Stick Them with the Pointy End

From the very beginning, I knew that my spinning was ultimately going to result in art yarns. While I feel it is important to develop the technical skills involved in traditional spinning, I really don't have the desire to make handspun yarns that look machine spun. When I first started spinning on my Ashford Traveller I felt very limited by the orifice and bobbin size. I did a little searching and found two options for spinning larger yarns. The first was the jumbo flyer which sold for around $150 and was still a little limiting because of the orifice size and the second was a quill spindle attachment* which sold for around $80 and didn't feed the yarn through an orifice. Quill spindles are traditionally used for spinning lace and cotton yarns, they are very fast. A few years ago, before the production of art yarn wheels, a few people were using the quills to spin giant yarns. I saw a picture of someone using a Traveller with a quill to spin art yarn and I was immediately sold. I ordered the attachment for my wheel, applied the finish, and sat down to spin some fabulous yarn.

What followed was heartbreak. I knew that the ratios were faster than what I was used to, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't treadle slow enough to manage the quill. I spent hours trying to make it work for me and finally gave up. The quill attachment was placed in my fiber box where it has lived for the last four years.

Last summer I decided I either need to sell the quill or start using it. I knew that I would never want to use the spindle for fast spinning so I decided that I need to slow it down. I did a little measuring and then I took the spindle to my dad and asked him to turn me a new flyer whorl with much larger ratios. Because of the way the spindle is assembled, the old whorl had to be broken off which resulted in an argument (my dad didn't want to destroy the original piece.) Finally after two days of me explaining that I can't and won't use it the way it is so even if it can't be restored I am no worse off, he caved and agreed to turn the new piece. I gave him my measurements and he turned me a new whorl with a pin so it could be easily traded out for a faster one (this is called compromise.)

Just for reference:
Ratios of original flyer whorls- 14:1, 19:1, 26.5:1
Ratios of my new whorls- 3.7:1, 4.7:1, 6.6:1

After the new whorl was added, a surprising thing happened- I started using the quill for spinning traditional yarns. I really like the action of spinning onto a quill, you spin at a different angle, one that is more comfortable to me, and there is no brake system so it works more like a drop spindle, a really efficient drop spindle. I am now to the point in my quill spinning where I am ready to move onto faster speeds, good thing my whorls are interchangeable.

Turns out it is good for spinning lace weight yarns.
*Every spinner has had the experience where a non-spinner looks at their wheel and asks where did Sleeping Beauty prick her finger, it's probably one of the more annoying parts about spinning in public. The answer is on a quill spindle though I have never seen one sharp enough to draw blood. It would be much more likely that Sleeping Beauty tripped and impaled herself on the spindle which would have made for a much better story. I think maybe the Brothers Grimm could have done a little more research before leading generations of people to believe that a spinning wheel can draw blood.


LisKa said...

I've seen a few blogs which make it sound like you can only hope to get bumpy, lumpy yarn from a quill spindle, but in your pic of the lace weight yarn, the yarn looks smooth and fine. Was it hard to get fine yarn from the quill?

Robyn Wade said...

The quill is actually designed to spin smooth fine yarns, I adapted mine to spin slower but I have had no problem spinning smooth yarns even at the slower speeds. Quill spindles were pretty popular in the early aughts with art yarn spinners who didn't want to deal with the limits of a small orifice so it's possible that is what you are seeing online (or alternately pictures from new spinners.) With country and bulky spinning wheels gaining popularity, it's much easier to get a wheel that is built to do exactly what you want it to do so the quill spindle is less popular now.