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Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Ultra-Portable Bobbin Winder

I’m so pleased to learn about this technique from K2Karen, who posted about it on Ravelry; I hope it will be just as delightful for you!

I always wind off my spinning singles onto storage bobbins before plying.  I have three bobbin winders, one for each room I’m likely to be weaving or spinning in (how lazy is that!), but have been wanting an inexpensive and portable winder I can take along with me on trips.  For the past few months, I have been half-heartedly bidding on (without winning) a Swedish winder on eBay, but have been put-off by the prices, even old and used.  Although the winding ratio on the Swedish winder is supposedly slightly higher than that on my Harrisville Designs models, the HD serves my purposes well enough.  Plus, the Swedish winders don’t offer much savings in terms of weight or bulk, i.e. portability.  And then again, the cost.

Enter the portable mini-mixer.  Upon learning of it, I immediately ran to my kitchen drawer where mine (even cheaper!) has been sitting untouched for at least five years.  It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, as a tool to whip milk or cream into froth.  Because of dairy allergies, I’ve used it just a few times, but kept it because it’s so cool (it never once occurred to me to mix drinks!).

I’m relieved to find that the batteries haven’t leaked and corroded.  I thought the mixer had been there only half a decade, but finding that that batteries have expired in 2002, wonder if it isn’t closer to twice that!

Then it was a mad dash to the SpinningLizzy laboratories for rigourous testing…

The fancier mixer has all sorts of attachments, but the stick-like attachment (the only one that came with my no-frills model) is the one we’ll be using here.  Wind a rubber band around the stick, and Leclerc polystyrene bobbins will fit snugly.

I decided to wind off a skein of 3-ply handspun (that had been first transferred to a cone) onto Leclerc’s largest bobbin.  I was surprised how fast the mixer spun the bobbin.  Of course, it slowed down noticeably by the time the bobbin was halfway-filled.  As long as the yarn feed was kept free of tension, the mixer was able to wind, up until the time the bobbin started to overfill.  It was an unfair test.  The mixer with batteries weighs 3-3/8 ounces, whilst the yarn wound on the Leclerc bobbin, it (without mixer) weighs 3-7/8 ounces.   

I then tested the mixer by winding off some laceweight singles from my Lendrum spinning wheel, with the brake band completely removed.  With the small 4″ bobbins, winding was amazingly fast and smooth.   (Actual winding was done with the bobbins much farther apart, not close together as shown for the purposes of the photograph below.)

I wound a few other bobbins, including a full 6″ bobbin, wound off from another identical 6″ bobbin placed on an untensioned but angled (45-degrees) lazy kate.  Winding went well until the last third, probably because that bobbin is 2″ longer than the mixer stick attachment, and because the angle of the kate added too much tension on the mixer.

The battery life is unbelievable — those same old batteries from years ago are still going strong after winding close to a dozen bobbins.  The mixer is a tad weak for filling the two larger Leclerc bobbins completely, but partially filling either of those bobbins is a good option.  It works best for winding the 4″ bobbins with yarn under little or no tension.  What a wonderful tool to have in your weaving or spinning arsenal and travel bag!


23 January 2010 Posted by | Spinning, Weaving | | 2 Comments

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments