Author Archives: thewooleryguy

Guest Post: Hand-Dyeing Fiber With Long Color Repeats

Variegated hand-dyed yarns and fibers are some of my favorite choices when starting a new project, but sometimes those colorful braids and skeins can be a challenge to work with. Especially when it comes to spinning fiber, it can be hard to control where the colors fall as you spin. One fun solution to this problem is to choose a fiber with longer color sections: they can either be a series of differing colors, which would produce a stripe sequence when spun directly from the braid, or a range of tonal values in the same hue, which would produce a gradient effect as you spin.

In today’s post, I’ll show you how to easily dye prepared fiber to achieve long color repeats and gradient effects with as little mess and fuss as possible, allowing you to spin directly from the top to create your yarn.

Ready to get started? You’ll just need some basic supplies which you probably already have on hand. For today’s post, I used Easter egg dyes because they are user-friendly and non-toxic; if you don’t have a stash of Easter egg dye from this past spring as I do, feel free to use kool-aid, food coloring, natural or conventional dyes instead!

Supplies:
1 Easter Egg Dye Kit (I used Paas)
Several large mason jars, plastic cups,  or glass bowls (enough for however many colors you will be using for your fiber)
Distilled White Vinegar
Glass baking dish(es), preferably clear
Spinning Fiber (I used 8 oz. of Louet Jacob sliver)
Gloves
Scale (optional)
Scrap yarn for securing fiber bundles for dyeing

Easter Egg Dyes for Long Color Repeats on Spinning Fiber1. Prep the dye: Click here to read how I prepare to work with Easter egg dye. You can also check out this blog post from the Woolery blog archives for more at-home dyeing instructions. Pro Tip: I recommend mixing more dye than you think you’ll need – spinning fiber can be rather thirsty!

It’s probably easiest to arrange your dyes in a straight line in the order you’d like the colors to appear, but I was short on space, so I arranged my dyes as you see above and worked clockwise from the bottom right.

2. Prep the fiber: Usually, I like to soak the yarn or fiber I’m about to dye in lukewarm water with a little vinegar added; however, I thought it would be easier to work with unsoaked fiber this time around. Honestly, both options would produce wonderful results, it just comes down to a matter of preference.

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Since I was planning to make four large color repeats on the 8oz of undyed Louet Jacob Sliver, I loosely bundled the sliver into four somewhat equal sections by weight.

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To secure each section, I used scrap yarn to wrap around the sliver, which I wound around my hand to make distinct sections.

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Just be sure to leave enough fiber between sections so that you can fit each section in its dye bath without pulling apart the fiber. Also, don’t tie the strings too tightly, or you will have undyed sections on your fiber where the dye wasn’t able to reach.

Spinning Fiber, Ready to Dye in Long Color Repeats!
3. Time to Dye! Beginning with one end of the fiber and your first color, submerge the bundled section in the dye bath. Add the next bundle of fiber to the following dye bath, and so on, until all of your bundles are submerged in their own dye bath.

Dyeing Long Color Repeats on Spinning FiberWork the dye through each section by squeezing it gently. Some of the spinning fiber will still be undyed between each of the color sections; you can either let it sit for a few hours to let the dyes naturally creep up the fiber, or you can use your hands to work the dye through these sections as well.

4. Transfer the Fiber to a Glass Dish: Once you have worked all of the dye through the fiber, you will need to transfer it to a microwave-safe or oven-safe dish (depending on how you plan to set the dye, which we’ll cover in the next section). To do so, you will need to start with one end of your fiber and gently squeeze out all of the excess dye BEFORE transferring it to one end of the dish. Repeat this process, carefully arranging each of the bundles so that they don’t bleed into the next section.

Transferring dyed fiber to a baking dish.

5. Set the Dye: Many folks use the microwave to set the dye, but I prefer using the oven when I dye. A few minutes before I started dyeing, I preheated the oven to 275 degrees F. By the time I was finished with step 4 above, the oven was ready. I put the baking dish of fiber in the oven and set the time for 10 minutes; once it went off, I pulled out the dish and carefully turned over each bundle of fiber, then put the dish back in the over to heat for another 10 minutes. Depending on your oven, you may need a little more time – I usually go by whether or not the dye has exhausted by squeezing a small section of fiber to see if dye or clear water comes out. If no dye is released, then it has been exhausted and doesn’t need any more heat!

Hand-Dyed Long Color Repeats on Spinning Fiber.
5. Time to dry:
Once it’s cool enough to handle, gently remove the  fiber and squeeze out any excess liquid over the sink. Find a good place to hang it up to dry where it will be away from sunlight, curious pets or children.

