Questions and Answers

Why do I need to know the ratios of my wheel and how do I calculate them?

I like to know how much twist I am putting into my singles for every skein I produce, this gives a more controlled yarn. The easy way to achieve this is to know what ratio your flyer works at and how changing the ratio can help spin better yarns. If you don't know what your ratio is or how to work it out this is what you do.

Put your drive band over the groove of the whorl you want to use and tighten the tension so that the drive band is not slipping at all, tie a piece of coloured yarn in one of the flyer hooks and mark one of the spokes of the main wheel, with both marks at the topmost point of the cycle turn the wheel by hand and count how many times the flyer does a complete revolution to one full turn of the drive wheel. This is your ratio i.e. 5:1, 8:1 etc.

By regulating the length of draft to the treadle i.e. 1 inch draw to one treadle you will know that on a 5:1 ratio you will have 5 twists to the inch, therefore if you need more twist you can either increase the number of treadles to the draw or shorten the length of the draw or even go to a higher ratio which means you don't have to work any harder as the wheel will be doing it for you. Similarly if you want less twist just do the reverse, lengthen the length of draw, or change to a lower ratio.

Be aware though that the length of the draw you can make is regulated to a degree by the length of the fibre being spun and how it is prepared, if you draft too far you can end up with thin spots.The other thing to beware of is holding onto the yarn too long and not allowing the twist to run at the pace it is tensioned to run at. This can cause a build up of twist that will distort the amount of twist per inch you are putting into the yarn. It is best to use a roll back technique for best results.

How do I balance my plied yarns? TOP

When it comes to plying singles together if you are confused or unsure of how much twist to put in to balance the yarn make a habit of this:-

When you start your first session of singles spinning, once you are settled and spinning consistently, draw off about a yard of yarn and let it ply back on itself, keep this length of yarn to match your plying to and also as a thickness and twist guide throughout the spinning of the singles . When the yarn is freshly spun is the only time you will get an accurate guide, if the yarn is left on the bobbin even for as short a time as a couple of hours you will get a different result. Remember too that if spinning in the grease it will do no harm to insert a little extra twist in your singles than you would in the washed fleece to counteract the loss of the dirt and grease in the washed yarn. You can also look at the finished plied yarn, (and check this throughout the bobbin) with a small magnifier such as those used to look at photographic negatives. A balanced yarn should have the individual fibres running straight parallel to the length of the yarn. If there is a slope in the fibre it means that the yarn is either over or under twisted for the singles.

How do I stop my handspun Crochet yarn untwisting? TOP

If you spin your own yarn for knitting then use the same yarn for crochet using your hook in your right hand you may find that the twist undoes itself and you have to frequently let your work hang to allow the twist to re-assert itself. In order to avoid this problem spin your yarn specifically for crochet by spinning the singles s twist and plying z twist.

How do I find the end? TOP

This one is short but sweet. Have you lost the end again? At some time or another we all do, as a beginner this happens on an annoyingly regular basis and if spinning really fine yarn the end just disappears. Before you start running your finger over the bobbin in the hope of raising the end try this. Get a piece of sticky tape, wrap a length inside out round your finger (sticky side out) then dab it very lightly up and down along the length of the bobbin, the end will pop up. I always keep a piece of tape stuck to my wheel for this purpose.

How do I prevent my knitting from puckering when using more than one colour? TOP

When I first started knitting like many people I had images of lovely subtle Fairisle sweaters with intricate patterns and wonderful colours. The reality was somewhat different in practice. I had problems with tension and the fabric was often puckered. To overcome this a friend suggested that I use both hands to hold the different yarns. As fairisle traditionally uses only two colours per row this makes the two handed method easy, I now hold the main colour in my right hand and the secondary colour in my left hand, this means that when the yarn in the left hand is carried across the back it is easier not to pull it too tight. Also by not stranding the yarn over more than three stitches without weaving it in I find the fabric becomes much more elastic. The backs of my sweaters are almost works of art in themselves.

