Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Bobbin Winders For Spinners

Sounds like a campaign slogan to me.  Tax cuts for every citizen!

I was so ecstatic about purchasing my first bobbin winder earlier this May, I wanted to share about it with everyone.  I didn’t have a blog until June, but it has been been on my mind to to post about since.  Between wanting to write and finding time for it, I probably would not have gotten to it if not for recent discussions with fellow Ravelers on this very topic.

I purchased a used Harrisville Designs manual bobbin winder for a little more than what I would have paid for two spinning wheel bobbins.  At the time, I had nary a notion of weaving; it was purely for spinning purposes.  With apologies to all who are tired of hearing me talk about my Lendrum spinning wheel being a walnut anniversary edition; but that had much to do with my search for a bobbin winder.  Regular Lendrum parts are in great demand; finding walnut parts being even more challenging.  Because I had only four bobbins at the time, I was not able to create a four-ply yarn.  (For non-spinners: you need a bobbin for each ply, plus an extra to take up the plies.)

Judith MacKenzie-McCuin told me that she felt a spinner should have no fewer than thirty bobbins for spinning, but with bobbin prices the way they are (Lendrum bobbins are currently about $17, while Schacht bobbins are about $36), it makes sense to have a bobbin winder and inexpensive storage bobbin spools instead.

Oh no, I’m forgetting — my bobbin winder pre-dates my taking her class.  (Sorry, I’ve lost many, many brain cells from the sleep deprivation I suffered during my son’s infancy.)  So much of what that riveting, soft-spoken woman has said has been repeated by those fortunate to have been in her presence, that my own memories of her words have reverently increased in stature.  I remember rightly now: It was “The Alden Amos Big Book Of Handspinning” that first prompted me to look for a bobbin winder.

Closeup of the metal rod that is split to grip a bobbin in place:

Once I started using the bobbin winder, my yarn improved dramatically.  This is because, when you wind onto a storage bobbin over a long distance (six feet or more), you even out the twist in the yarn.  Singles that have been re-wound onto storage bobbins before plying create a much more consistently plied yarn.  I eliminated many problems of breakage and overtwist by using the bobbin winder.  Even re-winding a plied yarn over a distance to a storage bobbin can re-distribute and even out more twist to improve the quality of the ply.  You can also re-wind a yarn with the intention to add or subtract twist, depending on the direction of winding and other variables like unwinding the yarn from side or end.  In these cases, I am referring to yarn that has not had its twist stabilised by heat and washing, but re-winding affects the twist of stabilised yarns as well.

Now, everything I spin is wound off onto a storage bobbin, whether it will be plied or not.  The bobbin winder makes that much of a difference.

I found this very old electric bobbin winder at a yard sale earlier this summer:

I have not used this winder much, since it is much faster than I’m used to.  In one of her books, Peggy Osterkamp recommends rigging an electric winder with a dimmer switch for more speed control.  Just another of the many items on my to-do list!

I chose to invest in Leclerc storage bobbins because they were the least expensive, most readily available, and came in three sizes.

The small bobbins cost under a dollar, and hold perhaps half an ounce of singles, while the longer bobbins (about fifty cents more) may hold up to two ounces.  These two bobbin sizes are used by weavers in boat shuttles to carry the weft.

The largest bobbins cost about three dollars each, and can hold at least six ounces of wool.  These spools are used by weavers to wind off yarn for sectional warping.

I didn’t realise until taking the picture how very close in size the Leclerc spool is to a Lendrum bobbin.

Another benefit of the Leclerc polystyrene bobbins is that they are heat-resistant.  I have not yet, but there may come a time when I will want to heat-set (steam or boil) yarn singles wound on them.

I also purchased a large lot of wooden pirn bobbins from eBay, for what amounted to about twenty-five cents apiece.  They are just so pretty to look at!

Some of the brown wood pirns even contained some antique wool thread!  It’s very instructional to see how a pirn should be properly and tightly wound.  After I started weaving, I even found a shuttle that they will fit into, although the shuttle is quite heavy and bulky.

Before I had a bobbin winder,  I was always reluctant to sample any new rovings.  I had to have my bobbins available for plying, so I had to commit to spinning and plying all the singles in a project before I could play with anything new.  Now, being rich in storage bobbins, I may even try out something crazy, like an eight-ply!  And I have the freedom to spin up something new, at any time I wish.  I know I won’t waste any yarn, as it will tucked safely away on a storage bobbin.  (Finding it later will prove the challenge, and I’ve learned long after the fact how important it is to label the wool!)

