When I first got my spinning wheel, I gave no thought to ratios or drive bands or whorl sizes or twists per inch, I was just excited to have a nice, affordable tool that I could use while sitting in front of the tv (rather than up on my feet, like with my spindles). The whole ‘mechanical’ aspect of wheels has always sort of confused and intimidated me– machines with moving parts are not my forte. However, I’ve been learning and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
I think that if you are spinner, there are two resources you definitely need to use: Abby Franquement’s blog and Spin-Off magazine. Abby’s blog is a wealth of information on both spindles and wheels. She is the author of Respect the Spindle and her youtube videos helped me understand drafting. She also wrote a fabulous post on how to choose your first spinning wheel. In it she summarizes the major wheel morphologies and explains how they affect your spinning.
In the picture above, you can see that the drive band (clear elastic) is connecting the big wheel directly to the bobbin whorl. This means that my wheel is single drive (drive band only turns one thing) and is bobbin-lead (directly turns the bobbin), which is also called Irish tension. Alternatively, a single drive wheel can be connected to the flyer with the brake applied to the bobbin, which is called Scotch tension. Finally, the other variety of wheel is double drive, with a drive band that is looped and connects to both the bobbin and the flyer. Abby says that Irish tension wheels tend to have stronger pull on the uptake, which I’ve definitely found. I have to treadle very slowly sometimes to prevent the yarn being pulled onto the bobbin before I’ve finished drafting a thin yarn. Abby gives advice on different wheels on the market in the same post. Additionally, this season’s Spin-Off magazine has a great table summing up the characteristics of nearly very major wheel on the market, including prices!
Another wheel characteristic that will affect your finished yarn is the drive ratio. As is widely known, thicker yarns need less twist and thicker yarns need more twist. The drive ratio determines how much twist is entering your yarn with each treadle or revolution of the wheel. If it is a higher number, that means your whorl is small compared to the size of your wheel, so it will turn more often with every treadle. If it is a smaller number, the whorl is larger and will spin less often with each treadle. Spin-Off has a great article about what these numbers mean for the yarn you’re trying to spin. To calculate the ratio, you divide the circumference of your wheel by the circumference of your whorl. Take some spare yarn and wrap it all the way around your wheel and whorls, then measure each piece to get the circumferences.
My wheel measured 65″ around. My big bobbin was 11.5″, giving a drive ratio of 5.7:1 (65/11.5). My small bobbin was 8.5″, giving a drive ratio of 7.6:1. The tiniest whorl on the small bobbin was only 3.5″ around, with a drive ratio of 18.6:1. This is just about what the website for my wheel says the ratios should be. I’ve never used the tiniest whorl, the wheel draws in too strongly for me at that level. I tend to use the small bobbin (7.6:1) for nearly all of my relatively thin singles when I want more twist and the large bobbin (5.7:1) for plying and thicker singles when I want less twist. See? It’s not so complicated! What have you learned about your wheel?