drafting techniques work! If you were to break them down and not think about what’s going on generating twist, several popular drafting methods are variants on park and draft. The parking is just not obvious. Worsted techniques, where no twist is allowed in the drafting zone, do involve the buildup of twist in the already spun yarn, followed by you allowing it into the drafted fiber. All you’ve done is shift the timing a bit and speed the process up. Some woolen techniques, like double drafting, also use the same principle: you let twist pile up in the thin parts of an initial draw, then move that (plus some more twist that’s coming in) out into the slubby parts as you do your second drafting run. You can also use the park and draft principle when splicing a broken yarn, whether on a wheel or spindle, or long after the fact.
I’m sure someone has more park and draft thoughts — let’s hear ’em!
Second, (in several parts), how early do you start kids learning to spin? And can you (okay, can I) teach them without being an expert myself?
I say let ’em start as soon as they can sit up and grab stuff. Walking and talking are not required. But just like anything that kids learn, the way they learn as infants isn’t always obvious learning to grownups. They model observed behaviour, and they experiment, and they go from trying and not being able to do, to suddenly doing as if they had been born doing whatever it was. Give your baby a tuft of fiber. Expect it to get slobbered on, and trashed… but keep doing it. It’s just like teaching them to hold a cup or use a spoon. You don’t really teach it; you model it, and they do it.
This is why Chinchero elders were so worried about me at age 5, when I couldn’t spin at all. To them, I looked like a 5-year-old who had never touched a fork and was only capable of shoving food in my mouth with my hands.
Don’t expect a little kid to sit down, focus, and produce something. But if you would give a kid a spoon, a crayon, a book with Velcro flaps and buttons and zippers to play with, consider also giving them trash fiber to fiddle with, a stick to wrap it around, yarn to play with, and eventually a cheap spindle. Yes, these things will suffer the consequences of toddler use. But it’s real learning.
I tell folks I can’t remember a time before I could do at least some yarn stuff. That’s true. What I don’t often tell people is that I can remember being very, very little (like 15 months, based on when my parents say specific things I remember happened). Even before our family moved to Peru, my parents and my extended family gave me yarn and fiber to play with, and were doing stuff with it while I was around. Really little kids will learn more than you think, but mostly through play and copying adult (and big kid) behaviour. One of the things they can learn, if we aren’t careful, is that there are things they can’t do because they’re adult things. While there are some things we want to have be in that category, others we don’t.
That was probably earlier than you expected me to say, wasn’t it?
Let’s talk a bit about older kids, say, preschool age to early grade school. You can do all the stuff you’d do with a really little kid, but they’ll also be ready for more. For them, a great thing to do is teach them to ply first, using a spindle. This gets the mechanics of holding onto yarn while a dangling thing twirls, into their physical knowledge base. You can have them play with a spindle with some already spun yarn on it, learn to get yarn onto it, learn to secure it, learn to take it off, and learn to wind balls of yarn. With a wheel, you can teach them to treadle. Let them have at a wheel with nothing on it, and work on treadling and keeping things going one way, then going the other, and then stopping at will and changing direction (this isn’t a bad exercise for grownups to do either). With their fiber, show them how to draft it using only hands, and put twist in using only hands. Show them how it moves apart, and twist grabs it. Don’t worry about what the results are. Just let them play with the mechanics of it all. Here, incidentally, is a great use for that practice of predrafting to spinning thickness — teaching a toddler to spin! Give them fiber they can just add twist to, then teach them how you made it like that, then let them go.
They’ll likely surprise you. You really don’t need to be able to do any more than that to teach someone — anyone — the basics of spinning. Especially if they’re kids! Kids will tend to be just that awed by the magic of it.
Now, if they’re older — say getting on towards puberty — then they’ll need to want to learn it, or there will be nothing whatsoever that you can do to teach them. At that point, you have to teach them like you’d teach grownups, but expect less impulse control and possibly greater frustration.
Here’s the really hard part for a lot of people teaching kids to spin: they might be better at it than you are, really fast. Be prepared.
There’s definitely more to say about teaching kids to spin, but I’ll leave it for a separate post for now. I’ll also be having a further question roundup soon — so if you were thinking of asking something, ask!
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this little bit of fiber pr0n:
I had to pull that out of my secret stash today, and I’m just not sure I can put it back. It’s also making it hard for me to finish the rest of my workday, by gum. Some of you can tell at a glance what it is, I’m sure. As for the rest of you, I rather suspect we’ll be discussing it tomorrow. With more pictures.
