Spinzilla Spin To Your Wheel’s Efficiency Range

Stephenie Gaustad is a long time contributor to Spin-Off magazine, SOAR mentor, and wife and partner of spinning wheel master Alden Amos. We have asked her to give you tips on how to put your wheel to best use during the Spinzilla challenge.

Stephenie Gaustad: When working on a long term project, one that may have you spinning for hours, day after day, such as the Spinzilla challenge, there are a few tips that can make your time at the wheel more productive. One of them is to consider the efficiency range of your wheel and to put it to good use.

What is "efficiency range"? It is not some concocted measurement that hangs on the wheel like the miles per gallon sticker on a new car. It is, instead, a range of yarns that you and your wheel can comfortably produce at a sustainable rate. There are two variables: your wheel and you. Let's take a closer look at the two.

Your Wheel
Permit me to introduce you to your wheel. Your wheel has a drive wheel and one or more whorls that drive the flyer/bobbin. A drive cord connects the drive wheel to the whorl/whorls. The cord is one length of string that goes around the flyer whorl (single drive, flyer lead system–Ashford Traditional, Lendrum for example), or the bobbin whorl (single drive, bobbin lead system–Louet S10, for example), or both as a folded, figure-eight loop (double drive). Some wheels have multiple flyer whorls, double-ended bobbins with different sized whorls, and a drive wheel with graduated diameter rim. All of these affect the efficiency of your wheel to put in twist.

Why twist is important
Twist holds yarn together. It equals yarn production. More twist means more yarn, faster, no matter what size the yarn or fiber content. Use your wheel's smaller whorls to get more twist with each tap on the treadle.
How fast does your wheel put in twist? Wrap a short piece of yarn around one of your flyer's arms so you can keep track of it and then pull some already spun yarn out the orifice. Hold on. Rotate the drive wheel around once and count the times the flyer arm with yarn goes around. This will give you an idea of the ratio of twists per tread.

A brief diversion into math
If your ratio is 4 to 1, this means that for each tread, you get 4 turns on the yarn. This is not a fine yarn, but rather a pretty generous sized single. If plied, it would fall into the "chunky" category. It also means that if for each tread you draft 1 inch of yarn, you must treadle 36 times to create a yard of yarn. Question: What if you changed to a whorl with a ratio of 8 to 1? Then you could make the same yarn twice as fast, with half the number of treads.

The range of yarns your wheel will easily produce
In general, wheels with small drive wheels and large flyers are intended to make large or low-twist yarns. Conversely, those with a large drive wheel and small flyer are fine-yarn wheels. This also has to do with twist. Large yarns need less twist, fine yarns, more twist. Oh, but someone asks, "My wheel has a big drive wheel and small flyer. Does that mean I can't spin a heavy yarn?" The answer is conditional: "Maybe." Will you be able to draft the heavy yarn fast enough to keep up? Will the small flyer be responsive to winding on a stiff, heavy yarn? You may need to experiment spinning heavier and heavier yarns on your wheel to find the "breaking point" where the wheel can no longer reel in the yarn or when you can't keep up. FYI, there is a "finest yarn" threshold as well.
Each wheel has a range of yarns and fibers that it will spin (without fireworks, foul words, and chocolate). How handy it would be if the wheel came with a guide listing those ranges. Remember that your skills are a part of this equation. In most cases, it is up to you to discover you and your wheel's combined "comfort zone" and use it. Because when you spin within the wheel's more efficient ranges, yarn production can reach dramatic numbers. When you push the "heavy" or "fine" perimeters, production can drop dramatically.
This brings us to a discussion of you.

Of course, you can produce more yarn simply by treadling faster. But there are limits to how fast you can treadle over a length of time. As rule of thumb, you are limited to a sustainable treadling rate equal to your heart rate, or average walking pace. You can go faster, but it is difficult to sustain. Pushing that rate can take its toll on you, your knees, and ankles as well.

But wait, there's more…
At some point you can put in twist so fast that you can't keep up with it. You can no longer see the drafting zone because fiber is moving through it so fast you are not aware of what IS happening but rather what has already HAPPENED. At that point, the yarn gets large, slubs form, and you feel compelled to go scrub the kitchen floor. This ability to see what IS happening and anticipate what should be happening gets better with experience, to be sure. But be aware there remains a very real limitation to visual perception.

Add to this a tendency to get hypnotized by the soothing, repetitive spinning process. Have you ever fallen asleep while spinning? If not, there is a good chance that you may. So keep yourself sharp by drafting with deliberate haste. Put on some cheerful music and take frequent breaks: small ones like changing hooks on the flyer and longer ones by standing, looking out the window, petting the cat, and then sitting back down to brisk work.

My very best wishes for goodspeed!


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