Dyed Gradient Roving - Visit the Woolery Blog for an easy DIY Hand-Dye Tutorial.
6. Time to spin:
Now it’s time for the fun part! I plan to split this 8 oz sliver down the middle so that I can spin two matching singles in the same sequence of colors. It could also make an interesting single or chain-plied yarn spun directly from the sliver as-is. The possibilities are endless!

For any non-spinners out there, these instructions will also work for dyeing skeined yarn or yarn blanks to achieve similar results; I’ve even seen instructions for dyeing caked yarn in a similar manner!

Like anything, there are many, many different approaches to dyeing yarns and fibers in general, as well as to achieve long color repeats and gradients – this is just one way to explore the world of at-home dyeing, and I encourage you to experiment and try other techniques to see which works best for you!

stefaniegrStefanie Goodwin-Ritter is a blogger, knitter, crocheter, spinner, and all-around crafting enthusiast who calls Chicago home. She used to be a dyer at Lorna’s Laces Yarns, but now experiments with hand-dyeing yarn and fiber at home just for fun! You can follow her fibery exploits at handmadebystefanie.blogspot.com.

Planning Your Next Handspun Project is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Some folks enjoy the process of handspinning as a way to relax or unwind (if you’ll pardon the pun), while others find a more technique- or results-driven approach to be be satisfying – for instance, spinning a woolen-style yarn or experimenting with a new technique to create art yarns. Among our customers, it seems as though most folks prefer a mixture of both, and today’s post will help you plan your next handspun project for those days when you crave a little more structure in your spinning session.

Handspun Yarn

1. It’s all about the yarn: think about the resulting yarn you wish to create – are you looking for something to suit a particular project? Do you have a fiber that you would like to try out which you’ve never spun before? Do you want to make a lofty single-ply yarn, or are you thinking about a sturdy three-ply yarn? Are you looking to try a new spinning or fiber processing technique? All of these are questions which can help guide you to creating the yarn of your dreams without a whole lot of trial and error.

2. Keep a Diary: Starting a sample notebook is a great way to record your progress as a spinner, and it will become a powerful, time-saving reference guide for yourself as you progress. Include a sample of the finished yarn amd make note of  how you prepared the fiber, which techniques you used, how many plies and in which direction you plied both the singles and finished yarn, resulting WPI, ratios used, and – if you have multiple spindles or wheels – which wheel or spindle you used. Making note of any other pieces of equipment you used (for example, which type of combs you used, the type of cloth that was on your carder, or if you used an andean plying tool, etc) is also helpful. These are all things which seems like they’re be memorable at the time, but much later, you’ll be happy you wrote them down – it’s amazing how many of these little details can get lost in the process otherwise!

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3. Spin those samples: Use a small sample of your fiber to spin up singles using the techniques you plan on using. This will allow you to see if the fiber and technique are a good match, and also give you some time to get familiar with both elements. Not only that, but if you need to achieve a specific weight for the finished yarn, the sampling process will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to ensure success in your finished product. Use as much fiber as you can reasonably spare – an ounce or two is ideal. You will want to be sure to treat your finished samples just as you would your finished project by rinsing them in your favorite wool wash and hanging them to dry! If your sample didn’t turn out as expected, it’s time to get back to the spinning wheel to make any necessary adjustments to achieve your desired results.

Once you have completed steps 1-3, it’s time to start spinning the yarn of your dreams!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Guest Post: Wet Felting a Cloche with Sayra Adams

Wet felting tutorial by Sayra Adams on the Woolery blog.

Create a felted cute cloche, that’s fun and cute to wear.

Before I learned to spin yarn, I made ladies’ hats; this led to felting embellishments, hats and other explorations with wool. Felting isn’t hard to do – it’s time consuming, yet very rewarding. These days, everything is NOW, and it’s easy to feel like you’re on overload. Moving back to hands-on crafts is relaxing, fun and cheaper than therapy!

Hats are very flattering, plus they are fun to wear. Popular show such as Downton Abbey always make me want to wear hats, and this vintage-inspired cloche style is reminiscent of what you might see one of the characters wearing. I love wearing hats, and I admit I probably should wear them more.

For those of you new to felting, water, soap and friction (rubbing, etc.) is what makes the felting process happen. Felting is a really fun activity which anyone can enjoy (even little ones!). This project doesn’t require a great deal of supplies: depending on the materials you choose, you can make the hat for around $20-$40. You could use wool roving, a plastic or cardboard resist, and soap because you will be flat felting two sandwiched sections around a resist. Then, after the wool felts enough to pick up and handle-you remove the resist. If you are feeling a little intimidated, fear not – this post will take you through the process step-by-step, and it will make sense as you view the photos below.

