Monday, January 28, 2008

Spinning on the Great or Walking Wheel

Spinning on the Great Wheel takes a bit of adjusting techniques. First off, one needs to retrain their left hand if they are right handed. If they are left handed, they need to train their right hand to turn the wheel. Can you really walk, pat your head and rub your tummy all at the same time and explain what you are doing while doing it? That is what spinning on the Great Wheel is all about. It is a definite crowd attraction. Set the wheel up in a public place and you get all the attention from passersby you can want.

Getting the wheel set up and adjusted takes a really good eye. The wheel post must be at the correct angle for the drive band to work correctly and pull the whorl. This takes some minute adjustments to keep from throwing the band. You might have to shim the axel with leather to keep the wheel from wobbling. Then use Vaseline to grease the axel and leather liner. There needs to be a leather washer between the post and the wheel. This too needs a light coat of Vaseline. Sometimes there is a hole in the end of the axel for a keeper pin. This can be a large hair pin, a cotter pin (split pin) or a nail. If the Post isn’t set at the correct angle in the bed it will tend to spin off the axel.

Now setting the Mother-of-All correctly. If the mother-of-all isn’t snug on the post, it can cause a great deal of grief. It will turn and throw the belt. Snug it onto the post with leather shims. If necessary hit it with a rubber mallet to get it down tight so it doesn’t turn. Again use some Vaseline on the leather to keep it from drying out and getting hard. On the Mother-of All are the Maidens. These are the two posts that hold the spindle. The spindle may go through the posts or may be tied to it with string or leather. Both of my wheels have the simple spindle, so the drive belt goes around the simple whorl. They usually have several spinning notches in them. It really does not matter which of these notches the drive belt goes around as long as it doesn’t throw off the wheel.

Now, use beeswax on the drive line and on the rim of the wheel. It keeps the drive band pulling the wheel. No, I don’t use beeswax on my other wheels, either, but the drive band will slip if it isn’t waxed. I make my own drive bands for these wheels. Chain two, single crochet in first chain, chain one, single crochet in last single crochet for the length needed to go around the wheel and around the whorl. Wet this rough chain and tie it snuggly around the wheel and whorl. It will need adjusted, tightened, a couple of times, so don’t tie it off permanently at first. When it is ready to tie permanently, use the Weaver’s Knot and trim the ends close.

Quill, rhymes with Wheel, is a foundation bobbin on the spindle. These will allow you to take the singles off the spindle when you determine you have enough thread on them. I make them from a sheet of scrap paper. Standard notebook paper folded in half lengthwise then in thirds. Cut the papers, stack and cut off a corner about an inch in. Wrap these one at a time around the spindle so they are smooth with the point of the paper about an inch from the point of the spindle. Put on a tiny piece of tape to hold the tube. I will fill about 2 to 3 dozen of these quills in a day of spinning, so make plenty of quills. I put on a starter line of about 18 inches tying it loosely in the middle of the quill. A single half of a square knot will hold beautifully. These quills do not have a back on them, so I wind the thread on in an egg or nut shape rather than a cone shape as you would do with drop spindle, for instance.

Now we are ready to spin!! Holding the fleece to be spun with the starter line, spiral the starter off to the tip of the spindle. This is where the spin goes in to the fibers, with every pop here at the tip of the spindle. Watching the spin point just at the end of your fingers, you can see and feel the spin forming. When the wisped out end of the fleece has grabbed hold, draw back on the fleece, always watching the spin point, turning the wheel. You might want to give the wheel another turn or two at the end of the draw. You are coming off the tip at an angle half way between straight out and the tip . This gives the best results. You will be able to step back about three steps while doing the draw. You can go only as far as you can reach the hub of the wheel. Reverse the wheel, swinging the thread up to align with the bed of the wheel, reverse to forward again to wind the new singles thread onto the quill. When about six or so inches from the quill, spiral off the tip again to start spinning again.

Photos of my girls learning to spin on the Walking or Great Wheels are here: along with other spinners and their wheels.

A couple of good Youtube Videos on spinning are here: and

Enjoy your spinning experiences.


Anonymous said...

hi, really enjoyed your lesson on great wheel spinning. I've refered to it several times. How would you suggest plying on the great wheel? Petra

CactusPatchLamb said...

Plying is really easy, just twist the drive band in front of the whorl. This will cause the spindle to go counterclockwise so you can spin your two singles together in the reverse direction to what they were spun to begin with which was clockwise.

Note: I drop each of the quills of singles into a bag or box so they stay under the wheel and can turn readily. If you want a 2-ply you have 2 bags, if you want a 3-ply you have 3 bags, etc. Ply really explains the thickness of the finished yarn. You can have as many plys as you can keep controlled easily.

Susan said...

I inherited a Walking Wheel from my step grandfathers old farm house in Quebec, Canada. His mother used it and it was special to him. It was broken down to ship and now I have no idea of how to set it up or learn to spin on it. I've never spun before nor do I know all the parts of a spinning wheel. Where can I go for help?

CactusPatchLamb said...

I am writing a new posting on parts of the Walking Wheel and how they go together. Watch in the next day or so for one and maybe even some pictures of how mine goes together. I have an assistant at the moment so It will be easier to do this.

CactusPatchLamb said...

got caught up in fairs so had to delay the article on putting the wheel together. It got posted yesterday.
Please email me and include your address so I can talk directly to you.

Dorie said...

I am so glad I found your tips on spinning on a great wheel, especially the tips on keeping the mother of all from moving. Will try to fix it as soon as I finish with the current wool. I have the semi permanent loan of one that has the small accelerating wheel on the mother of all. It is in good shape except replaced the cords. DO you just rub them with beeswax or melt the beeswax? ALso need advice on how loose the braided loops that hold the spindle in place should be. One was broken and I had to make a new one.


CactusPatchLamb said...

I just rub the bar or wheel of beeswax on the drive band like we wax our quilting threads. Melting it is a great waste of time and don't really need that much.

On the ties for the spindles, just make sure there is sufficient room for the spindle to turn freely. So they are not very tight holding the spindle up there. But tie them on very very tightly onto the maidens.

Anonymous said...

I bought a great wheel this summer and have no experience in any kind of spinning. I've pieced together information from here and there but no one says what to use for the starter/leader line or how to attach it. Do you just tie it on? I've probably been making some of this too hard, but I'm kind of pressured to learn in time for demonstrating at re-enacting events next season.

CactusPatchLamb said...

For a leader use any yarn or thread you like. I try to make it the same fiber, and a single, to match what I am going to spin.

It needs to be fiber the fiber you are going to spin can grab onto easily! Be sure to put enough spin onto this that it doesn't untwist when you wind on, but not so much tat it snaps off.

I just hold the fiber and the leader together and put some spin into it before letting go and stepping back. Watch your angle while you are doing this.

Happy Spinning!

CactusPatchLamb said...

oh, forgot to add on there, I tie it in half knot, then turn the spindle til it is trailing out to the tip of the spindle!

Yes, you can learn to do this in time for your re-enactments. It takes very well prepared wool to work great, but when you have figured it out it is such a joy and a lovely dance. Suggest you look up some of the old Irish spinning music to work by. It helps to have a rhythm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your articles and for the helpful tips in response to my questions!