Choosing a spinning wheel is a significant step forward for anyone interested in fibre arts. With so many options available, it might be difficult to choose whether you're new to spinning or a seasoned veteran wishing to upgrade. We'll walk you through the important aspects when selecting a spinning wheel in this detailed guide, ensuring that you make an informed decision that corresponds with your spinning aims and tastes.
What is Spinning?
Spinning is the ancient art of transforming fibre into yarn, which is the foundation of many fibre arts. This process, utilizing a spinning wheel, allows skilled spinners to create unique and beautiful handspun yarns.
Historically, spinning was a crucial skill for housewives and artisans. Before the invention of spinning wheels, fibres were spun using a simple tool called a drop spindle. Spinning wheels revolutionized the craft, providing a more efficient way to add twist to fibres.
The spinning wheel's mechanism involves a drive band, which connects the flyer to the wheel, causing it to spin. The wheel's speed and tension are adjusted using foot pedals or a treadle. The fibres are fed onto the bobbin through hooks or orifices as the spinner's hands draft the fibre apart, adding twist to create a continuous yarn.
Handspun yarns offer distinct advantages over commercially produced options. With an expansive range of fibres and colours available, spinners can create custom yarns that suit their projects. Handspun yarns bring a sense of connection to the creative process and yield one-of-a-kind results.
How to Choose a Spinning Wheel
Choosing the right spinning wheel is essential for an enjoyable spinning journey. Spinning wheels come in a variety of types, such as single-drive, double-drive, or double-treadle wheels. Factors like the type of fibre, desired yarn weight, and personal preference for treadling style can guide the choice.
Identify Your Spinning Goals
When choosing a spinning wheel, start by thinking about what you want to achieve with your spinning wheel:
- What kind of fibres do you want to spin?
- What thickness of yarn do you want to make?
- Do you have a spinning style you prefer?
- How often will you be spinning?
- What's your budget?
Having clear answers to these questions will guide you toward the best wheel for you.
Know the Different Types of Spinning Wheels
When choosing a spinning wheel, the initial and exciting decision to make is selecting the perfect spinning wheel. You'll discover various types of spinning wheels, each offering its own set of distinct features and advantages to enhance your journey.
1. Castle Spinning Wheels
A castle-style spinning wheel's components are placed vertically, with the flyer above the wheel. Because the flyer is positioned above the wheel, these spinning wheels take up less floor area than other types of wheels. They feature three or four legs and are slightly smaller than other types of wheels. The Ashford Traveller spinning wheel falls under this category.
2. Saxony Spinning Wheels
Saxony spinning wheels are those that we have seen in fairytales, a classic and traditional design that has been favoured by spinners for many years. They can handle a wide range of fibres, from the finest of wool to coarser materials like flax and cotton. This makes them an ideal choice. This type of spinning wheel often features three legs, a flyer on one end, and a wheel on the other. Two examples that fall under this category are the Ashford Elizabeth and Traditional spinning wheels.
3. Modern Spinning Wheels
Modern spinning wheels use a combination of traditional and modern technology to improve performance and increase output. These wheels come with modern ball bearings that result in light treadling and little noise. Additionally, modern spinning wheels have the capability to alter the location of the thread on the bobbin automatically, which is very convenient because you won't have to pause to thread the thread through the next flight hook. The Ashford Joy spinning wheel and Louet spinning wheels are examples that fall under this category.
4. Electric Spinning Wheels
An electric spinning wheel or e-spinner does not have treadles, thus you do not need to start spinning with your foot. An e-Spinner also does not have a wheel, only a flyer. One thing to keep in mind is that this type of spinning wheel is not completely automatic. To fill the bobbin evenly, you would still need to determine the yarn size and stop the flyer every now and then to change hooks. The Ashford e-Spinner, a highly adaptable and portable electric spinner, is an example of an electric wheel.
