Spinning – Tension, Whorls and Sampling


Last weekend I had a spinning class to learn about my wheel – and learned alot about how to produce samples to determine how a certain wool might like to be spun.  (Whether I can actually accommodate the wool is another question entirely but we will leave that to the side for now.)

To do this, you have to have a sense of the type of tension that your wheel runs on and then look at the twists per inch that each whorl that goes with your wheel produces.

Have I lost you all ready?  Just a few weeks ago this would have lost me too so I am going to do my best to explain it so that we are all on the same page.

First, let me explain that when spinning you have two spinning objects – your bobbin – which your twisted fiber spins onto, and your flyer, which is the U shaped piece which holds the yarn and guides it through the orifice and then onto the bobbin.

They cannot be turning at the same speed because if they do, the yarn will not start winding on the bobbin – it will just keep going around and around it as they both spin in a circle.

In order to get the bobbin moving at a different speed than the flyer, you have to apply a brake to one or both – or move them at different speeds.

The speed that the wheel is able to move the flyer and/or bobbin is determined by the size of its whorl – which is the round attachment with the groove where the drive band/string sits to turn the mechanism.  The larger the whorl, the fewer the revolutions that it will turn for one turn of your wheel and thereby the fewer twists you will be able to put into your fiber for each turn of the wheel.  Is this making sense?

Think of it this way – if your whorl was the same size as your wheel, one turn of the wheel would only turn it one time – so if your whorl is smaller, it would have to turn more times than once for each turn of the big wheel.

This system of braking or slowing down one of your spinning objects is referred to as applying tension and there are different ways to do it.  The oldest method is to use a double drive system – where the wheel turns both the bobbin and the flyer but at different speeds.  That is done by having different sized whorls controlling the bobbin and the flyer.  Linda Lou – my Ashford wheel – can be set for a double drive system and it looks like this.

As you can see, the string which turns my wheel is doubled, which allows me to loop one string around the bobbin’s whorl (lighter colored) and one string around the larger whorl which turns the flyer.  Because the sizes of the whorls are different, they will turn at different speeds as the wheel turns.

Later, the irish tension system was developed – which is the system that Schuyler – my Louet wheel – uses.  Under the irish tension system, the wheel turns the bobbin directly with the drive band. . . .

and a brake is applied to the flyer through the use of a rubber band that is tightened or loosened by a screw on the side of the band.

Can I just say that this system feels very different when spinning than the next one that I am going to show you and it is going to take some practice for me to feel comfortable shifting between the two.

The other system, which I believe followed the irish tension system, but don’t hold me to that, is the scotch tension system.  That is what I learned on using my Ashford wheel, so that is the system that I currently feel comfortable with.  With scotch tension, your wheel turns the flyer and your brake is applied to the bobbin.

First, here is the bobbin system – which is a clear nylon line which goes over your bobbin and around to a wooden knob which you turn to tighten or loosen the brake.

You can see that the drive band is around the larger whorl which turns the metal rod that goes through the bobbin and is attached to the flyer.   Here is a closeup of the band threaded through the larger whorl . . .

and through the smaller whorl.

So, why does this matter.  Well, when you are spinning your fiber you need to know how much twist to put into it so that it will retain that twist through plying and into your finished garment.  You want it to have a wool memory that stays with it.  When you are working from a fleece you may have figured out, from the crimps in the actual locks, how many twists per inch you want in your spinning, but when you get a ball of roving, you may have no idea how tight or loose the actual crimping was in this wool – so you will need to experiment some with both the fiber and your wheel.

On my wheel, when I have the drive band going around my larger whorl, everytime I turn the big wheel one revolution, my flyer goes around 7 revolutions – which means it applies seven twists to the fiber for each revolution of the big wheel.  I then pull those 7 twists into my fiber for a distance that I determine.  When my driveband is around the smaller whorl, it completes 10 and a half revolutions – applying 10 and a half twists to the fiber.  So what would work best with the Corriedale roving I brought to class with me last Saturday.