I used a basic brown merino, since merino wool felts fastest and it is my preferred fiber to felt with! After I made the hat, I decided it was a little tame, so I dyed it black (because, you know black goes with everything). I recommend picking a color that flatters you, although black is great on everyone.

The materials I used to felt my hat.

The materials I used to felt my hat.

Skills Needed: Patience, basic sewing, and approx. 3 hours of time

Supplies: 
*3.8 oz merino batts, or roving
*matchstick blind, bubble wrap, or textured shelf liner
*2 yards bridal tulle-aids in felt not sticking to the blind
*liquid dish soap
*sewing needle, thread, scissors, straight pins
*millinery grosgrain ribbon
*measuring tape
*resist (made of cardboard or thick plastic-see below)

Optional Supplies:
sewing machine (you may also sew in the headsize band by hand)
hat block (you can use a bowl in a pinch)
ridged wood block
soap saver-ridged bendy tool for shaping thick cord
iron (with steam function)

To make your resist: it is easy to make out of thick plastic or cardboard. The resist should be bell shaped and a bit flared at the bottom. Follow my sketch below to make your resist template:

Template to make a resist for wet felting, visit the Woolery Blog for a tutorial!

Once you have your resist made, you can get started!

Visit the Woolery Blog for a wet felting photo tutorial!
Fig A:
Lay out your tulle, matchstick blind, and two layers of wool. Batts are handy-for felting larger items. Mine peeled apart in layers. Roving take a little patience, place wool evenly.

As seen in Fig B, you must lay your wool in two directions: horizontal one way, and vertical in the other. This aids in felting. Lay the wool about 2” bigger than the resist.

Fig C: Add your resist, then repeat another layer of wool, same as the base (Fig D). You’re making a felt “sandwich” with the resist in the middle. Dribble a tiny amount of liquid soap over the wool. Go easy, since you don’t want a big soapy mess. About 4 small drops of liquid should be enough.

Visit the Woolery Blog for a wet felting photo tutorial!

Fig E: Gently fold the seam edges of the wool over the resist. Then sprinkle water on to moisten the wool (but try not to drench it). If there’s too much water, you can squeeze it out later.

Fig F: Place another layer of tulle on top of the felt, and roll up the matchstick blind. Roll like you’re making dough-for about 3 minutes. Check the hat, see if any of the seam edges have migrated. Continue to roll. Then turn the project, and roll in another direction. Whatever direction you roll, or rub, the hat will shrink in that direction. Keep rolling, and rubbing. Test for “felt” where it feels like the wool is stiffening up. Repeat…and when it gets felted enough, you can remove the resist! (Note: The active felting time can take up to 45 minutes)

Fig G: Oops! Invariably, a ridge might happen on the hat seam. Don’t sweat it. I laid my hat on the hat block, and stitched down the bumpy parts, then continued to roll, and rub. Then I turned my hat inside out to hide it (Fig H). See, there’s always a solution!

Visit the Woolery Blog for a wet felting photo tutorial!

Fig I: This is one way to rub the hat in order to further felt it. Presumably, now you have something remotely hat-shaped: if it’s looking like a bell,you’re heading in the right direction! Now is the time to try it on. If it’s still a bit too big, rub side to side so it shrinks. When it fits the way you want it to, wring the hat out and rinse the soap from it, then put it between two old towels to remove the excess water.

Dyeing a wet felted cloche hat on the Woolery Blog.

I decided to dye my hat black (Fig J). Ideally, you would pick the color of wool you want the hat to be at the start of your project, but sometimes you have a change of heart along the way! I dyed my hat in a glass bowl using acid dye; then I used my microwave on high for 10 minutes to set the dye.

Figs K-M: Use the bowl as a blocking device to shape your hat. You can use steam from an iron to help flatten out the crown tip. Using the thick cord placed about halfway down the hat block, I made a sweatband crease, which is where the optional sweatband will go. I highly recommend taking this extra step because sweatbands are an excellent buffer between you and the wool – this way your forehead won’t itch!

To add your sweatband, you can either sew it in with a sewing machine (a little tricky) or sew it in by hand, which might be easier, depending on your sewing skills and confidence. If it doesn’t work, pull the stitches out and start over!

Wet felted hat project - visit the Woolery blog for step by step instructions!

Fig N: Cut your grosgrain ribbon to fit; you can measure your head by wrapping the tape measure around and choosing an area where the hat would rest naturally. I usually take my measurements at about an inch above the eyebrows, and just over the ears. Add two inches to your overall head measurement to determine the length you should cut the grosgrain ribbon.

