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Thoughts on Wheels and Spinning


Previous Entry Thoughts on Wheels and Spinning Dec. 30th, 2005 @ 04:42 am Next Entry
So, I was pointed to a blog entry by Fiberlife called "Making a Spinner" (it's her Nov. 23 entry). It's very well-written, has a lot of good points - the most notable being that the best wheel does Not make the best Spinner.

I agree with that statement....but wanted to put my own thoughts down on why I (and others) go out and spend big bucks on wheels, when perhaps a run-of-the-mill kit wheel can do the same thing.

I started my spinning habit with the ever so poplular Ashford Traveller. It's a nice little wheel, very portable, good for beginners (slow-ish ratios, not a lot of "extras" to confuse you, pretty sturdy, and relatively inexpensive)...But. It's a "modern" wheel.

This doesn't mean anything for those who spin just to spin. At the time I got into weaving/spinning/fiber arts, we were pretty active in the SCA. Now, the local group here has the Elizabethian Gestapo, who enforce the costume (excuse me - "Garb") authentication, but they are pretty lenient on the textile tools side of things. My Ashford fit right in with the Schachts, Lendrums, Ashfords, and (yes!) even a Babe wheel or 2. I was happy with it...until Steve (late DH) decided to get into the SASS (Single Action Shooting Society).

*whew* I only *thought* the SCA was authentic! I think that SASS is an offshoot of the Civil War reenactors - they recreate the American Old West, from...1860-ish to 1900-ish (I think - they may not cover that much time). They STRICTLY enforce (or at least, the group Steve fell in with) the garb and accoutrements of the time period. My little Ashford - not so much allowed.

The group he got involved with had a couple of...for lack of a better term "faire grounds" set up. Think RenFaire, but in an Old West style. Saloons, Boarding Houses, Sutlers, etc. Cool set-ups....and the people were quite nice. The sutlers jumped on me (in street clothes - Steve, of course, was all gussied up) and started pulling out garb for me to look at - I knew I was in over my head when the costume included Undergarments (not just corsets, mind you - but Underwear, stockings, etc. :blink:blink:)

So, Steve and I started discussing things. *g* He wanted me to go, so we could spend time together. I don't like shooting - I can shoot, and I'm good, but....it's not so much my thing - but I was willing to go along if I could sit on the boardwalk and Do Something while I waited for him to finish playing Cowboy. He agreed that an antique wasn't suitable for this....and told me to start looking around.

Well, my friend had 2 Alden Amos wheels, and had sung their praises to me every chance she got. So, I contacted him - he can, and will, build just about any type/style of wheel you could possibly want. The drawback? They are expensive (my Ashford was $295, my first AA was $1100). BUT - they are built for *you* - the treadle length is set up such that your normal walking speed translates into easy treadling, the wheels are heavy enough that you can start and stop them with a thought, the ratios are set up for the grist of yarn you normally spin...and they're drop dead gorgeous. It didn't take more than 1 picture to put Steve firmly on the AA bandwagon. *eg*

So, anyway, 1 year later I had me a lovely, period-correct, Scottish Castle Wheel. (late 1880's, if I remember correctly). It works for the Scottish Gatherings I do, as well, so I was a very happy camper. A few months later, Alden offered to make me a "jumbo" flyer - since the wheel came hysterically correct, the flyer and bobbins are *small*. That arrived about 6 months later...and I've never looked back.

Now, how does this affect *my* spinning? Well, I can sit at my Ashford for maybe an hour before I have to get up and do something else. (The Ashford Joy I had was a bit worse - I could demo all day on it, but not comfortably, and not efficently. The small drive wheel makes for more treadling - my legs got pretty tired!) It has a 16" drive wheel, and for finer grist yarns, I have to treadle like a madwoman. My Scottish wheel has a 22" drive wheel. I can sit at her for *hours* with no pain, no cramps, no tiredness. I can start her with just a tap of my toe (the Ashford requires a quick push with the "off" hand), she stops on a dime (just stop treadling!), and the takeup is highly responsive. It's more..fun to spin on the AA than it is on the Ashford - the Ashford is more like work, the AA is vacation, if that makes sense.