That was going to be determined by sampling my roving using my whorls and varying amounts of wheel turns.  What we did was experiment by spinning separate 36 inch lengths of fiber at different rates on each whorl.  The first time we applied three full turns of the wheel into 12 inches of yarn three times (giving me a 36″ total length of spun fiber), pulled out the 36″ length of fiber from the bobbin, used our weighted hook which is used to feed the yarn through the orifice (which I had to borrow from Claudia because Chip dropped mine in the driveway when he was loading the wheel into the car – lets not talk about that), to weight the middle of that 36″ length of spun fiber to allow it to create a double ply strand of 18″, cut that off and tied to it a sample card.  We did the same thing using 6 turns of the wheel and then 9 turns of the wheel to every 12″ length of fiber, using first the larger whorl and then the smaller whorl.

Claudia had made up sample cards for us.  Here is the sample cared of the Corriedale using the large whorl.

Here is the close-up of the fibers.

I wasn’t thrilled with any of these samples, though the 9 turns had the most potential for working with the fiber.

Next I sampled using the smaller whorl.

Here is the closeup of that sample.

Surprisingly, the sample which worked the best for the fiber was the 6 turns per 12 inches (or 3 turns for 6 inches which is more how I spin) on the smaller whorl.  It was surprising in that I never use my smaller whorl when spinning – so this was an “Ah ha” moment for me.  This worked out to putting about 5 twists per inch of fiber into the yarn.  That still seems low to me so I may do a bit more sampling before I spin this fiber.  There is room on the sample card to try other total wheel turns which I plan to make use of.

So that is all on the technical spining post today.  After the spinning class Chip and I went to a local auction and I picked up an OLD dried out wool winder for 30 bucks that just needs some love and glue and moisture.  Here it is.

I love it because it winds up big hanks of yarn from our cones of base yarn for dyeing in lightning speed.

That’s all for today.  Tomorrow’s post will go up later in the day because I have to be in court in the morning.  Tomorrow we talk about marigolds.  🙂

Thank you all for taking the time to check out the blog.  I truly appreciate all of you who take the time to “Like” the blog or to rate it and especially all of you who post comments.  It is always amazing to me that so many folks take the time to check out this blog and I hope that you continue to find it interesting.  Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day all.

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About Shelly R.

I am a Mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an attorney, a crafter and the granddaughter of an amazing woman - my Polish Grandmother. My Grandmother gave me so much, through her love and her patience, her sayings and her time teaching me how to craft and to give to others, that it seemed fitting to share some of that wisdom, to tell some of her story, and to chat about life and crafts in a way that would be a testament to what she gave me.
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4 Responses to Spinning – Tension, Whorls and Sampling

  1. danielle says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day Shelly! So the wool winder is like a vertical swift right? But it looks so big…would a hank fit around there? The amount you have learned about spinning is impressive, and makes me happy I spin on a drop spindle 🙂

  2. Shelly R. says:

    Yeah, a wool winder is basically a swift. I wanted this one because it is bigger than the one that came on my Louet. I wanted one that made two foot hanks. I haven’t measured this one but my two foot hanks I made with my niddy noddy fit on it so I am guessing that is the size. Love it!!.
    As for what I learned about spinning – it really took me awhile to wrap my head around the whole tension thing so I wanted to try to explain it in a way that I thought made it understandable. Hope it worked.

  3. What a wonderfully descriptive post–and such a successful attempt at sampling! Way to go you! Curious–where are you visiting the auctions? Linda & I haven’t been to one in a couple of years, but are big fans, and wow–what a fantastic score!

  4. Shelly R. says:

    We like to go to the ones at Copake Auction – http://www.copakeauction.com They usually have one a month, though April is their annual bike auction. Andrea, who owns Blackberry Hill Farm does the food for them – really good. There is also Savoia’s on your side of the river off of Route 23 and Stair Gallery in Hudson has them too. Meisner’s in New Lebanon is every Saturday I believe. I always amazes me how many auction houses we have in this area. They had an old spinning wheel at the auction too but it required replacement/repair work and it just went for more money than I was willing to spend considering the condition. Now, if it had been one of the BIG wheels…….

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