Using an iron, “curve” the grosgrain ribbon to make it easier to sew into the hat. It will flex, because millinery grosgrain has flexible edges. Fold the ribbon end over, and pin the 2inches under. Test to see if it fits your head, then divide into fourths, making with a pin (Fig O).

Fig P: Pin equally into the inside of the hat on the sweatband crease.

Fig Q: Slowly sew the sweatband using a sewing machine, or by hand. Sewing with a machine will give it a neater appearance. You may match the grosgrain ribbon with the thread to match the hat, on in this example, I used black thread for the bobbin to match the black felt.

Learn to wet felt a cloche hat on the Woolery Blog!I chose to cut my hat brim down some: I made it 1 inch in the back and slowly tapered to about 2 inches in the front. I used a piece of white chalk to mark the space where I needed to cut, then used a pair of very sharp scissors to cut it, saving a piece of felt to use for the hat band embellishment. To see how I make a rosette motif with art yarns, click here for instructions. Otherwise, enjoy your hat without ornament!

sayraSayra Adams (formerly known as Hatdiva) started making fanciful, romantic ladies’ hats in 1991. Her innate gift using color led to many fun hat designs. After years of dyeing silks and fashioning straw hats, she switched gears and began felting with wool…and an obsession for all things wool began! You can follow her fibery exploits at www.atomicbluefiber.com.

 

 

Spinning Wheels: The Specifics of Style

Not too long ago, one of our guest bloggers shared some tips for choosing your next spinning wheel (click here if you missed it!). We’d like to continue the conversation by discussing the different styles of wheels which you will come across in your search in greater detail on today’s blog post, and why you might want to give them a try!

When we discuss spinning wheels with our customers, we begin the conversation by talking about the first level of classification: general appearance. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the basic spinning wheel classifications include Saxony, Castle, Norwegian, Modern, and Spindle.

Saxony Wheel - Ashford TraditionalThe most traditional style is the Saxony wheel – think of fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty or Rumplestiltskin, and you know what we’re talking about! These wheels are horizontal, with the wheel on one end and the flyer on the other; typically, the frame slopes and is supported by 3 legs. One of the benefits of this style is that the orifice is lower to the ground, making it ideal for those who are shorter in stature and find taller styles of wheels more difficult to work with.

castleCastle wheels are a popular style, especially amongst those with limited space – in general, these wheels are more compact than other styles. The flyer is positioned above the wheel, and this vertical orientation requires less working space for the user – it also encourages the spinner to sit up straight as they work, so if you have back issues, this might be a more optimal choice.

norwegianThe Norwegian wheel is a cousin to the Saxony in that it has a horizontal orientation, but it is usually very ornate with a large wheel and a horizontal bench. This style is typically supported by 3-4 legs, and it’s a very traditional-looking wheel which is quite beautiful to look at, too!

modernThen next style of wheels can take on many forms, and are usually hybrids of the traditional types listed above. Folding wheel and electric spinners are all considered to be Modern style wheels, though this term can be applied to any sort of spinning wheel which attempts to take advantage of better engineering: side-to-side treadling, lightweight PVC pipe bodies, and other innovations would certainly fit into this category! These wheels are ideal for folks with limited space or who like to take their spinning with them wherever they go.

ESpinnerThough Electric Spinners do not actually have a wheel, we include them in the Modern category because they are a treadle-less option which is ideal for those who are unable to treadle (or simply wish not to). They are extremely portable and can be set on a table and started manually, and it is important to note that they are not completely automatic since the spinner must determine the size of the yarn and must stop the flyer to change hooks throughout the spinning process in order to fill the bobbin evenly. Due to its potential speed capabilities, they are a great choice for cotton spinning, much like a Charkha, which belongs to our final category of wheel styles covered on this blog post.

 

charkhaLast but not least, Spindle style wheels refer to those which use a spindle to hold the spun yarn rather than a bobbin – they work much like a Great Wheel, and the Indian Charkha is a good example of this style. For those of you looking to spin silk or cotton this Spring, a Charkha is an excellent choice due to the high-speed ratios which make working with short-stapled fibers much easier!

Thanks for joining us on your spinning journey!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

 

Guest Post: 5 Easy & Decorative Techniques for Seaming Zoom Loom Squares

You’ve woven dozens of squares, and the seemingly daunting task of seaming has confronted you. Fear not! Here are five great tips and tricks for seaming Zoom Loom squares together, all with their own unique applications.