Freshly updated, now with more questions answered, Fri Aug 10 09:02:08 EDT 2007!
It’s common nowadays for a lot of folks in the fiber world to use the word “roving” to rever to any unspun fiber. The thing is, this isn’t really accurate and doesn’t give a clear sense of what the preparation really is — and the preparation is relevant! So, here’s a list of some of the preparations out there, and an explanation of terms (photos to come).
– a true top, a combed top for real, not just a commercial top, is the only thing from which you can spin a true traditional worsted yarn, in which all the fibers are parallel, smoothed down into the yarn with the air squeezed out of it, and no twist in the drafting zone. This prep is really best suited to true worsted spinning, but can be spun semi-worsted (using woolen technique).
– a commercial top is a machine-produced variant of this — sort of. The fibers are pretty much all going the same direction, but there’s a ton more of them and it actually feels fairly different from spinning a true combed top. Once you’re used to this prep, you can spin a pretty fair worsted, a pretty fair woolenish, and a range of things in between, from this prep.
– a rolag is what you make when you use hand cards in the traditional way — it’s like a poofy roll of fiber. Traditionally, for woolen spinning, you use these, spin from one end, and you have your fibers going multiple directions and around and around, sort of. You could spin this with worsted technique, but it would be slow and you’d still get fuzzy yarn, not smooth yarn; but it would be stronger than a traditional woolen.
– a batt is made on a drum carder and is like a blanket of fibers, carded, but more aligned than you typically get in a rolag. You can strip these, pre-draft them, tear off chunks, roll them up, and spin them with what’s considered either woolen or worsted technique; and you can pull them or tear them into rovings.
– a roving is a carded thing, sort of wrist-thick a lot of the time though it can vary; one way or another they’re usually made from something that might as well be batts, either pulled off the carding equipment in roving form, or in some cases pulled later from a batt. On really big carders, the industrial ones that produce roving at small mills nowadays for example, the batts you’d get would be bedspread-sized, so you don’t see those too often; instead you get roving.
– a sliver is a thinner variant of a roving (to simplify). Sliver doesn’t have any twist to it at all, while roving has a tiny bit of twist (not spinning twist, but a slight twist to the entire rope). Sliver is what mills generally call their intermediate stage.
– pin-drafted roving has been carefully drafted through a series of pins, producing an open, lofty roving with a more aligned prep than is typical of other rovings.
– Puni – similar to a rolag. Prepared on handcarders, then the fibers are rolled on a stick and compressed by rolling this stick on a flat surface. Used a lot for cotton and other fine fibers. (thanks Glenna!)
In the European-derived spinning traditions, things are broken up into worsted and woolen yarns; worsteds are tightly spun, without air trapped between the fibers, and from combed prep with all the fibers parallel, producing a smoother, longer-wearing yarn. Woolens are produced from carded prep, using more hands-off techniques, so to speak, resulting in a more heterogeneous fiber alignment and air trapped in the yarn. Woolens are loftier, worsteds are denser. In these traditions, it is not possible to spin a true worsted unless you use both worsted prep, and worsted technique; same for woolen: you need woolen prep and woolen technique. However, these just define ends of a specific spinning spectrum (mmmm how alliterative!) and you can mix and match for results which traverse that spectrum. And of course, there are non-European textile traditions which don’t exactly fit in that spectrum, though when they’re being discussed by English-speakers they are often shoehorned in and those terms are used to describe things, as people don’t necessarily have a familiarity with the other-language and other-culture terms and distinctions.
Another important thing to note about the types of fiber preparations available for handspinners today is that many of them are not handspinner’s prep — they’re intermediate stages in industrial processing, adapted (or adaptable) for handspinning. This gives rise to new, hybrid techniques, new conventional wisdoms, and new debates about “best practices” when spinning from one type of prep or another or with various different goals in mind.
The bottom line is that there are more preparations of fiber, done by hand or done by machine, available to the handspinner now than at any time before. Familiarizing yourself with the offerings can take a while, but be a real thrill — and it can lead you to decide you would like to learn how to do more of your own prep, and open whole new worlds in handspinning.
Well, I had to give Cardzilla a good cleaning after a tweed blend I just finished up, so I figured I’d document the process for all to see.
You can really tell the poor guy needs a cleaning. Look at all this trash on the main drum!
And the lickerin drum — stuff piles up there after a huge batch. This is, as it was explained to me when I got my first Strauch, “where everything piles up that you didn’t want in your batt anyway, if you’re doing it right.”
