The importance of grip and slip

When I was first learning to spin I couldn’t understand where grooves and whorls on the wheel needed to be smooth and where they needed to have a good grip. I assumed (wrongly) that all places where there were drive bands and brake bands should be unpolished. Worse, when I was cleaning my wheels I didn’t take enough care about keeping polish from these places.

During the TdF I was using one of my Ashford traditional wheels with the sliding hook flyer. This was the second wheel I bought, and the flyer was the first wheel upgrade I purchased (at the height of my ignorance on whorls and grooves).

When plying the two skeins during the tour I struggled a little with the wheel during the last few yards, but not enough to worry about it. However, when I plied the most recent skein the wheel was almost impossible to use. I couldn’t get a good balance between twist (from the drive band) and pull-on (from the brake band). I changed the drive band about 4 times (trying different materials: cotton string, cotton weaving yarn and pony band lacing) and I also changed the brake band. I applied copious amounts of spinning oil. However, the wheel was still extremely difficult to use and was making the most appalling screeching noise – it sounded like a drill. In the end I carried on regardless (extremely glad there was no-one in the house except me that night to hear the noise).

Sadly the fight with the wheel shows in the resulting skein – which is unevenly and generally under plied (with some sections being particularly poor). I will have to run the yarn back through the wheel to correct this.

A couple of days ago I started correcting the problems with the wheel. The wheel uses scotch tension so the brake band runs over a groove in the bobbin. It’s fairly common to use a nylon line (like fishing line), though I’m not fond of this, and having got used to using a mercerised cotton thread (like thin crochet thread) I prefer this. Because this is the brake band the first thought is that the groove should have a good grip. In fact the groove should be fairly polished and run smoothly under the brake band. Any roughness may cause the band to catch and the bobbin to run jerkily, or make it difficult to apply a little more pressure to slow the bobbin down, without it gripping completely and stopping it in its tracks. So I’ve carefully sanded (with a fine sandpaper) the grooves at the end of the troublesome bobbin, and applied a wax polish (ideally I should use an oil finish, and may do so in the future) repeating until they were smooth. I shall do the same with the other bobbins in due course.

The groove in the drive wheel was feeling very smooth so I’ve gone around this with a coarse sandpaper to increase the grip. I’ve done the same with the whorls on the flyer. The smallest gives a ratio of close to 20:1 which means there is very little surface area available so a good grip is essential. I’ve seen rosin (as used on bows of violins and other string instruments) suggested to improve the grip of drive bands on wheels, so I shall investigate this if I have any further problems.

I’m happy that I’ve fixed the problem, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating (a picture of the skein will follow when I’ve properly tested the wheel and corrected the plying problems).

Should you be reading this as someone who is learning to spin and trying to get their wheel functioning properly – here’s the short version (for a scotch tension wheel): The groove(s) on the bobbin should be smooth (sanded and polished). The groove in the drive wheel and the grooves for the whorls on the flyer should be grippy (no polish).


I’ve spent a bit of time this week fettling1 with my two Ashford Traditional wheels.  It started with the thought that perhaps I don’t need the jumbo flyer now that I’ve got the Pipy Poly wheel (though I currently only have one bobbin for it).  Anyway, there have been so many changes I thought I’d create a table:


Changing Wheel Configurations

  1960’s Wheel Late 1980’s Wheel
Start of week Jumbo flyer and modern MoA2. Lace flyer and maidens with sealed bearings.
First change Restore original MoA but use sliding hook flyer.  
Today Remove original (60’s) maidens and install lace flyer maidens and lace flyer. Remove lace flyer and restore original (80’s) maidens and use sliding hook flyer.

The oldest wheel has been rather heavy to treadle with the jumbo flyer.  Sometimes it worked well, but the wheel has never felt entirely happy with this arrangement.  The original maidens have leather bearings.  They are very sturdy and work well.  The sliding hook flyer (and all modern flyers) has a slightly longer spindle than the original flyer.  It fits between the maidens very well and works, but the maidens need to be turned a long way to change bobbins.


The big problem is that the front of the flyer is flat and gives a large area of contact with the bearing (the original flyer has a curved front which has very little contact with the bearing).  This obviously slows the flyer down making the wheel harder to treadle and also causes some noise.  However, I’ve done quite a bit of plying this week with this set up.


