Is it time for you to buy your first spinning wheel? Excellent!
Handspinning yarn is a wonderful past time. Its a way to relax, a way to create, and a way to connect with the past. Best of all, when you are spinning you are making yarn. Everyone wants nice yarn. Judging from the size of all our stashes, you can never get enough yarn. So let’s pick out a wheel for you, shall we?
Picking out your wheel can be intimidating. There are many, many choices out there and none of them are exactly cheap. A spinning wheel is an investment. Plus, most new spinners don’t know what they want. Wheels come in many styles and designs. If you haven’t spun very much you might not understand what each design can give you. If you want to buy a wheel because they are pretty, well, you don’t need me! But if you want to make yarn, you’ll need a wheel that fits your preferences and style.
At first I thought I’d write a little post with some helpful advice for those interested in purchasing their first wheel. After sketching out a not-so-brief outline I realized that I had pretty big topic here. It turns out I have a lot to say on this! So I’ve broken this guide into three parts and I’ll post each part over the next few days.
Part 3 – Getting the best price
Get the flyer/bobbin design that works for you
I’ve read other guides for picking spinning wheels. They all seem to start with Saxony versus castle styles, double treadles versus single treadles and new versus used.
No no no no no. Sorry but no.
The most important part of a wheel is not the big wheel, or the treadles, and its certainly not how many other people have used it. The two most important parts are the flyer and the bobbin. That is where the spinning of yarn actually happens. Spinning happens, twist happens, because the flyer and the bobbin move at different speeds. That is true of all wheels. But in some wheels the bobbin spins first (and pulls the flyer along with it) and in others the flyer spins first (and pulls the bobbin along with it).
There are three different types of flyer/bobbin designs. I’ve seen students fight and fight (and cuss) with a flyer led wheel. Then they move over to a bobbin led wheel and BLAM! It works for them. I’ve seen it go the other way; some spinners take naturally to a flyer led system. I’ve even seen beginners struggle all the way up the steep learning curve on a double drive band system and then realize that those wheels can do absolutely anything (and they love it). Don’t worry about what those terms mean. I explain that below. My point is, first you need to find the flyer/bobbin design that works for you. Then decide on castle/saxony/hybrid and new/used, etc.
(A flyer and bobbin assembly from Craftsmanspace. They have a downloadble plan set for how to build you own spinning wheel. I REALLY don’t recommend that. Spinning wheels, quality spinning wheels, are much harder to build than most people think.)
Each design is good for different spinning preferences. Spinners, who tend to be an opinionated bunch, usually have a favorite type and only spin with that one type. Also, they want everyone else to spin with that type. Don’t let anyone’s preferences sway you, not even mine. (Oh yes I have a favorite and I get grumpy if I have to spin for too long on anything else.) Try them all.
Single Drive Band, Bobbin Led
This is the simplest design and its considered the easiest to spin with. They are often sold as beginner wheels or introductory wheels. Examples include the Louet S10 CONCEPT DT Treadle-5 Spoke Wheel-Bobbin Lead and the Babe Production Spinning Wheel.
These wheels have one drive band and it pulls on a fixed whorl at the end of the bobbin. Thus the spinning is bobbin led. The bobbin rotates first and then friction between it and the flyer, pulls the flyer around. When the yarn feeding into the wheel is held slack (no tension) the flyer stops spinning and only the bobbin rotates.
This design is sometimes called Irish tension or German tension (I have no idea why) and you will usually find a brake of some sort that increases drag on the flyer. This type of design is good for heavy weight yarn and won’t spin fine. Supposedly. In truth this is the type I like and I spin lace weight with it. I spin lace-weight singles which I then ply together to make fingering, sport, and so on. Could I spin so fine that when plied my singles made lace weight? No probably not. For that I would need one of the other designs.
Single Drive Band, Flyer Led
This is the most popular design and its considered a good choice for spinners who already have some experience with spinning (on other wheels or with a drop spindle). Examples include the traditional single drive from Ashford and the Lendrum Folding Spinning Wheel. For those who are just starting, getting the yarn to “take up” can be a little tricky. That is because the take up can be very, very light in this design.
This design uses one drive band which pulls on a whorl attached to the flyer. The flyer rotates first and then friction starts the bobbin rotating. Bobbins are smaller than flyers. They are lighter and have a smaller rotation to make. That’s why there can be very little take up with these wheels (look for a break and add some take up when you need it.) Its also what makes it possible to spin very delicate, very fine yarn.
This design is sometimes called Scotch Tension (I still don’t know why). They are good for fine yarns but you can also spin thick. That’s the advantage to this design, its flexible. Its harder to spin consistently, or I should say it takes more concentration and effort to spin consistently. On the other hand its easier to spin those funky art yarns on these wheels.
Double Drive Band
These wheels have two bands. One band pulls on the whorl attached to the bobbin and one pulls on the whorl attached to the flyer. Or.. it can have one really long band that loops around and pulls on both whorls simultaneously. Examples include the elizabeth 30 from Ashford and the Mazurka from Kromski (which has sadly been discontinued).
Double drive band wheels are the most versatile and the most complicated mechanically. With two bands, and two whorls you can adjust the speed on both flyer and bobbin. You can usually set brakes on one or the other or both. You can even move bands and make the wheel spin Scotch tension or Irish tension (I never really cared enough to even go look those terms up). These wheels can do anything.
Why don’t we all have double drive band wheels? Well, they are pricey. There is a learning curve. They also add twist like crazy. For the average beginner, who is over twisting their yarn to begin with, these wheels can be difficult to master. But don’t let that keep you from trying one.
Think about how you like to spin and about what kinds of yarn you like to work with. Then try out some wheels. Try as many as you can. I have two bobbin led wheels, made by the same company in two different styles. I can feel the differences when I use them. That means that if you tried and hated a flyer led (or bobbin led or double drive band) wheel, it doesn’t mean you will hate them all. Try any wheel you can get your hands on.
Where to go to try a wheel?
- Ask at your local yarn shop. Some of them have a house wheel. Many LYS owners are spinners and have a wheel of their own. They’ll let you try it.
- While you are at the LYS… ask about local spinning groups. Most big towns have a group of spinners that get together monthly and spin. Don’t be shy. Go to a meeting and ask spinners about their wheels. If you want to be sure of a friendly reception, bring them cookies. Really. Cookies makes for the start a great friendships.
- Fiber shows and yarn shows almost always have spinners sitting around with their wheels. In among the tables of hand dyed yarn (don’t get distracted!) you’ll come across spinners showing off what they can do. Act interested and they will talk to you for hours.
- Take a spinning class. Before I bought my first wheel I took a two day class on spinning because the instructor promised to have eight different wheels available. I tried them all. I bumped other students off (lol) and spent time with each one. At the end of that class I knew which wheels I like and which I didn’t.
If you weren’t considering buying a wheel at the beginning of this post but you are now then you have fallen under my spell. Part of my master plan is in fact to turn every knitter and crocheter into a spinner. Go try some wheels! And check back soon for the other two ports in this series.