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Understanding Spinning Wheel Ratios for Beginners

  • 6 min read
Understanding spinning wheel ratios (Image credit: Ashford on Instagram)
Understanding spinning wheel ratios (Image credit: Ashford on Instagram)

Transforming fibres into yarn is made possible through the addition of twist which is typically done with a spinning wheel. A large variety of spinning wheel options are available and many come with a different set of features and specifications. One important aspect to consider before purchasing your wheel, or for the beginner spinner, is the spinning wheel ratios available. The spinning wheel ratios available on your wheel will impact your spinning experience and the yarn you create.

What are Spinning Wheel Ratios?

A spinning wheel ratio refers to the relationship between the rotations made by the drive wheel, or the amount of treadling you do, and the rotations made by the flyer. It is presented as a numerical ratio, such as 4:1 or 8:1. This indicates how many times the flyer rotates in comparison to one rotation of the wheel (typically one wheel rotation equals one treadle). It is the size of the whorl, which is part of the flyer set-up, that affects this ratio. You can view the ratios for many of the wheels available at Thread Collective below. Note electric spinners do not come with ratios.

Ashford Country Spinner 2 Single Drive 3:1, 4:1, 5:1
Kiwi 3 Single Drive 5.5:1, 7.5:1, 9.5:1
Traveller 3 Single Drive 5:1, 7:1, 9:1, 13:1
Traveller Single Drive 6:1, 7.5:1, 10:1, 14:1
Double Drive 6:1, 8:1, 10.5:1 (13:1 bobbin lead)
Elizabeth Double Drive 8.5:1, 11:1, 15:1 (18:1 bobbin lead)
Joy 2 Single Drive 6:1, 8:1, 11:1, 14:1
Traditional Single Drive 7:1, 9:1, 12:1, 17:1
Double Drive 7.5:1, 9.5:1, 13:1 (16:1 bobbin lead)
Louet S95 & S96 Single Drive 6:1, 8.5:1, 13:1
S10 Single Drive 5.5:1, 7.5:1, 10.5:1
S17 Single Drive 5.5:1, 7.5:1, 10.5:1
Schacht Ladybug Double Drive 3.2:1, 3.6:1, 4.7:1, 5.5:1, 6.5:1, 8:1, 9:1, 10.5:1, 11.5:1, 14:1, 12:1, 14.5:1
Matchless Double Drive 4:1, 4.5:1, 6:1, 7.5:1, 9:1, 10.5:1, 12.6:1, 15:1, 17:1, 20:1, 18:1, 21:1
Sidekick Double Drive 4:1, 4.8:1, 5.7:1, 6.8:1, 8:1. 9:1, 10:1, 12:1, 11:1, 13:1

Understanding the Ratio Numbers

As mentioned previously, spinning wheel ratios are presented as a pair of numbers or a ratio, such as 4:1 or 10:1. The first number represents the rotations made by the flyer, while the second number indicates rotations made by the wheel. For example, with a spinning wheel ratio of 4:1, the flyer rotates four times per treadle or wheel rotation.

Many spinners apply this ratio to their yarn to achieve a more consistent result. They know that they’re adding X amount of twist, or flyer turns, per the length of fibre they are drafting, which is often a 1-inch increment in a short forward draw.

Higher Ratios vs Lower Ratios

Spinning wheels with higher ratios, such as the 18:1 and 21:1 of the Schacht Matchless Spinning Wheel are considered high-speed wheels. With these ratios, the flyer rotates many times for each wheel turn. These higher ratios are advantageous for spinning fine yarns, achieving more twists per inch, and spinning at higher speeds. This allows you to create tightly spun, laceweight or lightweight yarns. Note you can also use a lower speed whorl with a wheel such as the matchless to produce thicker yarns.

Various whorls offering different ratios for Schacht Spinning Wheels
Various whorls offering different ratios for Schacht Spinning Wheels

On the other hand, spinning wheels with lower ratios, like the 3:1 or 4:1 of the Ashford Country Spinner 2, are considered to be lower-speed wheels. These ratios mean that the flyer rotates fewer times than the wheel per revolution. Lower ratios are beneficial for spinning art yarns, thicker yarns or bulky threads. They provide a sense of more control and are ideal for beginners who are still developing their spinning skills. With lower ratios, you can achieve a slower pace and a more relaxed spinning experience. Finer or more traditional weight yarns are also possible on slower wheels; however, the spinner would need to treadle many more times, compared to using a wheel with a faster ratio, to add enough twist.