Learn more about electric spinning wheels in our previous blog post titled "E-Spinners: What Are They and When Would I Use Them?"
By understanding the different types of spinning wheels available and their unique attributes, you can select the one that best aligns with your spinning style and needs. Whether you choose a castle spinning wheel, a Saxony spinning wheel, a modern spinning wheel, or an electric spinning wheel, investing in the right spinning wheel will enhance your fibre arts journey and help you create beautiful yarns.
Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Spinning Wheel
Before you buy a spinning wheel for making your own yarn, it's important to think through some key questions. Let us help you figure out what you need to consider before making your purchase, so you can start spinning yarn with confidence.
1. Do you have enough space for storage?
Consider your available space and portability needs. Some spinning wheels are designed for easy storage and transport, making them ideal for those with limited space or for travelling spinners. Castle wheels and compact folding wheels are great options if you need a portable wheel.
2. Do you prefer a small and more portable wheel or a bigger and more stable wheel?
The size and weight of your spinning wheel might have an impact on your spinning experience and overall comfort during the spinning process. Larger, heavier wheels provide more stability and momentum for lengthy, continuous spinning sessions. However, if you require a wheel that is easy to move around, a smaller and more portable wheel might be a better choice.
3. Do you need a single-treadle or double-treadle spinning wheel?
Spinning wheels come in both single and double-treadle designs. Double treadle wheels offer better balance and ergonomic support, as they allow you to use both feet for control. This feature can reduce strain during long spinning sessions and is especially beneficial for beginners. Meanwhile, single-treadle wheels have only a one-foot pedal, which may initially seem less balanced. However, they have their own benefits that make them a popular choice among spinners.
4. What is your spinning style?
Consider your spinning style and the types of yarn you want to create. If you prefer to spin bulky or art yarns, a wheel with a larger or bulky flyer may be beneficial. For those who enjoy spinning lace weight or thinner yarns, a wheel with a higher range of ratios may be preferable.
5. How much is your budget?
Spinning wheels come in a wide range of prices, from budget-friendly options to high-end, artisanal models. While it's important to stay within your budget, keep in mind that a quality spinning wheel is a long-term investment. Look for a wheel that offers good value for the features and craftsmanship it provides.
Single Drive versus Double Drive
Understanding the differences between these two types is crucial for any aspiring spinner. Let's discuss what sets them apart and how they affect your spinning experience.
Single Drive Spinning Wheels
Single-drive spinning wheels have a single-drive band that connects the flyer, bobbin, and wheel, resulting in a simple yet efficient spinning mechanism. Because they are simple to set up and use, they are a good choice for novices learning the art of spinning. Single-drive wheels are compatible with a wide range of fibre types and yarn weights, ranging from delicate lace to sturdy bulky yarns.
The smooth and consistent treadling action ensures a pleasant spinning experience, and many models offer adjustable tension options, allowing spinners to fine-tune their yarn production. Whether you're looking for a dependable wheel to start your spinning journey or an adaptable tool for your diverse spinning projects, single-drive spinning wheels offer the best of both worlds.
Double Drive Spinning Wheels
Double-drive wheels, on the other hand, have both a drive band and a separate drive band for the bobbin, providing added control and versatility. With the ability to create a higher twist and finer yarn, double-drive wheels are often favoured by experienced spinners. They usually include double treadles, allowing for a more fluid and balanced spinning motion.
Some examples of double-drive spinning wheels include the highly-regarded Schacht Matchless, antique Saxony-style wheels, and models from Ashford and Kromski. These wheels are known for their smooth and effortless spinning experience, making them a popular choice among spinners.
Double-drive spinning wheels are an excellent choice for spinners looking for precise control and versatility in their spinning journey. Whether spinning fine lace-weight yarn or bulky art yarn, these wheels provide the flexibility and adjustment needed to create beautiful and unique handspun yarn.