If you know which method that you want to use in seaming your squares together at the beginning of your project, this will make your life easier in the long run. Another pre-seaming tip is to not wash or full your squares before sewing your squares together. If you are creating larger pieces of fabric with your zoom loom squares, it helps to sew squares into long strips, then sew those together in one run.

Whip it Good

whip finished

First we start with what may be thought of as the easiest technique, sewing them together with a needle and a thread using the whip stitch. Leave a long tail after you have finished weaving the square, then take a tapestry needle and thread your long tail through the needle. Lay your squares flat on the table in front of you, then sew from the right side to the left side along the same. Start by sewing into the first loop of the adjoining square. Go back and forth between the squares making sure the squares stay aligned. This keeps the fabric pretty flat as the whole, and makes fewer puckers.

whip flat

If you find that first technique a little difficult, you can hold the squares with their “right” sides together and whip stitch along the edge to secure them. This method doesn’t alway lay flat, but it will still give you a practically invisible seam.

whip together

 

Hook, Line, and Seamer

The next few techniques involve nothing more than a crochet hook (a US size E hook should do) and some extra yarn.slip stitch beginning

The first method utilizes a simple slip stitch. Start by holding your squares right sides together, then insert your hook through both layers and pull a loop of your extra yarn through the layers, then insert hook a little bit to the side of where you made your first insertion, and pull another loop through the layers, and the loop on your hook.slip stitch secondary

This method creates a strong join, bulkier than the whip stitch, but good for dense blankets and outer garments.

slip stitch finishedslip stitch finished backslip stitch finished top

This next method also uses a crochet hook, and adds some length and width to your square. Start in one corner of the square, and single crochet around the square, putting 3 single crochets in each of the corners.

single crochet step 1single crochet step 2single crochet step 3

Then after your squares have the single crochet border, sew them together using the whip stitch method. Having extra fabric to sew into creates a stronger join, and if you use a contrasting color, this can add another level of design to your project.

single crochet seamed

Another common technique is more decorative than structural, but the added lace makes an airy fabric, perfect for shawls (like the citrus squared shawl), scarves and other light-weight garments. Start in one corner of a square, and slip stitch into the fabric, then chain 3 stitches and slip stitch into the bottom corner of the adjacent square. 

chain 3 beginningchain 3 step 2chain 3 step 3

Chain 3 and slip stitch back into the original square, moving up the side of the square as you go along. Repeat this process going back forth between the squares until the whole side is seamed.

chain 3 step 4chain 3 finished

These techniques are just a few that you can add to your toolbox, and can be used in seaming larger pieces of handwoven fabric. Each technique is good for different purposes, and different types of yarn. Experiment with different seaming techniques in your projects, and see what you like best!

finished techniques

BenjaminKBenjamin Krudwig is a crochet and knitwear designer from Colorado who also spends much of his time spinning and weaving. Benjamin is the founder and co-owner of Benjamin Krudwig Fiber Arts and Design, along with his wife who sews project bags for knitting and crochet. Benjamin spends his time during the week running the social media program at Schacht Spindle Company.

3 Ways to Experiment With Color In Your Next Spinning Project

With so many dyed fibers available to handspinners these days, you may be wondering how to best put them to use for your next project. There are many ways to incorporate color into your next project – too many to cover in just one blog post! We’ve seen lots of great articles and blog posts covering some of the better-known techniques such as chain-plying and fractal spinning, so today we’d like to share some different ways to approach dyed fibers when spinning yarn:

1. Spin a two-color single: Create a truly unique yarn by selecting two complementary colors of dyed fiber to hold together as you spin a single! You may wish to use the resulting yarn as-is – we recommend a slight felting process to give it added strength, creating what is known as a supported single. Or, you may choose to ply with a solid-color single which either matches or coordinates with your two-color single to create a variegated, tweedy yarn!IMG_1767

2. Use a blending board to create rolags with repeatable patterns: this handy fiber prep tool is more affordable and portable than a drum carder, and it gives fiber artists the freedom to create rolags which can be used to spin interesting yarns! Striped, ombre, or colorful gradient rolags are all easy to create on a blending board. Below is an easy-to-follow video tutorial from Ashford demonstrating how to use this tool:

3. Mix & Match Your Singles: If you have a lot of natural-colored fleece and fiber and you don’t want to dye the resulting yarn, try plying your natural-colored single with dyed single to create a marled effect. In the top example, a natural brown single is plied with a dyed single similar in value for a subtle tweed effect; in the bottom example, a natural white single is plied with a brightly-colored dyed fiber for a fun barber-pole effect.IMG_1758

We look forward to a colorful, fibery spring – thanks for joining us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

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.