I found a safe place to store away the two (!) sets of bongo drums that sat, untouched, atop my bookcases for more than two years.  They were purchased at a time when I was convinced my son would be a percussionist, we’d be the world’s first mother-son team…  Bringing the drums home put paid to that notion!  (I’m not insane, I’m a first-time mother; and no, I haven’t learned how to play them, yet.)  Now this space is dedicated as a permanent home for my winding equipment.  Before having this setup, I was always looking for a place and a free chair to attach my bobbin winder to.  It’s amazing how much time I save by not having to locate it, dig it out, affix it somewhere, then take it down and re-store it, over and over again.  I had not realised the vexation that it was until I experienced the lack thereof.  And, so delightful, the experience of the uninterrupted rhythm of creativity.

Earlier this week, I finally received a walnut bobbin for my wheel from an order I placed eight months ago. I had ordered three extra bobbins; four arrived, but in the end I chose to purchase only one.  I’m very happy with my final total of five Lendrum bobbins — the number chosen as what I think is the most I’ll ever need for a workshop (to create a four-ply yarn).  If I were only spinning at home, with my handy bobbin winder, just one bobbin would suffice.

And, yes, when I first got my bobbin winder, I did have the fleeting thought: “Perhaps this may be useful in the event I ever decide to weave…”  Who knew the mischief that would ensue?

ETA 23 January 2010: see this post for an ultra-portable bobbin winder.


17 October 2008 - Posted by | Spinning | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I use the LeClerc storage bobbins also. They are also helpful if you have one bobbin spun that I you want to ply. I thread the yarn through my yardage counter, wind it all onto a storage bobbin. Then I see how many yards I have, divide in half and wind that amount from the storage bobbin onto a second storage bobbin. I have used my electric bobbin winder for winding onto a storage bobbin. It works pretty well if the the spun yarn is strong. But I was having some trouble with weak spots, so now I use my good old Harrisville bobbin winder for that.

    Comment by Peg in South Carolina | 17 October 2008 | Reply

  2. Oh yes, Peg! Thank You for reminding me of the other great plus of winding off onto storage bobbins — used with a yardage counter (mine is the white wheel thing in the pics above) — it’s a great way to have matching lengths on all the bobbins so the singles come out even in the ply.

    Comment by SpinningLizzy | 18 October 2008 | Reply

  3. Those wooden pirns ARE pretty! You’ve given me much to think about with this post. There are times that I run out of bobbins but I always thought it was just a problem with my tendency to do a little of this and then do a little of that and then do a little more of this…etc etc. You see, I think that you spin with an artist’s mind. And, that said, it seems perfectly fine that one might run out of bobbins. (Does what I wrote make sense?)

    Comment by Suzan | 19 October 2008 | Reply

  4. Thanks for all the info. I talked to someone who said that she sticks to the plastic storage bobbins, as the wooden ones produce too much “drag” on the electric winder and it gets too hot. Have you found this?

    Comment by Lynn in Tucson | 20 October 2008 | Reply

  5. Suzan, having a lot of bobbins has truly freed me to play and sample as much as I’d like! Even though I’m no-where close to running out of bobbins yet, I’m toying with the idea (I forget where I read it) of keeping one large bobbin for appending any singles that I might not use again — to eventually have something to turn into novelty yarn, like wrapping around cores, etc.

    Lynn, I’ve only wound the plastic Leclerc bobbins on the electric bobbin winder so far. I’ve wound quite a few pirns on the HD manual winder (sometimes I need to insert a little paper to make them fit more tightly on the winder), and I haven’t noticed any more drag than when winding the Leclerc bobbins. I haven’t used any other electric winder, so I can’t compare, but the electric motor is so powerful, I highly doubt the pirn would put much (if any) drag on it — on my electric winder, anyway. The only drag on the motor has been by me, as I struggle to keep up with winding on evenly — I think the much-needed dimmer switch would eliminate that problem.

    Comment by SpinningLizzy | 20 October 2008 | Reply

  6. Though most of this is Greek to me, I enjoy hearing your thoughts in any language. And I love your pirns! That is my favorite blue!

    Comment by trapunto | 23 October 2008 | Reply

  7. Hi, If you have a hardware store (or we got one at Ikea) you can get an extension cord with a regulator high/low(dimmer) switch in the middle of the cord! If you plug that into the end of the electric winder, then plug that end into the wall, the little slide on the cord will slow down/speed up the winder! You don’t have to do any fancy wiring or know anything electrical. We got one in our bedroom b/c DH liked to stay up and read, and I like the light off, the dimmer on the cord keeps us both happy and I think it was 7$. Good luck!!