Irish Tension versus Scotch Tension
The choice between Irish Tension and Scotch Tension largely depends on a spinner's personal preferences, spinning goals, and the types of fibres they wish to work with. Both systems have their merits and can lead to the creation of beautiful, handcrafted yarn, making the choice a matter of individual preference and specific project requirements.
Let's explore the key differences between Irish Tension and Scotch Tension systems in spinning wheels.
- Flyer-Led System: Irish Tension, also known as bobbin-lead tension, is a flyer-led system. This means that the flyer, the part of the spinning wheel that holds the bobbin and has hooks for yarn to pass through, controls the tension.
- Tension Knob: In the Irish Tension setup, there's a tension knob on the flyer assembly. Spinners can adjust the tension on the yarn by turning this knob. Increasing tension results in tighter, thinner yarn, while decreasing tension creates thicker, more relaxed yarn.
- Versatility: Irish Tension wheels are known for their versatility. Spinners can work with a wide range of fibres, from fine to coarse, and produce various yarn styles, including fine laceweight and chunky yarns.
- Ease of Use: Irish Tension wheels are often considered more straightforward for beginners. The tension control is visible and easily adjustable, making it easy to experiment with different fibre types and yarn thicknesses.
- Bobbin-Led System: Scotch Tension, also referred to as double drive tension, is a bobbin-led system. Here, the tension is applied directly to the bobbin, which controls the take-up of the spun yarn.
- Brake Band: A Scotch Tension wheel employs a brake band, which is usually made of string or cord and wraps around the bobbin. The tension on the yarn is regulated by adjusting the tension on this band.
- Control and Precision: The Scotch Tension system provides excellent control and precision in tension adjustment. Spinners can fine-tune the take-up of the yarn by carefully adjusting the tension on the brake band. This allows for consistent and even yarn production.
- Suitable for Delicate Fibres: Scotch Tension is often preferred for working with delicate or slippery fibres, as it provides gentle control and minimizes the risk of breaking the fibres during spinning.
Understanding Drive Ratios and Drive Bands
Drive ratios and drive bands are important components of spinning wheels that play a crucial role in determining the type of yarn that can be spun.
Drive ratios refer to the number of times the flyer or bobbin rotates in relation to each rotation of the drive wheel. Different spinning wheels offer different drive ratios, which affect the speed at which a twist is applied to the yarn. A higher drive ratio means that more twist will be applied to the yarn with each rotation, resulting in a finer yarn. Conversely, a lower drive ratio will produce a thicker yarn with less twist per rotation.
Having a wide range of drive ratios is important for spinners who want versatility in the types of yarn they can create. A wheel with a variety of ratios allows for greater control and flexibility in spinning different weights of yarn.
Drive bands, on the other hand, are the rubber or textile bands that connect the drive wheel to the flyer. They transmit power from the foot pedal or treadle to the wheel, causing the flyer to rotate. The tension and position of the drive band can be adjusted to control the speed and tension of the yarn.
In summary, understanding drive ratios and drive bands are crucial for spinners as they directly impact the type of yarn that can be spun. Having a wheel with a wide range of ratios provides versatility, allowing spinners to create yarns of varying thickness. The drive band is responsible for transmitting power from the foot pedal to the wheel, enabling the spinning process.
Choose the Ideal Spinning Wheel for You
When starting your fibre arts journey, choosing the ideal spinning wheel is essential for a fulfilling spinning experience. Consideration should be given to factors such as travelling, yarn type, and the desired appearance of the wheel.
Choosing a spinning wheel is a personal decision. Think about your spinning goals, space, wheel type, and budget to find one that fits your needs. Before you decide, it's helpful to read reviews and ask experienced spinners for advice in online communities. Social media groups focused on spinning and fibre arts are fantastic resources for gaining thoughts and guidance from the spinning community.
Whether you're just starting or have some experience, the right wheel will make your spinning adventures more enjoyable. So, explore your options, try them out, and find the spinning wheel that's perfect for you.