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Guest Post: Spinning Wheel Matchmaking with Alicia Morandi

Choosing a spinning wheel can be intimidating. Not only is it a substantial financial investment, it’s a lot like choosing a partner: different wheels will have different characteristics that may or may not mesh well with what you need. You and your wheel will spend many hours working together towards a common goal, so it’s important to make sure that you find a tool suited for the spinning you expect to do. Your wheel needs to feel good, make your life easier, and it certainly doesn’t hurt if you like the way it looks. But where does one begin? If you’re a newer spinner, how do you even know what you want?

A sample of wheel variety: Louet S10, Majacraft Pioneer, Ashford Traveller

A sample of wheel variety: Louet S10, Majacraft Aura, Ashford Traveller

Discover Your Options
When you begin to shop around, you’ll notice that spinning wheels vary in a few keys ways, namely: style, portability, materials, drive ratios, number of treadles, orifice type, and tension system. The Woolery’s website is an excellent resource for getting a sense of what’s out there, and it even includes some videos so you can watch different wheels in action. I’d also recommend reading expert-spinner Abby Franquemont’s blog post on choosing your first wheel.

Style: Saxony and Norwegian wheels are arranged horizontally with the flyer and bobbin off to one side and they often have a very classic look. Castle wheels are arranged vertically with the flyer above the wheel and they can have either a classic or a more modern look.
Portability: Some wheels are small, lightweight, and portable while others are not. Castle or modern wheels tend to be smaller and many are designed to fold for traveling. Increasing portability can sometimes decrease stability, depending on the wheel.
Materials: What a wheel is made of will impact its look as well as its portability and durability. Wheels can be made of everything from hardwoods to MDF, resin to plastic. My first wheel (a Babe Double Treadle Production) was made of PVC pipe which certainly had its advantages: it was lightweight and relatively indestructible; I did not worry at all about damaging it when I brought it to meetings or spun with it outside and it required very little maintenance.
Drive Ratios: The number and range of drive ratios will directly affect the kinds of yarn you can produce. Drive ratios are determined by the size of the fly wheel in relation to the whorls on either the flyer or bobbin, and represent the number of twists imparted to the yarn with every treadle or revolution of the wheel. (I explain this in greater detail elsewhere.) Higher drive ratios (like 15:1) will add more twists per treadle and spin finer yarns or shorter fibers. Lower ratios (like 6:1) will add fewer twists per treadle and spin bulkier yarns or longer fibers.
Number of Treadles: Wheels come with either one treadle (foot pedal) or two that turn the fly wheel via footmen. How many you need is a matter of preference and ergonomic comfort for your body. I prefer two but there is no rule to which is best.
Orifice Type: The orifice is the hole through which the yarn travels to wind onto the bobbin. I figured most wheels had a small hole and that was that. However, some wheels (like Majacraft) have delta orifices (a triangular bar in front of the flyer) and others have much larger openings that don’t require the use of an orifice hook to thread the yarn through. The height of the orifice off the ground can also impact your spinning posture.

Delta orifice on a Majacraft Pioneer.

Delta orifice on a Majacraft Pioneer.

Explore Your Tensions
The tension system is arguably the most important aspect of a wheel, but it’s also the aspect you will know the least about when you begin to shop around. In its essence, the tension system determines how the fly wheel is attached to the flyer or bobbin and how the yarn is wound onto the bobbin. There are three main configurations:

Irish tension / Bobbin-lead: This type of wheel has the whorls on the bobbin, such that the drive band directly turns the bobbin and the brake band puts resistance on the flyer to allow the yarn to wind on. Irish tension wheels are simple to use and easy to treadle, but they do not have the gentlest take-up. This means that they pull rather strongly on the yarn coming through the orifice which can make it difficult to spin extremely fine yarns.  This stronger take-up makes them ideal for longwools and for plying, and I believe they make good beginner wheels. My first wheel, the Babe, was Irish tension and its simplicity served me well as I was learning.

Irish tension set-up on the Babe Double Treadle Production

Irish tension set-up on the Babe Double Treadle Production

Scotch tension / Flyer-lead: This tension set-up has the whorls on the flyer so the drive band turns the flyer and the brake band slows the bobbin. This configuration is more sensitive than Irish tension so it allows a finer adjustment of the brake band and subsequently the take-up strength, which improves comfort while spinning fine yarns. However, the drawback is that you will likely need to adjust the brake band as the bobbin fills up, since the change in diameter changes the physics of how the yarn is winding on.

