IS #36: How to Know Your Wheel

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?

Cheerful Mitts and Afterthought Thumbs

After all the stress and natural-disaster-related worries of late, how about a little cheerful knitting and a brief afterthought thumb tutorial on a Monday morning?

These are my Beribboned Wrists pattern knit with Malabrigo Worsted in Natural for the body and i-cord knit with Socks That Rock Mediumweight in On Blueberry Hill to lace them up instead of ribbon. I love the rainbow effect of the color changes in the STR paired with the simplicity of the super-soft Malabrigo, don’t you?

I knit the Worsted size but ‘accidentally’ knit the DK chart for it. The only real difference is that the DK chart is a bit longer. I decided to add the optional afterthought thumbs that turn these into fingerless mitts instead of wristwarmers. They are a tad small for me, but since they are intended to be gifted to a young girl, that’s ok! If you’ve never knit an afterthought thumb before, you should give it a try because they are pretty simple and since they don’t involve shaping they are a flexible method for modifying patterns. You knit until the point where you’d like the thumb to be, then you knit a few stitches with waste yarn, turn your work and purl back over those waste yarn stitches, then resume knitting in the round with your regular yarn, and forget all bout the thumb until the end!

When you are ready to add the thumb, you unravel your waste yarn. With the extra-fuzzy Malabrigo I lost patience unraveling so I opted to cut the waste yarn out. Just be careful where you snip!

This will give you a bunch of live thumb stitches to deal with. You will have one more stitch on the bottom than on the top. I start by picking up a side stitch and all the bottom stitches on one needle. Then I flip the mitt and pick up a side stitch, all the top stitches, and another side stitch. These ‘side stitches’ are just any old random stitches on the edge of the thumb hole that you grab to try to prevent gaps from forming when you begin knitting in the round. It really doesn’t seem to matter which ones you pick up, as long as you aren’t forming holes when you grab them.

After I have both sets picked up, I split the bottom stitches onto two needles. Then I join my working yarn on the bottom right of the thumb hole and begin knitting clockwise in the round. After that it’s just following the pattern for a few rows and binding off!

It’s tough to see in this pic, but sometimes you still get gaps near the start of the round no matter how many extra stitches you pick up. When this happens, I take the tail of my yarn and work it into the fabric to close up the gap. Works like a charm! And the really neat thing about afterthought thumbs is that if you decide you don’t want a thumb later on after all, you can just remove the waste yarn, put the stitches on two needles, and use kitchener stitch to graft them together with matching yarn. If you do it neatly and weave in your ends securely, nobody will ever know there should’ve been a hole there! The only downside to these thumbs is that they can sometimes distort the pattern due to the lack of shaping to accommodate the base of the thumb (like in a gusset), but I think despite that they are useful, quick, and look just fine with many patterns. (I’ll have you know I had to try really hard to resist saying something about giving them a thumbs up. You’re welcome.)

Come join the KAL on Ravelry through 12/31/12!