And grit and fiber get everywhere — like down in the bearings and around the axles and everything, if you aren’t careful.
This can be very annoying.
It could also be a huge problem if you let it pile up, and cause mechanical issues. Best case, you end up saying “Wow, did this thing come with felt washers? I don’t remember that!” and worst case, well, you get problems. Ideally, I notice if this is happening and clear it immediately. Sometimes I don’t, though. These things happen. We’ll take care of it.
First things first. I grab one of my beater Ashford student hand cards…
…and, with the carder moving forward, gently clean off the licker-in. I start here because the main drum is going to pick stuff up off the licker-in as I loosen it, and if I had done the main drum first and gotten it all clean, I’d just have to start over.
Once I have the licker-in well cleaned, I move on to the main drum. I use the Ashford hand card here because, I admit it, it’s larger, and I’m lazy.
With the hand card resting lightly there, I operate the carder in reverse. Most of the excess fluff just comes right off.
Then I have a hand card full of trash fiber.
I repeat this step as needed, ending up with a pile like this.
Ted asked recently about the “trash yarn” that I spindle spun from drum carder trash — how do I prep it for spinning? Well, here it is! I’ll tell you more about that in an upcoming post. But this is what I do for prep.
With the big stuff off, then I have at those bearings and axles with tweezers.
And ugh, this is the scary part. Did you guys notice what it says on that yellow sticker that’s been in the background a few times? It’s not kidding; this is how I generally wound myself — grabbing bits of fluff and accidentally jabbing a finger into the licker-in.
Once I’ve picked the axles clean, going forward and back to unwrap fibers, I move on to the tool that actually comes with a Strauch carder for cleaning the main drum: a flick carder. The teeth are longer, and they dig things out better than the Ashford hand card does, but it’s also a smaller tool so I use it in a second pass when needed.
Lots and lots of stuff comes off this way, but not the volume that the first pass got.
So now, we’re looking good, right?
You can’t necessarily see it easily, but after I take that fella (the technical term is a “foosher,” because you use it to foosh things with canned air)…
Holy cow, there really was more stuff there, kinda hiding.
And if we didn’t get those out, those would be neps in our next batt. Yuck.
Okay, so now we’re done, right? Right? I mean, look at the axles here.
Sorry guys. Not done.
What? Aw, c’mon! What is that?
It’s where your nagging mom says, “Did you pick up the rug and sweep under it, or just push the dirt around it?”
Sigh. Okay, okay.
And then we’re still not done. Look at the carder in that photo, and ignore the pile of debris! More neppy trash.
This brush, too, is a Strauch tool that comes with. You use it after all the other things.
Okay, now we’re looking good.
Yeah, looks pretty decent.
However, the absolute and undeniable truth of the matter is that there’s *still* going to be stuff on here sometimes! So I usually run through a light batt of fine white merino wool, lightly misted with water. That picks up any dust and particles I might have missed. Also check the brush attachment if you have one, and make sure you don’t have lingering junk there either.
I cannot stress enough that the big yellow sticker means business, especially if you are cleaning a motorized carder. Don’t screw up. Even if you are as careful as I am, believe me, you can hurt yourself. And when I do, usually it’s by jabbing the pad of my index finger just so, getting a wound that takes a while to close nicely, and irritating the bejesus out of me when I want to settle down and spin that evening. Or knit, crochet, weave, write with a pencil, or do almost anything… sigh!
In general, you want to clean like this either any time that your carder needs it, or if you’re moving from one type of fiber to another, or changing colours. The more often you do it, the faster it will go. The more attentive you are while carding, the less time you have to spend on the annoying parts like tweezing fiber out of crevices.
Improper use and inadequate maintenance are the things that kill drum carders. With decent cleaning and maintenance alone, and if you make sure you follow your carder’s instructions, the carder itself can last basically forever. Cardzilla is no spring chicken, and the only thing he’s ever needed other than cleaning is a new motor — the aftermarket part.
Your specific carder may call for slightly different maintenance and cleaning practices than mine does; always do what the guy who made your carder tells you to do, instead of what some random chick on the Internet says.
I’ve now been plying on two different wheels and it *seems* as though some of the ply twist is lost as the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. A friend of mine has found the same thing on one of those wheels as well, but hasn’t noticed it on any of her other three wheels. It doesn’t seems as though the wheels should remove plying twist when the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. Any ides of the cause? Is this highly unusual, or somewhat common?