1960’s wheel with the lace flyer:


The wheel practically purrs in this arrangement!  It’s lovely to treadle.  Even the smallest whorl (which gives a lightening fast 40:1 flyer:wheel ratio) is easy to treadle.  However, the rubber band which provides the spring in the brake band is on the wrong side according to current recommendations, though Anne Field was of the opinion that the arrangement I currently have is the correct one!  Certainly it appears to work well, so I’ll leave it for the moment and see how it does when filling up a bobbin.


The traditional way to thread a single through a small orifice is with a feather.  I’m not a fan of feathers, but a pipe-cleaner works well:


The next thing to do with this wheel is to make a nice knob for the brake-band instead of just having a piece of dowel.

And for completeness, the 1980’s wheel restored to original parts with the sliding hook flyer:


I promise that my next post will have yarn.  Actual finished YARN!!!  Now I must get on and do some spinning!

1- British dialect meaning to modify or change something to get it working correctly.  These are often small incremental changes until things are right.  When I’m working on my wheels I feel a bit like someone who owns motorbikes and spends the evenings taking the engine to bits, tuning it up a bit and putting it back together. 

2-Mother-of-All: the bit of the spinning wheel that supports the maidens and flyer.  I think that one day I should make a diagram and write a glossary!

A Long Update

Firstly I must apologise for the length of time it’s been since I last made an update to this blog.  The reasons for which I’ll briefly explain.  Sometimes I read other craft blogs where the authors have wondered how much from their personal life they should put in the blog, and I don’t think anyone is sure what the right answer is.  In my case I’ve decided I’ll mention a little of what’s going on in my personal life, then you don’t need to worry if I go all quiet again for a while, but in general I intend to keep this blog as a mostly craft only zone.

I’m in the process of divorcing my husband and, as it turns out, even if you’re able to sit in a room and discuss the options calmly with a mediator, rather than dragging the process through a court, things can still be said that surprise or upset.  There were certainly surprises during that last mediation session a few weeks ago.  One thing that upset was the suggestion, from my husband, that my spinning wheels should be considered as a “collection” that could be sold as a job lot to raise funds.  When discussing this later it transpired that my husband considered this to be a joke.

As an act of defiance I came home and finally put together my main Ashford spinning wheel with the lace flyer.  I polished it with a beeswax polish, and did two coats.  But after doing that the undermining effect of the implicit suggestion that my craft hobby is unimportant and that my equipment can simply be considered as an asset to be sold has taken its toll and I’ve found it impossible to get any inspiration for any craft activity at all.

However, today the sun came out and I took my spinning wheel into my patio to supervise the children playing and impressed them with my long draw (and impressed myself with the 40:1 ratio that my wheel now has).  It seems to have a rattle at the moment, so I’ll try and tighten everything up and get it running smoothly, but otherwise it’s delightful.  And here it is glowing in the afternoon sunshine:


And here’s some Shetland and soybean fibre I carded together a long time ago, being spun on my new lace flyer (as you can see two coats of furniture polish isn’t really enough and the spinning oil has stained the flyer, I’ll add more polish over the summer):


Before the mediation session put the kibosh on my crafting energy, I had a lovely day at Creating Space and got my Purple Paradise Shawl off the loom:


Since then it’s had a wash but I’ve not done anything with the fringe.  I think I’m going to work a twisted fringe.  However, at the moment I’m unsure how to proceed, as it does appear to be a rather tedious process (this from someone happy to spin 100g of fibre into yarn – a process that takes many hours)!


Last time we spoke I was going to start refurbishing my newer Ashford Traditional wheel.  On Sunday I took her to pieces:


I covered the leather strip (that connects the treadle to the footman) in a thick layer of beeswax furniture polish and popped it into a plastic bag to soak it in and hopefully recondition the leather. Spares are easily obtainable, but I’d like to use the one that’s on for as long as possible.  Other small pieces I’ve popped away for safe keeping (I hope I can remember where later).

This evening I created a lot of dust:


And made the wood look much better:


I aim to get the wood clean, but not to be too perfectionist, good enough is fine.  I plan to put the wheel back together in order to oil it.  I had thought about doing it while it’s in pieces, but that makes it hard to manage parts that need finishing on all sides.  I’ll use the original bolts (that don’t tighten too well) while I’m oiling it and when it’s all dry I’ll replace them with the new ones.

I’m glad I took the wheel to pieces.  Even though it was put together pretty well, I discovered that a couple of screws had been swapped over.  This hadn’t caused any problems, but it’ll be nice to get it back together correctly and with the new lace flyer installed!