Yarn-wise? I can't really see a difference, in heavier grist yarns (say, common knitting-weights.) Yarn is just that - yarn. I have a lovely skein of true worsted that I spun from some hand-combed Romney on the Ashford - I only know that because I had just finished spinning all the tops when my AA arrived. I haven't spun worsted on the AA yet - I dove back into nice, bouncy woolens - but....when I do, the only difference will be in *my* skill, not the wheel I spun it on.

So, with all that, why did I buy another AA? Because I wanted to replace the Joy wheel with something I would find a real joy to spin on for demos. All the other "travel" wheels out there have the same drawbacks the Joy has - small drive wheel, lots of treadling to put out finer grists......and most of them look modern. *I* don't care, but I've noticed at demos - if the wheel isn't the "traditional" Saxony type, people don't think you're really spinning. (Damn Disney anyway, with their Sleeping Beauty! *eg*) Even with my Castle wheel I still had to explain to people what it was - I had one guy argue with me that it *couldn't* be a spinning wheel, because his Grannie's wheel didn't look like THAT, and hers was REAL. *sigh* My Norwegian has a 24" drivewheel, but has a smaller footprint than my Scottish wheel. I can pick her up with one hand and carry her anywhere I need to put her. Plus, she's "traditional" looking.

The only thing that will make a better spinner, is to actually sit down and Spin. I don't enough time to actually put that into practice right now, but I'm working on it. My 2 AA's will help with that - if you like the tools, you tend to spend more time using them. I found myself looking for excuses NOT to spin on my Joy, which is what finally made me decide to let her go to a home where she'd be used. I don't like spinning on the Traveller, because it's work, but I'll keep it for sentimental reasons (plus, I don't mind loaning it out to folks who want to learn to spin.)

And now, I think I have some spare time this AM to actually put my money where my mouth is - I'm gonna go dig up some wool and spin a bit before work.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
spin a yarn
Date:December 30th, 2005 11:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this - I just forwarded it to someone who asked me for advice about wheels, as well as the Fiberlife article you linked. I think one of the hardest things about wheels is finding the right one for you - and there are so few places where you can try a large selection. Plus, it seems that until you've spun on something and gotten to "know" a wheel, you really aren't aware of its drawbacks or pluses. Add to that someone new to wheel spinning, and I think you have the basic reason why so many people wind up changing wheels several times over the course of their spinning life.

Cassie (http://cassiana.typepad.com/too_much_wool/)
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Date:December 31st, 2005 12:30 am (UTC)
Cassie - that is SO true. I'm out in the boonies, so trying out wheels to see what fits just can't happen.

The thing about Alden - when you first contact him about a wheel, he sends you a questionaire with 5 (I think) questions on it. They're pretty easy - things like: how long are your legs from the back of the knee to the floor, and where do you normally sit to spin; how many steps do you take in 60 seconds at your normal walking speed - things like that.

My answers took me almost all of 4 pages, single-spaced and neatly typed. *eg*

When I realized that the Joy wasn't right for me, I had no qualms about contacting Alden again. I *knew* that whatever he came up with would "fit", and I would be happy with it. *He* knows, because of the questionaire and our past dealings, what I need, even if it's not what I'm asking for. (And he wasn't shy about telling me that what I wanted wasn't what I needed, and if he built it I wouldn't be happy. That's part of the reason this wheel took 3 years to build.)

But, bottom line: I didn't Need the new wheel. My Ashford Traveller is portable, and I *can* spin on it, but not comfortably for long periods of time. I *have* taken it to demos, and had fun, but.....I paid for it when I got home. When I take my Scottish wheel out, I have no pain; I can spin without thinking about it, which lets me give more attention to the curious people thronging around me, and I have more fun. (The fact that my yarn is more consistant I put down to the comfort factor. Yes, this wheel is more comfy...but I can't say that a....Reeves wheel, for example, wouldn't fit me almost as well.) The Scottish wheel just isn't as easy to haul around...she's almost 4' tall! She breaks down a bit...but then it's a bugger to assemble her when you've got early-birds around asking quesions.

Tell your friend good luck on the wheel hunt!
(spin a yarn)
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