Scotch tension set-up on the Lendrum DT.

Scotch tension set-up on the Lendrum DT.

Double drive: These wheels have one long drive band that is doubled up around the fly wheel such that two loops go over the bobbin and the flyer. Through the magic of physics, this set-up allows for the most consistent pull-in that does not need adjusting as you go, but can be finicky to adjust initially. I do not have personal experience with double drive wheels because when I went to a shop to try some, the person helping me couldn’t get the tension set up properly. However, my impression is that double drive wheels offer a lot of flexibility and some models can even be converted to Scotch tension, further increasing your options.

Play the Field
During my search, I created a spreadsheet within which I recorded all of the things I wanted to compare from the product descriptions at The Woolery, which included: wheel maker, materials, price of wheel, price of additional bobbins, drive ratios, tension system, and accessories included in the package price. I browsed Ravelry for wheel reviews and recorded comments from other spinners that detailed what they loved or didn’t love about a particular wheel.

My handy-dandy spreadsheet categories.

My handy-dandy spreadsheet categories.

I knew I was interested in an upright/modern style wheel for space concerns, and I didn’t particularly want a folding wheel as I was more interested in stability. Aesthetically, I wanted a more modern style and a more solid material than plastic so that the wheel would feel substantial. Functionally, I wanted either a Scotch tension or double drive wheel as I felt that the strong take-up of the Irish tension wheel I had was limiting my spinning. After gathering data and determining options, the only thing left to do was try some wheels.

Giving the Schacht Ladybug a spin, with the Lendrum DT behind me.

Giving the Schacht Ladybug a spin, with the Lendrum DT behind me.

I traveled to shops up to 2 hours away to try a good variety of wheels. If I had been more patient, I could have waited until a guild meeting or a fiber festival to try several wheels at once. I can’t stress enough how important it is to try the wheels in person. In photos, I did not like the angle of the Lendrum DT and I thought its style was somewhat boring, while in person I found the angle to be quite convenient and its clean lines to be simply lovely. Both the Schacht Ladybug and Schacht Sidekick seemed larger and more solid online than they felt in reality, and while they are popular wheels, they weren’t what I was looking for. From reviews and other spinners’ comments, I had expected to adore the Majacraft Pioneer, but it turns out that that I strongly disliked spinning with the delta orifice as the triangular point was all wrong for the angle at which I was comfortable spinning. While I loved the wheel otherwise, the orifice type—which I had barely considered before—ended up being the tie-breaker of my search.

The Honeymoon Period
Ultimately, it was the combination of tension system, aesthetics, ease of use, and value that led me to choose the Lendrum DT. I particularly loved that the complete package came with three flyers (fine, regular, and bulky) that expanded the drive ratio options from 5:1 to 17:1. With so many options and with the more adjustable Scotch tension system, I felt like it would serve whatever spinning need I encountered. While it is a folding wheel, it is made from solid maple and is plenty sturdy. Finally, it was simply comfortable for me to use. Of all the wheels I tried, it was one of the few I sat down to that required no fiddling or physical adjustment on my part: I sat and spun smoothly from the get-go.

The first skein of yarn spun on my Lendrum DT.

The first skein of yarn spun on my Lendrum DT.

I couldn’t be happier with my new addition and look forward to many years of peaceful spinning with it. I hope that laying out my thought process will help you think about different things to consider when finding your perfect wheel. If you’re still overwhelmed, then just try whichever wheel appeals! The most important thing is that you look forward to using it. And remember, nobody said you had to own just one.

AliciaMorandiAlicia Morandi lives in Rhode Island with her husband (a.k.a. the Fiasco) and two feisty cats. She works as a biologist by day and she knits, spins, blogs, and creates natural body care products by night. You can read more about her fiber exploits at Woolen Diversions and peruse her handmade lotion bars featuring the sheep-y goodness of lanolin at Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe.

 

 

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Guest Post: Cotton Crazy with Arlene Thayer of Spin Artiste

cottonsingle1(1)What a perfect month it is to start talking about hand spinning cotton!  After a very long and cold winter, I’m definitely in the mood to work with fibers that are lighter and cooler.