This gets argued all over the place, and folks can be deeply committed to their stances. I talk about it a bit in the second plying article, but in brief, my stance is that twist redistributes itself — whether in plying or in spinning — anytime that it passes over something under tension and with a bit of friction. So it’s not that you’re losing twist, though that is how it appears — it’s that it gets redistributed. To a degree, as yarn is wound onto a bobbin, it’ll redistribute over the whole of the bobbin as well, depending on how tightly you wind it and so forth. You’ll see this effect more with any flyer wheel, and less with spindle wheels or on spindles. You aren’t crazy, and this isn’t unusual; many, many attentive spinners detect this.
Another factor is that when you’re plying and looking at what hasn’t wound on yet, you’re looking at a short length of yarn. The twist that is in that short length is going to ooze out the ends, so to speak, once you don’t have it trapped neatly in that short length. And, when you wash the yarn, the same thing will happen again, as Ellen points out in comments on the same article, and the effect when you wash will be even more dramatic. Therefore, bear this all in mind when you’re plying, and see if putting in more plying twist doesn’t produce the yarn you thought you would have, once you’re done.
Kristi later follows up this line of thought with this question on the second article:
Thank you for addressing the loss of twist. Since most wheels cause the yarn to make the same number of turns in its path to the bobbin, why would one wheel cause a greater loss in twist than another? The method of delivering the yarn to the bobbin?
This is easiest to see with a really low-twist yarn, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with some good pictures to illustrate it at some point in this plying series. The short answer is that the most obvious variable in this is how firm your takeup is, and the second (and related) is the question of whether the wheel is single drive or double drive, and whether it’s rigged for flyer lead or bobbin lead. Well, maybe the biggest variable is the spinner, though. You’ll usually see the biggest variations, I find, if you hold back, hold back, hold back and THEN feed the yarn on in one fell swoop, vs. if you let it trickle through your hands and smoothly stream its way onto the bobbin. Unless, of course, you’re meticulously counting treadles and so forth while getting twist into a certain length of yarn being plied; in that case it’s easier to be uniform with the hold-back and then feed method.
The difference, though, should be minimal; but if you have a yarn with 4 plying twists in an inch, and you lose 1, it’s a much bigger percentage than if you have a yarn with 12 plying twists in an inch and lose 1. So that’s a factor too. I think this one really needs some pictures!
A few other questions came up in comments on this article as well, and some of ’em deserve their own whole posts! Here’s one:
Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise! It is fascinating to see these concepts “in action.” May I asked how you learned to spin (and ply!)?
Definitely a long-answer one! The short version is that I first really learned to spin as a child in the Andes of Peru, in the weaving town of Chinchero, near Cusco. My family, headed by a pair of field anthropologists with a specific interest in textiles, moved there just after my fifth birthday.
I’m the tow-headed troublemaker in the front. Or, well, I was; and since I was old enough to be useful, but didn’t have anything going for me in the way of useful skills, I was behind the curve and the community set to work resolving that. You’ll notice there aren’t any other kids my age in that photo — babies, but not 5-year-olds. That’s because 5-year-olds had things to be doing other than getting underfoot.
You can read a bit more about that in my Waylaka article.
The longer answer is that everything to do with the fiber arts has always been an assumption in my family. My little sister, for example, who believes she can’t do any fiber stuff (and arguably that’s a fair statement given the rest of the family) can actually knit, crochet, embroider, sew, macrame, braid, weave a little, and spin a little — if you were to compare her to the US population, it wouldn’t be right at all to say she can’t do any fiber stuff. But instead of the gene for “fiber stuff is as obvious as breathing,” she got the gene for “capable of growing plants.” That gene skipped me. You know how people say “You can’t kill a spider plant?” The “you” in question would not be me. I have a black thumb. I could garden if my life depended on it, but my life would have to depend on it. My sister is that way about fiber, but when she walks past plants it’s like a cartoon of them sighing gleefully and perking up and dancing around her to burst into bloom and greenness and so forth.
Anyway, so some of my very earliest memories, some before I could walk and talk, involve laying in my father’s weaving studio, watching the antique loom go, and learning simple braids and inkle loom weaving and me bemoaning a lack of saddlebags for my rocking horse only to have my mother cause them to materialize out of thin air with a crochet hook. Almost all my childhood warm things were handknit, hand-crocheted, and mostly handspun; tons were handwoven, and at least half my clothes, hand-sewn. The fiber arts are a fact of life for me and have always been!