Why does my wheel not spin as well as when I first got it? TOP

You know what it's like, you keep meaning to find the time to spin but somehow other things keep getting in the way! You have this itch and start planning projects, you get to the point where you know that unless you set aside a specific day and time you may never get around to it. So you tell the whole family, next Tuesday I am going to be busy, I will not be available, I am going to do something for me.

The day arrives, you know exactly what fibre you are going to spin (you've thought of little else every spare moment) so you get out all of your equipment, prepare your fibre and settle down to some self fulfilment. So you start, where on earth is that squeak coming from? I know a touch of oil will probably help, a squirt here and there should do the trick. Oh that's better, hang on a minute though my flyer doesn't seem to be turning as fast as it should, I had better tighten the drive band, oh yuk! Now I need legs like a weight lifter to treadle at all, I know I'll loosen it off a little, nope still no good. Now I am really getting cross. Perhaps my bobbin brake is too tight? Too loose? maybe I have forgotten how to spin!!! Aagh this is not what I had planned.

Let's start again, unfortunately like most aspect of our lives once in a while a good spring clean is in order, we often take the function of our wheels for granted expecting them to work perfectly every time we have a few minutes to spare. Many wheels put up with being lugged in and out of the car, face wind and rain being carried across muddy fields to be set up in cold marquees for demonstrations. Then perhaps a bright hot sunny day in the garden for a pleasant afternoon gathering, then being shut away in the loft or garden shed when visitors come and somehow staying there longer than intended.

Perhaps like me you spin a variety of fibres, sometimes fine silks and Angora, sometimes chunky fleece in the grease, if you are lucky enough to own more than one wheel you may spin only certain fibres with certain wheels, this of course is ideal, but most people have one good general purpose wheel and if it is to stay a good working wheel regular maintenance is a must.

The more often you spin the quicker parts get worn and need replacing, if you spin only sporadically the wheel develops different problems, the accumulated oil and grease dries and hardens creating tension and drive problems. The following describes my spring clean ritual and I do this more often than just spring time as my wheels get hard and continuous use.

First of all remove your flyer, take the bobbin off and with a piece of fine grade wire wool clean the spindle, if your wheel has been stored for any length of time it may have gone slightly rusty, when cleaned wipe over with a damp cloth , dry and oil with WD40. Next take a fine blade such as a paper knife or I find a thin metal crotchet hook works well, and clean out the orifice, this is one of the least cleaned parts of most wheels and a good clean can make a world of difference especially if you spin raw wools, you will be amazed at the accumulation of grease, and how hard it can set. Once you are satisfied that it is thoroughly dirt free, pull some fine wire wool through a few times and finish with the cloth and again grease with WD40. Now check the hooks, if you are in the habit of spinning fine yarns and particularly silks you will wear out your hooks relatively quickly, I have replaced the hooks on my wheel a number of times as I spin a lot of silk. Next in line is your drive band, if you have a string one they do stretch over time and will need replacing or adjusting, the same goes for Polypropylene bands which I prefer.

Squirt WD40 into the holes where the treadle plate goes into the legs and around the joint where the footman joins the drive shaft, now re-assemble checking that all of the screws or allen heads are tight holding the legs to the frame, also check that there is no wool caught around the hub. Finally oil everything again including the nylon rings that hold your flyer to the wheel.

Does this make a difference? If not perhaps it is you after all and you just need some extra lessons!!! Email me at for details

How can I produce quality plied yarn? TOP

A well spun and plied yarn is a joy to behold, but all too often well spun singles are totally ruined by poor plying.

It is unfortunately true that good singles can be ruined by bad plying but equally so poor singles can be improved with good plying.

To produce an even well balanced plied yarn it is essential that the principles of plying be well understood, a finished yarn can only be even if the component parts are equal in both thickness and degree of twist. If one plies two uneven singles the tendency is for the thinner yarn to dig into the thicker yarn producing a spiralled effect, combine this with uneven tension on the separate singles and the effect is exaggerated. So now you know how to produce a spiral!

In order to practice even plying try to produce two even single threads, when this is done place onto your lazy kate and put this on a chair next to your left elbow if you spin with your right hand forward and vice versa, this shortens the gap between your yarn supply and the orifice thus lessening the length of yarn that can tangle if you get in a muddle. For a two ply split the threads with your back hand so that they feed through separately, next keep them separated by the third finger of your front hand so that the threads come across your palm and over your fore finger, do not split the threads with your fore finger between them. If your fore finger is at right angles to the orifice with your palm uppermost by turning your hand even slightly you will put more tension on one thread than the other. This is the single most common cause of uneven plying. With the thumb of your front hand on top of the threads and close up to the orifice, start your wheel, as the twist forms draw your fingers lightly backwards so that the twist follows your fingers down the singles to your back hand, this means that you are evenly guiding the twist. When your front hand meets your back hand pinch off and feed onto the bobbin, your front hand should now be back at the orifice to start again.

The amount of twist to put in is determined by the amount of twist that was put into your singles, a balanced yarn will hang neatly in a loop when a length is relaxed, if it twists back onto itself this does not necessarily mean it has been under or over twisted, it can vary depending on the fibre used and how long each thread has rested on the bobbin. Much of the plying process is trial and error and endless experimentation, however with practice and by keeping good records you will master a varied repertoire and be able to produce thick and thin, worsted and woollen yarns that are perfectly balanced and just right whatever the end use.

Look at balancing yarns above.

How do I wash my fleece without it felting? TOP

This is becoming even more significant now that we as spinners are advised to wash all wool before spinning.

First of all wear rubber gloves, if there are nasty chemicals in the wool, when they are washed out into the water they will be able to enter any cuts you may have.

There is nothing quite like the joy of spinning a fresh fleece "in the grease" but the same fleece when older with the grease dried in can become a problem to spin. When washing all my fleeces no matter the degree of fineness I follow the same method. First of all I spend time pulling out individual locks trying to keep them intact, I also remove any short cuts at this time. When I have enough for the project I fill a washing up bowl with very hot water (for Merino I use boiling water out of the kettle) and add a good squeeze of Fairy liquid. I then place the locks of wool in the bowl all facing the same way, (or they can be put into a net bag such as those used for vegetables) for the first wash I put about three or four layers of locks in. I then push them down with a potato masher and gently mash the fibre, the grease and dirt can be plainly seen coming out of the wool. Leave the wool in the water for about five minutes max so the water does not get cold. Now draw the fibre to one end of the bowl and drain the water off. Lift the wool out and squeeze gently.

Fill the bowl again with water of the same temperature as before and more detergent if the fleece is really dirty. Rinse again in the same temperature, draw the fibre to one side and squeeze out, place in an old pillow case. Repeat the process until all of your fibre has been washed. Tie the end of the pillowcase and spin in the washing machine unless your machine injects water in first, this is usually what felts your wool. If your machine does this, take the pillow case outside and swing it in fast circles to drive out the excess water.(do this when no-one is looking or you may find a kind neighbour has called the local mental hospital to get you taken away). Or if a small quantity of wool roll in an old towel. Now without dividing the staples or handling them much at all lay the washed wool on a piece of wire mesh or netting to dry, I do mine outside in summer or over the bath in winter. I find that particularly with wool with a well defined staple this method is excellent. Prepare for spinning using your favourite method.

How would I prepare raw fleece for spinning in the grease? TOP

If you are the kind of person who likes to spin raw fleece as opposed to prepared tops but find the preparation a chore, make a point of only buying fresh clean fleece with well defined staples avoiding downland type fleeces. To prepare, carefully separate the locks and flick comb tips and butts making sure that all of the fibres are firmly held to minimise loss of good fibre. This takes a fraction of the time of carding or full woolcombing and the result is better than poorly carded rolags as it takes out all short fibres and double cuts. As the fleece ages the grease hardens making the wool sticky. when this happens you have to resort to washing first.

To spin, you can use either worsted technique and spin from the butt end or you can hold the staple over your finger and spin from the fold. Personally I spin from the side of the staple and spin point of draw for speed and consistency.

If you have any questions please email me at suemac{at}