Monday, December 30, 2013

American Double Flyer Spinning Wheel

I picked up a new old spinning wheel last week in Cocoa, FL, about 2 1/2 hours north of where I'm staying with my parents for the holidays.  Picking it up was a complicated family drama, but the patience of the kind folks at Cocoa's Vintage Village make it all go smoothly in the end.

The wheel is a standard American double flyer type similar to those made by Solomon Plant, Sturdevant, the Sanfords, and others, mostly in Connecticut roughly around 1790-1840.  The wood is beautiful, mostly oak with striking grain and a rich patina, with some other hardwood for the heavily turned parts.  The flyers are both original and functional, although the bobbins both have cracks, and one bobbin was glued after having broken into several pieces.  One arm was replaced on one of the flyers, and the repair is seamless, clearly done by a master.  Both flyers have grooves in them from heavy use, and these grooves are deeper than any I've seen on other antique wheels, traversing both wood and metal.  I've been removing corrosion from the flyer hooks and orifices, and one flyer is now working perfectly.  This is one of the smoothest, most beautifully engineered wheels that I've used!  The maker really knew what he was about.  The table has the maker's mark carved on two sides - AL.  Sadly, while we know the names of most of the makers of this type of wheel, AL seems to be unknown other than initials.  I've been joking that it wasn't A.L., but some dude named Al who made the wheel - got my gran half-convinced, too!

I didn't set it up for the photos, but the wheel came with a complete original distaff!  I set it up once and tied some wool to it so that I could try two-handed spinning.  The flyers both snagged too much at the time to do it for long, but what I did was daunting and yet great fun.  I couldn't make good yarn two handed, but I could make passable yarn, which was better than I expected for my first time, and it felt just like milking a goat!  I imagine that this will be one of the wheels that I will use the most, since it is such and easy and pleasant spin.  I had coveted one of these wheels ever since I got to treadle a friend's American DF, so I'm delighted that I have the opportunity to honor the work and skill of this great wheel builder by spending my time and energy with his stunning creation.

Nice thumb!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A rewarding cultural experience

Jasmine pearl kombucha is finally ready! It's the best booch I've ever made, and I've made a lot of booch. Check out this hot mama:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweater is done!

Shetland top, 3-ply super bulky, spun on Louet S17 and dyed in the skein

No pattern - basic seamless sweater in the round, with ridge stitch at hem, collar and cuffs from Ingenue sweater pattern in Custom Knits by Wendy Bernard.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The magic of finishing yarn

This is the Rambouillet X Cheviot, overplied just a bit to add durability and bounce for sock knitting.

Fresh off the wheel:
This is a 94" skein reduced to about 12" diameter in a mess of twist!


After a bath and lots of snapping (no thwacking):

I still add a solid foot of length when I stretch this skein out between my hands.

It's so lovely now, just full of bounce and stretch.  Just as I hoped, this yarn will yield socks that hug the feet and are wonderfully warm and lightweight.  It is woolen-spun, so not the ideal of durability, but I started with a medium fiber and plied it tight, which should mitigate some of the durability issue.  In return, I have a yarn with much more air in it than your typical sock yarn, and I can't imagine that it will be as problematic as superwash merino, which is the unlikely standard right now for socks.  We'll see.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A new friend! My very own Obadiah Tharp wheel!

Skeiners are mounted on the back side of the table using the plying guide to pin them into a hole.  There is a hole on each side, in keeping with the reversible nature of the wheel.  Sorry about the bad lighting!

Acorn tension knob - there is also an acorn
on top of the upright and matching
crosshatching on the spindle post
Those who have read back into my older posts know that I have long been interested in great wheels, and I've longed for a particular wheel made back in the 1970s.  It is the Obadiah Tharp wheel, which started out as a modern great wheel for production spinning for Katy Turner, author of the fabulous book Legacy of the Great Wheel, when she started to overtax her fragile antique wheels.  Well, last night I spent some time in the excellent company of Wanda and Ed Jenkins of Turkish spindle fame, and I picked up my very own Obadiah Tharp great wheel!  It is the Sarah model, which was the deluxe version, and it includes two skeiners and a plying guide.  The underside has a very, very faint maker's mark that gives the production date as February 22, 1977, and the wheel only had one owner before the Jenkins picked it up from her estate sale (a living estate sale - the owner is still alive, just elderly and unable to use the wheel anymore).  The spindle still contained the last yarn she spun on this lovely wheel, as well as Wanda's spinning and my own initial experiments.  I wound it all off as one single skein, which I have no plans to finish or use, but to keep and display as part of the history of the wheel.

Plying guide inserted in table just below the drive wheel
This is the first modern great wheel I've used, and I've used 4 antique great wheels (of which I own three).  I also was able to use Ed's GW#1 last night, which was SO WONDERFUL.  He insists that the other two he made are much improved, so they must be heavenly to use.  #1 is smooth, smooth, smooth, and a treat to admire and touch.  By contrast, the OT is a bit clunky, with a heavy, solid feel.  (If you're familiar with wheels from the 70s, you probably know what I'm saying!  Many of them feel very heavy in comparison to antiques.)  It has an accelerator head, so it really doesn't need to be light and fast, because it takes only a slight turn of the wheel to insert sufficient twist.  The trade off is that it feels so much more reliable than the lightweight antiques, and the alignment stays consistent (a major problem in all but one of the antique GWs that I have used.)  It was hard for me to find the right balance of tension to drive the relatively heavy head and spindle without making it hard to turn the wheel and making me worried about putting too much stress on the wheel.  I tried changing out the drive band, but settled back on the surprisingly thick, ropey band that came with it.  I plan on ordering a thick poly band, as I think that will let me run at a lower tension.  I tried a thin one, but it wasn't sufficient, although I think the magic combination will be thick poly for the wheel, thin poly between the accelerator and the spindle.  I did dress the band, but I could stand to do it more.  That said, I managed to balance the tension properly, cleaned a bunch of wax and lint from the grooves, and got it spinning beautifully.

Cormo wool on the spindle - note the thick drive band
There are a few ingenious and unusual features that I love about this wheel.  It is fully reversible, so right- and left-handed spinners can use it with equal comfort.  It has two nice grooves in the drive wheel and does not easily throw the drive band.  Tension is easy to adjust and the tensioning mechanisms are durable and thoughtfully constructed.  The head is removable, but there is a little metal key that one can turn to add tension to the post and keep the head from turning during spinning.  The spindle and flange are large and can hold a large amount of yarn.  The drive wheel does not have anything to keep it on the axle (most wheels have a retaining pin of some sort), but instead relies on the lean of post to keep it in place, which works well.  The axle is long, and this allows the spinner to wind off a full spindle onto one of the skeiners.  The skeiners are stored on the side of the wheel using a pin that doubles as a guide for plying.  When needed, the skeiners easily can be detached from the table and placed on the wheel axle.  This means that the spinner winds off from a position in alignment with the spindle, which makes for a more consistent process.  (It is Bad News if your cop gets disorganized while you're winding off.  I've had to throw one away in the past because it was tangled beyond my patience and ability.)  To ply, the spinner can mount both skeiners with their singles on the axle and run both strands through the plying guide to keep them consistent and under light tension.

Close up of accelerator tension - the metal post
tips are connected to threaded bolts that move
the axle of the accelerator wheel in relation to
the spindle, mounted below.
The accelerator head has multiple grooves with different diameters to give the spinner different ratios.  I did not see the ratios stated in the literature that came with the wheel (I think this was before that was standard information with a  new wheel), so I will calculate and post those as well.  I was able to spin a very fine cormo singles without much effort on the highest ratio, turning the wheel very slowly and then adding only about a quarter turn or a little less at the end of each make.

My only concern about it is that I worry that the axle will wear the wheel over time, as it doesn't have the heavy duty axle bearing that I usually see in great wheels.  If you are looking at buying one of these, I would look at the wheel hub with a critical eye.  That said, I would always look carefully at the hub in any wheel before buying!

The accelerator head inserts into this post, and
the metal key pushes the metal plate into the
post to hold the head in place and prevent
twisting and misalignment with the drive wheel.
All in all, it is a beautiful wheel and should give me many years of happy spinning and teaching!  I love all spinning, and all spinning wheels, but there are a few types that are just magical for me.  The most striking are the great wheel and the Tibetan spindle.  My favorite wheel is my homely Ouellet Canadian production wheel with its funny paint job and finish nails for flyer hooks, but great wheel spinning is thrilling on a whole different level.  I love to dance with wool and wheel, to be connected with the fibers and the twist in a much more intimate and subtle way, to look down the length of two yards of yarn at a time and see the twist in its context, and to experience a new kind of grace that I never before imagined to find in myself.  It is also a privilege to be the caretaker of this beautiful dancing partner, to honor the time she spent with another's hands, to invest in her a portion of my life's joy and creative force, and to treat her well so that one day she may dance with yet another spinner after my time is done.

Skeiners mounted in plying position on the
drive wheel axle - note position of plying guide
in table between the axle and the spindle
Multiple grooves on the accelerator allow for
different ratios (This is before cleaning!)