It’s superwash merino/tencel, a 50/50 blend in commercially-processed combed top. This black piece was a small, leftover bit that I dyed black to see how the fiber took to being dyed black — that’s a telling thing, you see. And then I spun it into some semblance of weaving yarn, though I haven’t decided yet if I’m happy with the twist in it for that purpose. I’ve got a few of the superwash/tencel left for sale in my eBay store, and will likely reorder and do more. It’s a neat fiber.
There are also questions in here about how to spin fine; and that, well, that we will have to leave for its own lengthy entry.
As you continue to write about plying – please let us know if you use the same size whorl to ply as spin. Seems if you want more plying twist a smaller whorl would make the whole process more efficient.
Okay, I’m going to fess up here. I pretty much do everything at the highest possible flyer speed I can get, and almost always crave more speed. My use of ratios is primarily to trick myself into spinning extremely low-twist yarn. I almost never spin using ratios lower than about 12:1; and plying, well, plying is one of the main reasons I bought an Ertoel Roberta electric spinner. The faster the better! And when my mother lets me run off with the old great wheel, I expect to be plying on that a lot, like I did as a child — at what I’d guess is probably almost a 200:1 ratio. Remind me to dig up the funny plying video one of these days…
But that said, what I generally recommend is that people go up one speed to ply from where they were when they spun the singles. View your ratios like shifting gears on a bicycle or in a car; make your machine (the spinning wheel) do your work for you!
Oh, talking about Cardzilla’s woes, Ellen busted me:
Okay, let me get this straight….once Chad determines what exactly Cardzilla needs and what is best for it you are going to take it in and then floor the people behind the counter by knowing -exactly- what you want?
That’s exactly right; I’ll just stroll in there like I know what I’m talking about and spew some bit of jargon that makes me sound way cool and knowledgeable… and then, of course, they’ll ask me a question for which I do not have an answer, and I’ll be saying “It’s for a drum carder. It makes these tooth-covered drums go around in the opposite direction, and you put wool in there and it makes it nice for spinning into yarn. Anyway, it’s slipping in forward and not in reverse, as soon as it gets any load on it.”
I love the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle! I tried to look back and find a pattern name, but didn’t find anything. Is that an Abby creation or do you have a pattern name for it?
Thank you for the sock yarn teaser! The “fun stages like this” picture was gratifying … that seems to be the stage I’m always in!
This in an old (and maybe odd question). What do you wash your fiber with? The batts I ordered smelled awesome!
The Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle is a pattern I made up on the fly; you think I should chart it? Hrmmmm. It needs an actual name if I’m gonna do that, doesn’t it? As for the smell… I wash in Eucalan, Meadows Wool Wash, and Dawn dish detergent, depending. And sometimes if it’s for personal use, not for sale — because I don’t add scents to stuff for sale — I wash with my own fancy mild soaps, my absolute favourites of which are Laticia Mullins’ soaps. But she doesn’t have a web site where she sells ’em; I traded her soap for fiber a while ago and I’m addicted to her stuff! Seriously addicted! Laticia, tell the nice people where to get your soap, would you? But save some for me.
Question about the weaving…I’m currently reading a great book about Bolivian Highland Weaving in hopes of learning Pebble Weave. I’ve noticed a lot of Central Asian Yurt bands appear to be pebbleweave as well. Would you know if the two are the same technique? I put a pic of one up on my blog at www.alyclepal.blogspot.com. Would this be one of the techniques you learned living abroad? Thanks, Lisa
Pebble weave essentially is a term which is used to describe fabrics where the large single-colour fields in a pattern are actually made up of a 2-colour field where one colour is dominant and the other colour is like dots in the background, and structurally, it allows for the appearance of a single-colour field without having long floats of yarn. At least, that’s the fundamental definition, as near as I can distill it down to a paragraph.
There are, though, lots of ways one can achieve this! I would definitely classify the textile in your photo as being a pebble weave; and it definitely could be done using Andean techniques. However, the Andean pebble weave is not, to my knowledge, related to other regions’ techniques for doing so, in a direct way — they evolved separately.
Bolivian highland pebbleweaves are Andean in nature, and do use the same techniques, with relatively minor differences; typically you’ve got a 2-shed pattern section with contrasting colours on each shed, and 2 heddles (one full string-tied one called an illawa in Quechua, and one that’s a loop around the other shed, called a sonq’opa in Quechua). The pattern is achieved by doing pickup swapping warp threads from each shed with the corresponding threads from the other shed; this is called a complementary warp-faced weave structure, and one of its hallmarks is that it’s the same, but with the colours reversed, on the opposite side.
In your example, the presence of certain picks (passes of the weft) that appear to be plain-weave where all the facing threads for each shed are of one colour suggests to me that your band would be warped in a similar manner to the Andean way I know, but I’ve no basis from which to guess what the typical heddle setup would be in the central Asian example.
This is a great question though, and one that I’m now planning on getting into in more detail in its own post.
i was wondering if you use similar amounts of tension for the different plying positions, especially between the moving-forward/backward-to-feed vs. tension-fed types.
Wow, this is a tougher question to answer than it seems like! I started thinking about it, and it got to being one of those things like if someone asks you to describe in detail how to eat with a fork. The more you think about it, the more you aren’t sure. Why? Because the tension changes all the time! What I’m doing is mediating it as it changes, to make sure that the yarn getting plied has both strands under the same tension as each other as twist is getting into them. That’s the key.
I like to have the singles coming off whatever they’re on smooth and easy. I don’t want to have to pull them off the bobbin or out of a ball. I want them to just flow. And I want to have the takeup on my wheel set so that it’s winding on to the same degree of tightness on the bobbin, throughout. This can (and usually does) mean some tweaking to singles source and wheel takeup as the plying progresses. As to the spindle question, I’ll talk about that more in the spindle plying segment. Promise.
A bunch of folks asked questions about finishing. I cannot recommend highly enough that people take a look at Judith McKenzie-McCuin’s article on wet finishing in the current issue of Spin-Off, due on newsstands tomorrow (but you might already have it if you subscribe). I promise I’ll talk more about it with some of the upcoming yarns, but her article is incredibly good and if you’ve got questions about washing and finishing, you’ll likely find her article alone worth the purchase price of the magazine.
But one to answer quickly before I must move on and leave the remaining questions for another question roundup…
The hot, cold, hot, cold … that’s only on a superwash or non-felting yarn?
Categorically not! The yarn I used it on, a low-medium twist merino/silk, here:
felted — actually fulled, which is a milder form of felting — during this process, and that’s part of what causes the changes in its character, changes for the better, I think we would all say (definitely we would if we could all have handled it before and after!) The reason I re-skeined this while it was damp was because it was indeed sticking to itself and trying to be a felted mass, and I wanted it to dry while every strand in the skein could float freely. You know, into the minor mess when the wind took it.
Let’s look at the before and after wpi photos close together, for that one — you can see the changes in yarn character due to fulling that occurred in the hot-cold abusive wash:
To me the difference is obvious — but perhaps it’s also really subtle.
Another benefit is that the yarn isn’t going to go through that change, now, while in a finished object. It’s finished; and when it’s worked up, the shifts and minor changes won’t occur again throughout the life of the object, or whenever it’s washed. And if I make a garment from it, I can count on being able to handwash it in super-hot water! I know the finished object won’t be ruined or forever changed by routine washing once it’s done, because I finished the yarn the way I did.
Whew, that’s about all the question round-up I’ve got time for today! Check back soon for more. Oh! And yes, subsequent plying articles will cover chained singles (aka navajo plying) and the use of spindles, and lots more!
ETA: Omigod! June just pointed out how far ahead of myself I’m getting: apparently, I thought today was Tuesday already. It must be a heckuva Monday! Oh, and for anybody interested in such things, I’m clearance-ing a pile of discontinued stuff, one-off stuff, samples, and so forth, while supplies last, here:
I’ve promised we’d be back to more plying talk shortly, and promised a video. There’s more to talk about with respect to plying than fits into one 10-minute video on youtube, so today’s video is the first installment, and covers only plying with a wheel using a lazy kate. Part 2 will cover common plying problems, and part 3 will cover drop spindle plying and plying on the go. Then eventually, sometime further down the road, there’ll be a part 4, which will cover chain plying, 3-ply, and cabled yarns.
The video’s at the end; if you’re super antsy, you can go right there — but you’ll get more out of it, I think, if you check out the photos and article in between.
So, how do you ply and control how much plying twist is getting in there? What are some mechanical considerations, how can you tell if you’re getting it right, and what are some common plying questions and answers? Well, that’s my teaser for Part 2 of the plying series, and you’ll have to tune back in for that.
I spun an example yarn for this one, that would feature some marling (aka barberpole) so it’s a little easier to see the plying effects. I started out with a seconds (not quite perfect) superwash merino/tencel I had dyed in “Lemon Spice.”
Here are a couple of shots of the single under tension, in a part where colours are changing so it’s a little bit easier to see the twist; I also stepped up the contrast a bit.
