Last night the Alsager Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers met for a spinning evening, and I managed to get there and had a lesson in fine spinning from my friend Janet who has had tuition from various experts including a lady spinning for knitting the traditional Sheltand lace shawls. (If you don't know what these look like, see the Heirloom Knitting web site.)
When I got home I had to have another go at this new technique before I went to bed! I used coloured Wensleydale fleece. Janet advised that Wensleydale is good to start with because of the long staple, it's a bit easier to handle than fine Shetland until you get used to spinning fine. We prepared the fibre by combing with a very fine tooth comb sold in pet shops for grooming cats (when I bought mine, I found I had to hunt around a bit to get one that was very fine toothed).
To spin, Janet demonstrated on an Ashford Joy wheel using a ratio of 8:1 (that's 8 turns of the spinning wheel and flyer per one treadle). She drafted half an inch of fibre per treadle, so that was giving 16 twists in the yarn per inch. When I got home I recalculated a bit rather than change my wheel set up, I had a 12:1 flyer, so drafted 3 inches fibre to two treadles.
The yarn I span at home (on the older of my Timbertops Leicester wheels) is not as fine as the thread Janet was spinning, but it is fine enough to show I have got the basic principle right and I intend to spin onto two bobbins and then ply this thread before going any finer.
There is a special little trick Janet taught me for drafting the fibre to spin very fine, in addition to taking it slow and steady, and watching the fibres carefully. This trick is that the hand that is nearest the orifice and which restrains the twist must let a little of the twist travel into the drafting fibres. Experienced spinners will know how just a little twist like this helps to feed new fibres into the yarn and prevents the fibre in one hand separating from the twisted yarn in the other!
As of last night, I'm a paid up member of the Alsager Guild. I haven't joined a guild like this before because of difficulty in getting to where any of them meet. But now I have re-arranged my working hours so I get Friday afternoon at home. This makes it easier to leave home at 6 p.m. to drive for an hour to get to a meeting. I actually spent as much time driving last night as I was at the Guild meeting - but it was well worthwhile.
You may remember I posted last month that I was going to go to the Guild meeting. I didn't get there. I had my tea early and had my stuff ready, then I got stuck because I just couldn't get my beautiful Timertops Leicester spinning wheel into the back of my small Fiat Punto. I had forgotton it only fits if the back seat is folded down and the wheel dismantled, and then extra packaging is needed to keep everything safe. It was a wet night and I didn't like having to put my wheel down on the wet driveway while I arranged the car, and I had managed to pull a muscle in my back carrying the heavy oak wheel from the house to the car (this involves a long path and a steep flight of 12 steps). I gave up after 20 minutes, it was getting late and I went back into the house for a cup of tea and a think.
I know that other people who have a special spinning wheel use a folding traveling wheel when they go out and about. I spent four weeks thinking about this, and checking out what was available. There's a really good comparison on the Woolery website which I found helpful. Then, on Monday, I decided if I was ever going to get such a wheel I should have one in time for the Friday Guild meeting. I phoned Fibrecrafts and asked if they had an Ashford Joy, placed my order and it arrived by carrier the next day. I had been a bit sceptical about the idea of wheels that fold up, but when my Joy arrived and I discovered for myself what a clever design it is all my worries went away. I took these photos for you, the first is that exciting moment of opening the box - and wondering how many different parts the wheel comes in, would it need much work to assemble?
I put the wheel together in no time at all, and here it is stood next to an ordinary sized dining chair, to give you an idea of how compact it is (it's about 1/3rd of the size of my Timbertops wheels):
And here it is, in its bag and ready to go! The bag has a shoulder strap and it is very easy to carry.
It is heavier than some of the other folding wheels, this is because the wheel is extra thick and solid wood to make up for being small diameter. This gives it good momentum for spinning. It has four different ratios on one fixed whorl (no need to swop bits about, just shift the drive belt into a new groove). It runs very smoothly on ball bearing hubs, and is easy and pleasant to use.
I recommended it to a couple of new spinners at the Guild because: it is a versatile wheel with a good range of different speeds; it is easy to carry and will fold up small enough to tuck behind the sofa if you have limited space at home; it is very well made; I know from Janet's experience that you can spin everything from fancy yarns to lace weight on this wheel; a central flyer position is nice as it doesn't force you to spin in a particular way, you can easily draft with either hand and, on the double-treadle version you can use either the two treadles or just one of them, so you can swap your feet around and be comfortable.