Selecting the Right Spinning Wheel Ratio

While you can spin almost any yarn on almost any wheel, you’lla find it a more pleasant experience to select the ratio that aligns with the yarns you wish to produce.

Consider the type of fibres you'll be spinning when choosing a ratio. Higher ratios are advantageous for fine fibres like silk, cotton, cashmere, alpaca and finer wools. Lower ratios may be preferable for coarser fibres like certain wools, flax or mohair. The appropriate ratio will depend on the weight or thickness of the yarn you intend to generate as well. Start with a small ratio (large whorl) for thicker yarn and a large ratio (small whorl) for fine yarns. Simply adjust until you’re happy with the twist in the yarn you’re producing.

Don't hesitate to experiment with various ratios to observe how they affect your spinning. All of this is a part of learning and will surely improve your spinning skills.

Why is it Important to Understand Spinning Wheel Ratios?

To reiterate what we’ve discussed above, understanding the ratios of a spinning wheel is crucial to understanding the spinning process. The ratios directly determine the twist and thickness of the yarn you produce and also the speed at which you can produce the yarn. Choosing the right spinning wheel ratio for your project can take some trial and error, but with practice, you'll develop a sense of which ratios work best for different types of yarns.

Fine spinning on a Schacht Matchless
Fine spinning on a Schacht Matchless. Note the whorl which the drive band passes over at the back of the flyer. Photo: Samantha Gehrmann

Here are the reasons why you must learn spinning wheel ratios:

1. Learning the ratios of a spinning wheel helps beginners understand how a spinning wheel works.

A spinning wheel is a tool used to turn fibre into yarn by adding twist. The flyer, the wheel, the drive bands and the tension knob are the primary components. With non-electric spinning wheels, the foot of the spinner turns the drive wheel via the foot treadles, which are connected to the flyer via a drive band that wraps around the whorl, which in turn rotates the flyer. As the flyer rotates, it adds a twist to the fibre between the orifice and the spinner's hands whilst also drawing spun yarn in through the orifice, around hooks and onto the bobbin.

The speed at which this happens depends on the spinning wheel ratio, which determines how many times the flyer rotates in relation to the drive wheel, thus determining how much twist is added to the yarn as it is spun with each treadle.

With practice, spinners can learn to adjust the ratios to achieve the desired thickness and twist in their yarn.

2. Understanding ratios will help you achieve your desired yarn.

The ratio controls how much twist is applied to the fibre, which impacts the yarn's thickness, feel and ability to hold together. With a larger whorl or smaller ratio, the flyer will cycle more slowly, producing yarn, with fewer twists. A higher ratio, on the other hand, will result in a yarn with more twists. The ratio you select must suit the type of yarn you wish to spin. Typically, thicker yarns are produced with fewer twists or they can end up rope-like while finer yarns are produced with more twist to help them hold together. Understanding the relationship between ratios, twist, and yarn thickness can help you create any yarn that you wish.

3. You can choose the right spinning wheel for your needs.

Understanding spinning wheel ratios is crucial for beginners when choosing the right spinning wheel for their needs. Beginners should consider what type of yarn they want to spin and choose a wheel with a ratio or the ability to extend ratios to suit their desired yarns.

A spinning wheel with a broad range of ratios is an especially good place to start. This would allow you to experiment to find the types of yarn you most like to spin and also to find the ratio(s) that best suits your spinning technique.

Get Started Spinning & Create Your Own Yarn

By understanding ratios and experimenting with different options, you can achieve your desired yarns. Now that you have an idea of what the different spinning ratios are for different spinning wheels, it will be easier for you to choose which one will suit your needs best as a beginner.

You can achieve your desired yarns by understanding ratios and experimenting with different options. Browse Thread Collective's comprehensive range of spinning wheels from Ashford, Louet, and Schacht, and find the best spinning wheel to create all the yarns you desire. If you're interested in learning more about spinning, you might want to check out our collection of spinning books as well!

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