But, one thing that has intrigued me for a long time is working with cotton in a non-traditional way.  And this goes back a few years to when I was taking a two day cotton spinning class with a very well known teacher who specializes in cotton spinning.  I showed up with my beautiful wheel that is perfect for spinning the types of textured, artistic yarns I prefer only to find that the ratios on my set up were not going to work for the class.  I tried the wheel for awhile that day and struggled to produce beautiful thin yarns using the long draw method of drafting the fiber.  Half way through the day, I was switched over to a loaner wheel with higher ratios.  Oh, the joy of getting adjusted to a wheel that you are not used to while trying to learn something new!  Nonetheless, the higher ratios of course worked out better.

On the second day, while there was a little time, I started “goofing off” and doing the types of things I normally do when I spin.  I took some of the overtwisted, unevenly drafted yarns from the previous day and made some coiled yarns.  Both the teacher and the other students were keenly interested and I thought, “hmmm…this is worth exploring.”  I made my way through the rest of the class, following the directions and producing the types of yarns we were instructed to produce, but of course, my mind had bookmarked to come back to using cotton in a non-traditional way.

Now, in coming back to this idea, I’ve been doing some free form weaving recently and one of the things that is really nice to have available is small yardages in interesting textures.  I revisited my classroom clowning and have been working with core spinning cotton.

There are some very nice aspects to working with cotton.  Consider the following:

  • It doesn’t felt.  Dyeing cotton is relaxing because there is no worrying about “manhandling it” and ending up with a felted mess.
  • It allows for a different type of manipulation when handling the fibers.
  • It’s naturally next-to-skin soft.
  • Allergy issues are much less likely with cotton.
  • It’s vegan!

For this blog post about cotton, I’m going talk about a bulky cotton yarn I spun recently.  Yes, I said “bulky”.  While we tend to spin thin cotton yarns, and they are lovely, I’m going to offer you an option to mix things up.

cottonmaterials

Here are my materials which included some cotton punis I made, commercial mohair yarn, and gold thread.  I selected each material for the following reasons:

  • Some punis – since the punis already have a little bit of twist, I knew I could pull the fiber from the end and easily draft onto my core.
  • Commercial mohair – I like to core spin with this material.  It grabs fiber well and is light and strong.
  • Gold thread – AKA “the evil gold thread” – this is fussy and temperamental in nature but it looks really good.  This thread is almost like a fine grade wire so it adds some stability as well as a touch of flash.  Since I was using light and natural colors, I wanted to add a little something extra.

To make the corespun single:  I tied on my core and auto wrap as you normally would and started spinning a little then started drafting off of the puni, gently and a little bit at a time and let it encase my core. (if you are new to core spinning, auto wrapping or navajo plying, check out the videos on my website, www.spinartiste.com).   Doing this with cotton is not a lot different than working with wool.  You have to watch it a bit more closely because the staple is short and if you don’t draft carefully, you will have puffs and bald patches!

cottonspinning

For the auto wrapping, again, you won’t need to make any special adjustments.  I set my cone of thread (it comes off better from the cone) between myself and the wheel to the left of my left knee.  If you want your autowrap (as I do) to look like it’s sort of lazily looping along your yarn and not a tight barber poled angle, you need to get the wrap source in front of your hands and rather close to the wheel.

The resulting single was somewhat overtwisted which is what is needed for the next step.

For the Chain or Navajo ply:  After removing the single bobbin off the wheel, I popped on a fresh bobbin, tied on my single and began to chain ply in the opposite direction in which I spun my single. When performing this technique, personally, I like to go slowly so that I can work with and control the twist.  Also, you have to be conscious of how big you are making the loops that you are chaining through because each time you create a loop, you will have a little hump there which takes away from the three ply look you will get from this technique.

nply

Finished yarn:   My resulting yarn is bulky and balanced and has a fun and pretty texture and look.

Cotton yarn

While I created the yarn with the intention of weaving it into a project, I could not resist getting out a large crochet hook because this type of yarn looks so fantastic crocheted.

cottoncrochet

So, there you have it!  Not only a bulky cotton yarn but a cotton yarn that does not require long draw practice!!

