Spinning Saturday – Anatomy of a Wheel

Good morning! It’s Spinning Saturday and I’m going to share a little bit about my experience with wheel spinning! I know, it can seem a little intimidating to get really into spinning at first, but it’s not so scary once you remove some of the jargon. First up, let’s talk spinning wheels! I’m going to include a picture of the very same wheel that I spin on, an Ashford Kiwi 2 spinning wheel, along with the names of the pieces, so you can see what I’m talking about.















From the bottom up, let’s talk about the parts! The treadles are the first part you’ll see. You put your foot on the treadles and push down on them, one at a time, to make a paddling motion. This treadling of your foot treadles is what pushes the wheel and makes everything move! Spinning wheels don’t always have two of them, like this Kiwi does. Some wheels have only one treadle and you use only one foot to operate it, these wheels are called “Single Treadle”. Since this one has two treadles, it’s a “Double Treadle” wheel.

Next up is the footman! This is a part that every spinning wheel has and not many people know the proper name for. I’ve heard it call many things, including (but not limited to) “the thing on the pedals”, “that little stick thing that hangs onto the treadle”, and “that little thingy attached to your foot thingy”. The footman is what actually attaches your treadles to your wheel, driving the rotation of the wheel.

This next piece is called a Lazy Kate, and it holds the bobbins that you aren’t currently spinning yarn onto. On the Kiwi models, the Lazy Kate sits directly in front of you, just in front of the wheel, with one bobbin on each side of you. Some models have the Lazy Kate as a separate unit that sits on the floor behind or beside you and your wheel. This part does not have a standard location or shape, but it usually has at least two thin rods designed to hold your extra bobbins.

Speaking of bobbins, what are they? Well, bobbins are two large, flat discs attached with a thinner, round bar between them. Almost like a dumbbell shape! The Kiwi bobbins have a groove along the edge of the larger flat disc, it serves a purpose that we’ll talk about later. The bobbins are what actually hold the yarn that you’ve spun. To start spinning you tie a piece of pre-made yarn, called a leader yarn, to the shaft of the bobbin. This is what you’ll attach your fiber to in order to spin and load the new yarn onto the bobbin.

Next up is the actual wheel. So, what does the wheel actually do? The wheel is powering how fast you spin and how much “twist” is put into your fiber as you spin it into yarn. Have you ever seen a really thick yarn that you can just kind of poke your finger through? These yarns have a low twist and, as a result, are easier to pull apart. However, overspinning your yarn (putting too much twist in the fiber) can make your yarn bunch up in little curlicues, called pigtails. This yarn is under too much stress and is easier to snap. Finding a comfortable speed for your spinning that allows your hands and feet to work in a comfortable rhythm helps prevent over or under spun yarn.

All the way around the circumference of your wheel you will find one or multiple grooves. These grooves are where the drive band sits. Now, your drive band can be a number of different materials, ranging from a rubbery plastic to twine or leather, but its basic purpose remains the same: connect the spinning wheel, which does the twisting, to the bit where the fiber actually is! Without your drive band, you won’t see any movement in the whorl, which is where the yarn is spun. Some wheels, like the Kiwi shown here, have one drive band. This single drive band brings the necessity of a separate tension system, which isn’t terribly difficult to set up. Other wheels, however, have a “double drive” system with two drive bands, which serves as both your drive band and your tension system.

Let’s take a look at the whorl next! The whorl is typically shaped almost like a trident, with three prongs. The two prongs on the outside are longer and have either rows of small hooks or a slider: these hooks or sliders is how you adjust where on the bobbin your yarn is being placed. The center prong is where your bobbin sits, as you can see in the picture above. The two outside prongs spin around the bobbin in the center, which is how the yarn is wrapped around the shaft of the bobbin. The orifice is a part of the whorl. It’s the hole that is pointed directly at you that your yarn feeds into to travel through the hooks or sliders and onto the bobbin.

Finally, you have a tension system. Every wheel has a slightly different tension system, but the basic idea is that it controls how fast the whorl tries to feed your spun yarn onto the bobbin. Tighter tension means it’s going to feed faster, while loser tension means it will feed slower. If you notice that your yarn isn’t spun enough as it feeds onto the bobbin, it means it doesn’t have enough time to twist before it gets put on the bobbin. If you loosen the tension and slow the feeding speed, your yarn will be outside the orifice longer and will be twisted more before it is fed on. The reverse of this is that if you notice that your yarn is very overspun and has a lot of pigtails in it, it’s probably spinning for too long before it’s placed on the bobbin. Try tightening your tension a bit and letting the yarn feed on faster to fix this. Your tension and the speed of your spinning wheel need to be balanced properly for you and your personal spinning style, so you may have to experiment for a bit before you find the balance that feels natural for you.

Questions? Leave me a comment! Still not sure which parts are which on your spinning wheel? Send us an email with a picture of your wheel and we’ll help you out! ~Alex


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