Now, to check how much twist you have in your yarn and how it’ll look in a 2-ply — or at least an approximation of that, not factoring in any finishing such as washing — let your single kink up on itself as you’re spinning. This is a great way to determine whether or not you’re getting the twist you want into a single. But there are a couple of things to bear in mind. The first is that you do need active twist (twist that hasn’t settled, or been set by washing and/or blocking), so it’s an on-the-fly method.
The second thing is how twist operates. See how that narrows down at the very end there, on the lower right? Well, this is because twist will always pile up in your thinner spots, so when you ease up the tension on a spot containing even slight unevenness, what’s going to kink up is the thin spots, and you’ll get different-looking yarn if you aren’t paying attention to that.
Third, and closely related, in order to get this check done accurately, you need to pull yarn off the bobbin — past the orifice and flyer hooks. Twist redistributes itself a little every time it passes those spots where it’s in contact with something, with the net effect being that yarn on the bobbin will commonly seem to have less twist in it than what you’re looking at freshly drafted and before winding on. This is true to an extent too with spindles and driven spindles (like charkhas or great wheels). In that case, it’s wise to pull some off your spindle to do this check.
That’s all we’re going to say about the singles right now, other than “Here they are on a lazy kate!”
And now, here they are on the lazy kate with no tension on them. These singles were spun less than 24 hours ago, so they’re pretty fresh.
Here they are, under mild tension, side by side, next to the leader for the bobbin onto which I plan to ply.
The next thing I’m going to do is take the leader in my hand, already threaded through the orifice and whatnot, and get it going — in the opposite direction from the direction used when I spun the singles — and pile up some twist in the leader. I like to use just twist to hold the yarn onto the leader, whether it’s singles or yarn being plied; this way it comes off neatly when I skein it, and it takes me less time than if I had to fiddle with knots or loops.
Here’s how it looks when I use that twist to make the yarn to be plied stick to the leader:
With that done, move ahead and get to plying — twisting the spun singles together in the opposite direction from that in which they were spun in the first place. That’ll look something like this:
Now, because this is sock yarn, so I want it to wear like crazy, and because the fibers took rather a bit of twist, I’m putting a lot of plying twist in here.
You can see the plied yarn kinking up on itself! Wow! I’ll take a moment to digress by saying “And this is what you’d get with a cabled yarn!” but mostly, what I want to point out is that when you’re plying, you don’t want to see the yarn just hang slack and look, at this stage in the game, like you want the yarn to look when you go to work with it. If you shoot for that, you’ll end up with an underplied yarn — even if you are working with fresher singles.
When I ply from bobbins, I tend to use a lazy kate. Specifically, my Will Taylor tensioned lazy kate (that’s the one in the photos above). Sometimes I use the brake band to tension the bobbins, and sometimes I just take advantage of the central stalk on the lazy kate which lets me tension the yarn by feeding it through there as I desire. Because of this and my rather anal-retentive tendency to want my bobbins wound neatly when I spin, my singles tend to feed off very smoothly and evenly and without any kinks… so… I can treat the singles being plied together, which arrive at my hand perfectly tensioned in a uniform way, like they’re just one strand of yarn that simply needs twist put into it.
Working with a doubled strand is also the real Andean method of plying, and I was often put to work plying as a child since my spinning wasn’t really up to production grade as compared to some of my peers. Er, make that most of my peers. In any event, I’ve plied quite a bit of double-stranded yarn, so it comes very, very easily to me at this point. With a wheel and a decent lazy kate, plying is a one-handed and totally mindless activity where the limiting factor is the speed of the twist insertion device.
In the photo just above, you can see that on the lazy kate side — the right — the yarn is coming in, doubled, not plied. My hand is keeping the twist out of it, and the yarn is basically just feeding through there, being taken up by the flyer wheel’s tensioning mechanism.
The seeming aeons of waiting for something to happen while this goes on, I find, are an excellent time to drink more coffee, have a beer, or — as was the case when I took these photos — operate my camera with the other hand.
There are lots and lots of ways to tension this incoming doubled strand.
Now, if you don’t have a good lazy kate, your bobbins aren’t wound neatly (causing uneven wind off) or you’re using a plying twist management technique that involves erratic unwinding on the bobbins, or if you’ve got singles that aren’t playing nice with how they feed into your hand for any reason at all, you may want to keep your plies separated until the moment of truth.