Spin Artiste CVArlene Thayer combines her passion for fiber and love of writing as the Publisher of www.spinartiste.com and Chief Co-Creator at www.fiberygoodness.com. As an artist, Arlene is very attracted to color and texture and prefers things on the funky side:  bold, bright, and wild.  At the same time, Arlene has a deep respect and fascination for tradition and traditional methods.  She lives in beautiful south central Pennsylvania with her beloved husband and Maine Coon cat…and a lot of fiber!

Guest Post: Wet Finishing with Laura Fry

We’re pleased to welcome accomplished weaver Laura Fry as our first guest blogger on The Woolery Blog! In this regular series, we’ll be introducing you to some of the best and brightest fiber artists as they share their knowledge and skills with us. We hope you’ll enjoy this new feature, and welcome your suggestions for future posts!

All the Best,

Chris, Nancy and the rest of the Woolery Team

It Isn’t Finished……until it’s wet finished.

New weavers are often quite surprised to discover that once the threads are interlaced into a woven web that they don’t actually have ‘real’ cloth.  Yet.  There are a few more things that need to happen.atq7

After cutting the web from the loom, take the time to inspect and repair anything necessary, like broken ends, skips and floats.  I prefer to clip the weft tails flush with the surface of the cloth, although some people like to leave a little bit to trim later.   If so, keep them short – no more than about an inch.  Longer than that and they can tangle in the final step in the process of turning threads into cloth – that of wet finishing.  If applying a hard press, the long tail can leave an impression in the cloth, so clip them flush before compressing.

What is wet finishing?  It isn’t ‘just’ washing it, although it may look a whole lot like that.

Wet finishing refers to the very first time the woven web meets water after being woven.  I like to distinguish between wet finishing and on-going laundering because the wet finishing process may be much harsher than ordinary cleaning of the textile once it has been put into use.aurora2

This is especially true of woolen yarns.  Woolen yarns have been spun with the intention of some degree of fulling happening during wet finishing.  This means agitation!   New weavers get very concerned about ruining their hard won efforts because we have all had the experience of washing a favourite sweater and taking it out of the washer or dryer the size of a doll sweater.

Agitation is the engine that drives the process of fulling.  During fulling the fibres migrate and compact which means you wind up with a much more stable, warmer textile.  Once the cloth has been brought to its finished state, however, all the rules you learned about not agitating something made from wool come into play.  Additional agitation will apply additional fulling, eventually ruining the cloth for its intended purpose if done to excess.

If you have never done any fulling, the best thing is to do it by hand.  Draw enough warm water to cover the cloth and add a little soap or detergent.  (Which one you use will depend on the quality of your water; for hard water use a detergent without whiteners, brighteners or perfumes, for soft water you can use either soap or detergent.)

The soap/detergent will do two things:  act as a surfactant, breaking down the surface tension of the water so that the fibre can more easily absorb it, and scour the oil/dirt from the yarn to clean it.

You don’t need a lot of soap/detergent – the maximum amount of suds I want to see on the surface of the water is one inch.  Usually I use less soap/detergent and add more if required as the scouring process happens.

Once the cloth is clean the agitation begins.  Run a fingernail over the cloth from beneath.  Watch to see how unstable the threads are.  As the agitation begins the fulling process, monitor the stability of the cloth by running your fingernail across the threads.  Once the web is stable enough for its intended purpose, rinse and dry with the cloth laid flat.  Larger pieces can be Z folded, turning from time to time to make sure it dries thoroughly.

For cotton, I use the washing machine and the hottest water available on a gentle wash and rinse cycle.  After wet finishing, which generally includes a hard press or cold mangle (compression – one with heat, one without), care instructions read “Machine wash warm water, machine dry until damp, iron on medium heat”.

Rayon yarns wet finished in the washing machine are done on warm water wash, warm water rinse, gentle wash and rinse cycle.  Some people prefer to wet finish their rayons by hand.   My care tags generally read “Wash by hand, hang to dry, press on cool if desired.”magic12

Wet finishing will change the woven web.  Sometimes the change is subtle, sometimes it is dramatic.  But once wet finished the cloth will be more stable, will therefore snag less and wear longer.

Welcome to the wonderful world of weaving!

Laura fry is the author of Magic in the Water; wet finishing handwovens as well as other self published titles and teaches weaving in North America. A frequent contributor to magazines, she also has a popular blog.