Spinning Tips

Tips from a Pocket Wheel spinner

I have been spinning on a Pocket Wheel for over two years, since Doug built the original wheel for me. At the time he wasn’t thinking of producing wheels to sell. I wanted a small lightweight portable wheel, and Doug, who is interested in innovative design, thought he could design one. We brought the prototype to my spinner’s group, Spindrifters, several times while he was working on the design, and got lots of comments and feedback from local spinners. Once I started bringing the finished wheel to spinner’s gatherings, interest among other spinners grew and spread. Although I have 2 other wheels, the Pocket Wheel is my wheel of choice. I find it is very versatile and I’m able to spin pretty much anything I want on it, ranging from lace weight, to bulky novelty yarns, and plies of all types. At a recent spinning workshop with Judith Mackenzie McCuin, she was impressed with the Pocket Wheel’s versatility and ease of use.

There are two main principles to successful spinning on the Pocket Wheel:

  1. Keep the draw-in tension light.

  2. Match the tension to the wheel speed and type of yarn.

Tension: If you are used to spinning on a wheel with a double drive or a much larger wheel, you may be used to a stronger draw-in tension. The Pocket Wheel is flyer driven with Scotch tension. This makes the tension infinitely variable compared to a double drive wheel. One of the things Judith did during the workshop was help people adjust and fine-tune their wheels. Many of the spinners with Scotch tensioned wheels had the tension set higher than necessary. A higher tension puts more drag on the wheel so it’s harder to treadle and sometimes causes the wheel to “skip” or not spin evenly. It also pulls the fiber out of your hands faster than needed so the resulting yarn may be under spun, and as Judith pointed out, puts more strain on your hands while spinning. A heavier than necessary tension can also put more wear and stress on the spinning wheel.

To set the tension, back off (loosen) the Scotch tensioner until the yarn won’t pull in. Then, while treadling at the pace you normally use, slowly tighten the tension knob just until the yarn pulls in and winds onto the bobbin. You want the treadling to still feel easy and relaxed and your hands to stay relaxed. Generally, once the tension is set, you don’t have to alter it again, unless you change the weight of yarn you are spinning on that bobbin. Sometimes when spinning bulky yarn or plying you may need to increase the draw-in tension as the bobbin gets full. If you tighten the tension and the yarn still won’t pull in, check to make sure the yarn isn’t snagged on the hook or the sliding yarn guide, or come out of the guide altogether. Often a sudden loss of draw-in indicates snagged yarn.

Wheel speed: The Pocket Wheel has an infinite number of wheel speeds within the range of the drive wheel. I have a larger drive wheel on my Pocket Wheel and find I can successfully spin lace weight, using both worsted and woolen techniques. Moving the drive wheel closer to the outer edge of the larger wheel results in a faster speed/higher ratio. Moving the drive wheel closer to the center of the larger wheel gives a slower speed/lower ratio. We know someone who taught her 9-year-old daughter to spin by choosing a slow speed. And I have spun lace weight bison down, woolen style, using the highest speed.

Some spinners have had problems with excessive wear when using the smaller, higher speed drive wheel, and it has left black streaks on some wheels. This may be due to higher tension than needed. The larger drive wheel has been problem free for me, and allows me to spin any weight or style yarn I desire.

The general rule to follow using a Pocket Wheel is finer yarns require a higher speed and lighter tension. Bulkier yarns, including some novelty yarns, and plies, work better on a slower speed and higher tension. So your first step in adjusting your wheel is to decide what type and weight of yarn you plan to spin. Then set the wheel speed based on your comfort level, fiber preparation, and yarn size and type. Once you’ve set the wheel speed, adjust the Scotch tension as per the directions above.

Types of yarn: As most spinners know, there are two basic types of yarn, worsted and woolen, with some gradations between.

  1. Worsted: Most spinners spin worsted style. Worsted yarn has strength, luster, good stitch definition when knitted, is smooth and long-wearing. The fibers are aligned lengthwise. If you spin from prepared top or roving, use long staple fiber, and spin using a short forward draw keeping the twist out of the fiber web in your back hand, you are spinning worsted. It is easy to learn, and allows for more precise and smoother yarn. It’s the best choice for sock yarn, warp, or anything you want to be long wearing. The general principles in adjusting your wheel apply with worsted yarn—finer yarn requires a higher speed and lighter tension. Lace weight and even cobweb weight is quite possible on the Pocket Wheel even with the larger drive wheel.

  2. Woolen: Worsted techniques don’t work with short, more disorganized fibers. If you are spinning cashmere, bison or other exotics, some kinds of dog fur, or angora rabbit, or if your goal is a fuzzier yarn, you will be much more successful spinning woolen style. Woolen yarn is softer, with more loft, or air, in the yarn, and is fluffier than worsted style. It also has less luster and strength and is often less even. It is best spun using a long draw technique where you draft backwards for a distance and let the twist run into the fiber. The fibers you are spinning are generally much shorter and less aligned than the fibers and preparation you would use for worsted spinning. The fibers may be prepared in a “cloud” or batt that is not all organized in the same direction. Because you are working with short fibers, you need plenty of twist to hold them together or the yarn will just fall apart. With this technique you’ll be most successful using a high speed and lots of treadling. You will also want a very light draw-in so the delicate fibers aren’t yanked out of your hand and are less likely to break. I love spinning woolen style. I’ve used this technique to spin little short bison fibers (less than an inch long) lace weight, as well as very short silk noil and keeshond dog fur (which looks just like angora when spun!). Woolen style spinning makes soft weft yarn, fluffy sweater yarn, and delicate scarf yarn, where softness is more important than durability.

  3. Novelty yarns: Spinning techniques vary for novelty yarns, depending on the type of fiber used and if you are spinning over a core. I find most novelty yarns work better at a slower speed. If the yarn has lots of texture you probably will need a firmer draw in.

  4. Plies: Judith Mackenzie McCuin advocates a slower speed for plying. This translates to a bigger whirl on spinning wheels with drive belts, or moving the small drive wheel closer to the center on the Pocket Wheel. You will also probably need to increase the Scotch tension to pull in the bigger diameter plies. If I am spinning singles with the drive wheel close to the outside edge of the big wheel, I move it to about the middle when I ply. It’s also important not to build up a big lump of yarn in one place on the bobbin (something I’m frequently guilty of when I spin while I chat!). An unevenly filled bobbin inevitably leads to draw-in failure. Keep changing the position of the sliding yarn guide so the bobbin fills more evenly (a job made easier if you have a Woolly Winder) and check for snags if the yarn stops drawing in.

Following these basic tips will keep you and your Pocket Wheel humming along happily for many years. Enjoy your wheel and the peace and serenity spinning brings.


Written by Denise Guren, November 2008

Denise passed in May 2009.