In general, I find myself slowed down or mildly annoyed by most techniques that depend on keeping the plies separate until they are actually having their plying twist inserted. This is, I’m sure, because of my childhood spent plying in the Andean manner, and because in general, assuming you can keep things smooth and evenly tensioned, there’s no need to keep the yarn separate and efforts to do that can either require equipment or fiddling with yarn trying to twist up on itself upstream of your hand (as in where it’s feeding from its source). If you’ve ever plied from a center-pull ball you know what I mean — you’ll get the plies twisting around each other on the ball side as well as the wheel side, and then you have to manage that somehow as well.
When I’m plying from a center-pull ball (and didn’t, for some reason, just wind a 2-stranded ball) I actually hold the ball itself, and pull back on that, and tension the yarn while it’s being twisted… but that’s for another episode.
Still, there are times and places where you do want to be able to tension your yarn as individual strands. These include if you have more plies (4 or more for me, generally), different fibers, singles with different amounts of twist, or you’re doing a novelty plying technique, or you’ve got the yarn to be plied feeding at different rates for any reason (say, one’s in a ball, one is on a spindle, and one is on a bobbin). Most commonly, you might want to do this if working from a lazy kate that isn’t tensioned, bobbins that aren’t evenly and smoothly wound, or multiple balls of yarn.
Keeping the plies separate allows you to most closely watch how the twist is going in. While you are getting a feel for plying, you may well find this preferable.
Let’s stop a second and look at our yarn. If you’re vigilant and attentive, you can tell from this photo that at every place where it touches something and bends and goes around a corner or what have you — the orifice, the flyer cup hook, the sliding hook on the flyer arm — a little twist seems to be lost. Remember this when you’re plying; what you’re looking at in your hand isn’t the same as what’s on the bobbin, which in turn is not the same as what you’l have when all is said and done and the yarn is plied, washed, dried, and then finally, worked up into its finished object. With practice, you can spin, ply, and finish your yarn with the finished object in mind, and achieve results you simply can’t get from a millspun yarn. But you have to bear in mind that the yarn won’t look like your finished object at varying stages en route there.
So even this finished bobbin of yarn is not exactly what you’ll have when all is said and done. But just for good measure, let’s see it with the contrast upped a little bit so you can look at the angle of plying twist, which is pretty extreme in this yarn.
If you look closely, you can also see there are some parts that are twistier and some parts that are not so twisty. This is not a disaster; this is something finishing takes care of.
That’s another “What my cabled yarn might look like” shot of the yarn kinking up as I go to skein it from the bobbin. Yeah, it’s fresh; I finished plying it about 3 minutes prior. Here’s how it looks on Mr. Skeiny:
one more time for good measure…
…and here’s how it looks pulled off Mr. Skeiny!
We can’t even get it to twist up neatly, it’s so kinky.
And so, to paraphrase the song, we take it to the sink, drop it in the water, and wash it down…
This is HOT HOT HOT water, mind you. The hottest I can get out of my tap, which as it happens is about 50C/150F. Ow. Don’t stick your hands right in there, or if you do, not for long and not if you are a wimp.
I also throw in some soap at this stage, often Eucalan, but it doesn’t matter. And sometimes at this stage, I agitate the yarn in one way or another, to cause it to full (as you can read about in the Summer 2007 Spin-Off article by Judith McKenzie-McCuin, regarding wet finishing!). Basically, this is when I want to abuse the yarn and cause it to show me where its weaknesses are. I don’t want to be finding out about those later, after I’ve made something that took lots of time. I want to know now.
I also want the yarn to be prepared to withstand whatever washing treatment I’m liable to give the finished object. In the case of the socks I might someday actually make from this yarn, odds are they’ll be in regular laundry rotation. If this yarn can’t stand up to a beating in a sink of hot water and gentle detergent, then it can’t stand up to the laundry.
I didn’t really rough this one up too much, though. I just let it sit in the hot hot hot water until I was willing to stick my hands in there, and that’s how it looked after sitting for maybe half an hour. Not so kinky, you will note.
I hauled it out, wrung it out, thwacked it, swished it around in the water again, wrung it vigorously a few more times, then took it outside on the deck and twirled it around to spin water out of it. Here it is in sodden form…
Here it is after drying unweighted:
I’m not entirely pleased; slightly more twist in the ply than I really wanted. I blame it on this being the second superwash merino/tencel I’ve spun. On the other hand, though, there’s a bit of elasticity to it from the extreme twist.
And the yarn has a nice sheen to it and actually would make terrific socks.
Well, now that everyone’s got the pre-requisite reading done, we can move on to the video, which shows some of the techniques used in plying this yarn. Okay, not that yarn. This yarn:
…which shows the need for finishing by turning into this: