Types of Spinning Wheels

Many types of spinning wheels have developed over the centuries which can produce a yarn efficiently from local fibres. Historically a great many configurations of spinning wheel and flyer have been developed, and some of these are still available from craftsmen wheel makers. The common layouts are shown below along with comments on their strengths and limitations. George Weil is able to supply many of the types of spinning wheels described below plus an extensive range of spinning accessories and fibres.

Traditional and Upright Spinning Wheels

Traditional (or Saxony) Spinning Wheels have a side-by-side arrangement of the drive wheel and spinning head. This allows for wheels up to 75cm diameter to be used and gives effortless smooth treadling as a result of the wheel’s inertia. The Ashford Traditional spinning wheel, shown below, is a typical modern example with a wheel diameter of 56cm and drive ratios from 6.8,12.5 to 18:1 from the whorls and bobbin sizes included.

The anatomy of a traditional spinning wheel

Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel – Scotch Tension, Single Drive

In the Upright (or Castle and Frame) Spinning Wheels the drive wheel and spinning head are stacked vertically, reducing the working space. This reduces the overall weight and makes for a robust wheel, and helps with portability. These wheels are generally the ones taken around in the car. The Louet Victoria Spinning Wheel, as well as the Schacht Matchless Spinning Wheel, are typical modern examples. The Ashford Joy 2, Kromski Sonata and Lojan Travel Buddy spinning wheels have been designed to fold down for added portability.

Wheels from the Past

Spinning Cotton Great Wheel 1773Great or Wool Spinning Wheels are the earliest form of European wheel, and are equivalent to a hand spindle on its side rotated by the wheel. The fibre is spun by turning the wheel with the right hand and drafting the fibres with the left hand. The spike is used both to twist the fibres and to accumulate the spun yarn. A very high quality yarn can be prepared in this way from a rolag or roving, and the Great Wheel was still used for making warp yarns after the foot powered wheels had been superseded by mechanised spinning.

This image shows cotton being spun on a great wheel, Normandy, 1773. Source: Archives Nationales (France)

What is the Spinning Wheel Drive?

On a drive wheel, a treadle is attached to a bar called the footman which connects to the axle of the wheel by a crank. The footman moves up and down as the treadle is pressed, and this then turns the crank to turn the wheel. A regular rythm of treadling retains the momentum of the rotating (spinning) wheel.

A drive band is passed around the circumference of the wheel and around the groove in a bobbin or flyer to make it rotate (spin). See below for a description of the different drive configurations.

Double Drive

Double Drive

The drive band passes round the wheel and spinning head twice. The bobbin and the whorl are each independently turned. Since the bobbin pulley is smaller than the flyer pulley, the flyer turns faster, both twisting the yarn and winding the yarn on the bobbin. The amount of twist in the yarn depends on the difference between the ratios of the pulley and flyer as well as the extent the bobbin is allowed to slip by the drive band. A slack drive band prevents the yarn winding on the bobbin.

The double drive gives good control over the draw-in and twist of the yarn, and is particularly useful for fine yarns.

Most double drive spinning wheels can be adapted to be used with a Scotch Tension set-up.

Single Drive Scotch TensionSingle Drive, flyer lead; (Scotch Tension)

A single drive band controls and turns the flyer either through a separate whorl at the bobbin end of the flyer, or a whorl built onto the orifice end of the flyer. The bobbin is dragged round by the yarn and held back by the friction from the brake band. The tension on the brake band is adjustable. This will vary the ease with which the bobbin slips and twist builds up in the yarn. Relaxing the pull on the yarn allows it to build up on the bobbin.

A scotch tension wheel is flexible across a wide range of yarn types, but needs regular adjustment as the yarn builds up on the bobbin.

Single Drive Irish Tension Single Drive, bobbin lead; (Irish Tension)

This configuration is the opposite of the scotch tension, with the drive band turning the bobbin. The yarn linking it to the bobbin drags the flyer round. The flyer is held back by an adjustable brake band allowing the yarn to wind on the bobbin; by restraining the wind on, the spinner builds up the twist.

As with the scotch tension the wheel is flexible in the range of yarns spun, so it is better used for spinning bulky yarns.

Direct Drive Spindles

These generally show very high ratios of 40:1 in the Great Wheel, and up to 250:1 with a Miner’s head to multiply the action. The Charka was developed by Ghandi into a ‘book’ boxed version still made in India, it provides a portable spinning wheel with a very high spinning ratio for creating a quality yarn from short stapled Asiatic cotton. As with the Great Wheel, the right hand turns the spindle and the left draughts the fibres and can provide a drive ratio of over 150:1, giving strong yarns and a rapid rate of production.

Ghandi Charkra Spinning Wheel

Mahatma Ghandi operating his Chakra spinning wheel

George Weil is able to supply the full range of spinning wheels and accessories from Schacht, Louet, Kromski and Ashford, please contact us to order special items.

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