Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Wheel Ratios Lecture, Part 1

I was explaining all of this on Ravelry, and realized I'd done so before because I'm weirdly passionate about understanding spinning. For this reason, I figured I'd paste it to the blog here for posterity...

I was asked how to measure the ratios on a new Fricke wheel. First, FYI, if you have a Fricke or any other standard wheel sold on the market today, the materials with your wheel will tell you the approximate ratio; with a Fricke it’s from about 5:1 to 19:1. Any individual wheel will vary from that somewhat though, and even the drive band you choose can change it, so it’s a good idea to test your wheel for real.
To find out what your ratios are, you need 2 people, one spinning wheel and 2 little flags of masking tape (or those little sticky note flags, or anything like that which you can stick on your wheel). With your wheel at rest, stick one little flag on the big drive wheel (that’s the big wooden one) and one little flag on the flyer whorl you’re testing (on a Fricke, this means stick it on that metal whorl at the top directly over the big wooden wheel); both flags should be at 12:00 position. Now one person sits on the outside and slowly turns the big drive wheel exactly one turn around, 360 degrees, so the flag comes back to 12:00 and the other person sits behind them or next to them or in front of the wheel and counts how many times the little flag on the flyer whorl passes the 12:00 position, and that’s your ratio; for example, if the big wheel goes around one time and the little whorl goes around 5 times, your ratio is 5:1. If it goes around 19 times every time the big wheel goes around once, your ratio is 19:1.
It’s just like bicycle gears; it’s a mechanism by which you transmit the energy of your single treadle into your fiber. The higher the ratio, the more twist enters your fiber with every treadle; the trade-off due to basic physics is that the harder it gets to treadle.
Higher isn’t necessarily better. You can spin any yarn at a low ratio, it just may be inefficient to spin a high-twist, fine yarn that way; however, it will be almost impossible to spin a lofty, low-twist bulky yarn at a high ratio. That’s why many spinners value having a variety of ratios available to them, and why it’s important to know what you want to spin most when you choose a wheel.
It also is valuable to know fairly exactly what your available ratios are. You might be spinning a fairly bulky soft yarn and find that 5:1 is just not working right for you; if you know you have a 4:1 or a 6:1 ratio available, it’s probably worth experimenting to see if one of those works better to give you the results you want. On the other hand, if the next ratio available is 10:1, chances are that’s just too much higher to work well for that type of yarn. On a similar note, I know that my highest ratios are about 12:1 and about 18:1; that means that there’s almost a 50% greater amount of twist available to me if I choose that highest ratio in exchange for a little harder treadling, which is worth it to me often when I’m spinning a sock yarn or lace yarn single which I’m going to ply and want it to be fine and highly twisted.
I know it’s a lot of information, but the more you understand, the more use you’ll be able to get out of your wheel.

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