    Comment by Julianne Bredestege | 25 October 2008 | Reply

  8. Julianna, I’m so glad not to have to mess with any wiring. What a great idea — Thank You so much for the tip!

    Comment by SpinningLizzy | 25 October 2008 | Reply

  9. […] I was surprised there were no comments on the last picture of one of my earlier posts, “Bobbin Winders For Spinners“.  But, perhaps that is because you don’t know that I pretty much stopped buying books […]

    Pingback by This Madness Called Weaving « Spinninglizzy’s Weblog | 2 December 2008 | Reply

  10. […] used to the speed with which I can wind bobbins on my bobbin winders; with the Royal, I have to wind carefully and cannot crank the handle too fast (my normal speed), […]

    Pingback by Yarn Winders And The Humble Toilet Paper Tube « Spinninglizzy’s Weblog | 19 January 2009 | Reply

  11. Can you tell me where you found the Harrisville manual winder? I’ve been searching for a manual winder that is well-priced and can’t find anything under $100!

    Comment by Julia | 3 April 2009 | Reply

    • Hi Julia,

      I got my first one from eBay; the second one I got on Craigslist. I know there are metal manual winders available for less than $50 (including shipping from Europe) on eBay.

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 3 April 2009 | Reply

  12. Thanks! I saw some metal ones on e-bay, but was hoping to find one like yours. Seems like a hard find, though. Thanks again for your response – I appreciate it and your informative post.

    Comment by Julia | 3 April 2009 | Reply

  13. You’re welcome! And, Good Luck finding yours. If you’re patient, I believe you can find the right one you need at the right price. (P.S. The metal ones work just as well, but I feel the handle as aligned on the HD to be a more natural configuration for cranking, rather than 90-degrees to the side as with the metal ones.)

    Comment by SpinningLizzy | 3 April 2009 | Reply

  14. Hello. I feel like you and I are connected! I love the way you relate to us with your words. It’s me too! LOL. I stumbled upon your blog because I am currently addressing my spinning skills. I have spun for 7 years and want to improve. I am really hooked into Judith Mackenzie. I like her gentle demeanor (which you seem to have as well!) and affection for spinning. You mention in your article about transfering the singles off to another, which I gather you got from her. It sounds so logical. You made mention of the adding or subtracting from the original singles twist by the way you wind on to the new spare bobbins. Will you elaborate? I am on to a discovery as some years ago, I purchased a tensioned lazy kate that enables one to ply 6 bobbin fulls together. They sit on a wood base in a circle. The singles feed through a hole into a center post and come out of that post together. I thought it would be a lovely idea. I tried it and used it for some time. However, I seemed to have trouble with my plied yarns. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Since I hadn’t been spinning everyday, I assumed it was me getting “back into” it. I was unhappy with my yarns. They seemed unevenly and loosely plied. I have many full bobbins of original singles that I intend for them to become a 4 ply yarn. The yarn will be 1 ply of cinnamon alpaca, 1 ply of black alpaca, 1 ply of morrit polwarth, and 1 ply of llama. I plied them together in the hopes to make a warm sweather for myself. Using that tensioned kate, I was dissatisfied with the resulting yarn. I am wondering if I lost the twists in the original singles. So, your article really interests me. I want to spread and even the original twists but don’;t want to enter more twist into the final plys. Is there a certain way to wind them onto a spare bobbin—– standing up or laying down? Will you share your discoveries with me?

    Comment by Pam | 11 October 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Pam! Thank you for stopping by! I’ll do my best with your questions, but I’m not an expert, and if I write something incorrect, will someone else please help Pam out?

      Even the way of unwinding singles from a bobbin affects the twist. Try out this experiment with a roll of toilet paper: when you unwind it from the dispenser, the paper roll rotates and when you unroll the paper off the side, it comes off the roll flat and untwisted. Now, if you take the roll of paper off the dispenser, set the roll on one of its flat sides, and pull the toilet paper straight up, you’ll notice that you have just added twist to the paper as you keep unwinding more paper.

      If your bobbins spin on the lazy kate, then you are not adding twist when you ply. With my blue wood bobbins (they are more accurately termed “pirns”) shown above, the singles get added (or subtracted, depending on whether they were spun S or Z) twist because they unwind off the tip of the pirn. What I do when I want to add more twist to (or subtract twist from) a single, is put the bobbin of that single onto a kate, then respin that single onto a new bobbin on the spinning wheel. It’s a good idea to test your retwisted four singles by plying a yard or so, then taking that short length to the sink to wash under hot water. When that short length is dry, you’ll have a better sense of which singles need more adjustment.

      The way I even out twist without adding additional twist to my singles is to put my wheel (or kate) as far across the room from myself (in my case, it’s about 15 feet) as possible. I make sure I unwind the bobbin from the side (using the wheel, I release all brake tension), and I use a bobbin winder to rewind the same single from the side. This works best for freshly-spun singles, as that twist energy is still “live” and will re-distribute itself over the length of the unwound single.

      During the one class I had with JMM, she taught plying without tensioning the bobbins. One hand stays still, and keeps all the plies in order, while the other hand pulls the plies and feeds them toward the orifice.

      Your four singles sound heavenly! Best of luck with the sweater!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 11 October 2011 | Reply

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