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Beyond Your Default Spin-along Day 3
October 7, 2020
Welcome to Day 3 of the Spin-along!
Today we’ll cover: ratios
Ratios indicate how fast the flyer rotates in relation to the drive wheel. They’re expressed as X:1, where X represents flyer revolutions and 1 refers to the drive wheel’s revolutions. Once you understand ratios, you can use them to change your yarn.
Think about how a spinning wheel works. As you treadle, the drive wheel rotates, which makes the drive band rotate. The drive band turns the whorl, which turns the flyer. A bigger drive wheel will speed up this process, while a smaller drive wheel will slow everything down.
You know how to change the drive wheel’s speed: treadle more quickly or more slowly. How do you change the flyer’s speed? If you could swap out a smaller or larger drive wheel, that would do the trick but it would be really inconvenient! Treadling speed will also affect the flyer’s speed, but imagine filling a bobbin at turtle speed or at a breakneck pace. You’ll either fall asleep from boredom or wear yourself out.
There’s a much easier way to tweak the flyer’s speed: change whorls or grooves. Schacht makes 6 different whorl sizes, each with 2 grooves. When you install a whorl and set the drive band into one of its grooves, you’ve changed the ratio—that physical relationship between the drive wheel, drive band, and flyer. (It’s also why, if you’ve got a cotton drive band, you might have to use shorter or longer bands for different whorl sizes. Poly bands will stretch and shrink, but cotton ones won’t.)
Wheel manufacturers often publicize all the ratios for their wheels, whorls, and grooves. They count the revolutions so you don’t have to—and so you can see how many options the wheel has. You’ll find the ratios for Schacht wheels and pulleys in the Schacht Spinning Wheel Guide (https://www.schachtspindle.com/pdfs/SW%20BROCHURE.pdf).
But the ratio numbers are less important than the basic concept. Ratios matter because the flyer adds twist to your fiber. The faster the rotation, the more twist you’ll get and vice versa.
If you want to make a fatter yarn—which you know requires less twist than a finer yarn—slow down the flyer. Yesterday, we saw that increasing the tension will encourage you to make a fatter yarn: because there’s less twist in the yarn, it will pull apart unless you go big. Move to a larger groove or whorl, and you’ll see the same thing happen.
Here’s how to change grooves (it doesn’t matter if your wheel is set up in Scotch tension or double drive):
- Don’t touch the drive band/brake band going over the bobbin.
- Do touch the drive band going over the pulley. Slip this band out of one groove and into the other. Before you move from small to large, you may need to lower the flyer to loosen the drive band. After you move from large to small, you may have to raise the the flyer to tighten up the drive band. Turn the mushroom knob to make these adjustments.
To change whorls on a Schacht wheel, you have to remove and reinstall the flyer. See your assembly manual for full instructions.
Let’s try some of these adjustments as we spin. Realize that whenever you move out of your default yarn, your hands may take some time to adapt.
- Spin your default yarn for a while. Make a fresh plyback sample.*
- Increase take-up and spin for a while. Make a plyback sample.
- Change to a larger groove and spin for a while. Make a plyback sample.
* In the video, Stephanie made plyback samples from yarn spun on previous days. She recommends that you avoid waiting too long. Take samples right after spinning the yarn. The twist energy starts to go stale after about 15 minutes, so an old sample won’t look like a fresh one. As you spin along this week, make one adjustment to your wheel or try a new technique; spin long enough to get comfortable; then make a plyback sample.
When Stephanie compares her samples, the changes are obvious. Her default yarn (right) is the skinniest and has the most twist. When she increased tension, the yarn (middle) got a little fatter, though it has about the same twist as her default yarn. When she changed the ratio from the small groove to the large one, her yarn (left) got even fatter and has noticeably less twist—as a consequence, it’s fluffier. These changes occurred just from adjusting her wheel: she used the same drafting method and treadling speed throughout.
Two More Tension Tricks
- When you’re making skinny yarns, you have to decrease tension to let twist build up. If you’ve reduced take-up as much as you can, and it’s still pulling in too fast, try cross-lacing. Usually, the yarn sits in a hook on one arm of the flyer before it winds onto the bobbin, and you change the hook frequently to fill the bobbin evenly. In cross-lacing, the yarn sits in hooks on both flyer arms—it crosses from one side of the flyer to the other before winding on. Cross-lacing decreases tension whether you’re in Scotch tension or double drive mode. To set it up, seat the yarn on one side, then the other. As your bobbin fills, reposition the yarn on the hooks to fill the bobbin evenly.
- If you find little pig tails forming in your handspun, it’s because the yarn has too much time to twist before winding on. Those pig tails will create a super-compressed, hard yarn without much elasticity; usually that’s not what you want. (Plus those little curlicues can look funny in your weaving, knitting, or crochet, unless that’s the effect you want.) Increase take-up until the pigtails disappear.
- Play with take-up and make plyback samples. What happens to your yarn when you increase or decrease the tension?
- Play with ratios and make plyback samples. What happens to your yarn when you move to a different groove or whorl?
- Observe how your hands and feet react as you change from your default yarn.
- Has your treadling slowed down or speeded up? (You probably slowed down; it’s an instinctive response to a new spinning situation.)
- How long does it take for your hand motions to feel natural? If you’re holding the fiber supply more tightly, stretch your hands for a few seconds and loosen that death grip when you resume spinning.
- Does your body feel more tense? Take some deep breaths and relax. Stretch your shoulders. Lean back instead of hunching over. You’re a spinner. You’ve got this.
Extra credit: Use today’s practice assignments to try out your note-taking system. Adapt the system as needed so you’ve got all the info necessary, in a format that works for you.
Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! Happy Spinning!