I have had a number of questions in the Ravelry group about ratios and whorls* for spinning wheels. There are some really good resources out there to get started using and understanding ratios, some conversations more technical and others more basic.
*Please note that ratios and whorls is used in this post interchangeably and mean the same thing: They are pulleys. That’s all. The larger the circumference, the lower/slower the ratio/whorl. The smaller the circumference, the higher/faster the ratio/whorl.
The quick and dirty about ratios is this:
A ratio on a spinning wheel is the relation between the number of times the flyer rotates around the bobbin to ONE revolution of the drive wheel.
Sounds simple, right? It actually kind of is really simple. The trick is beginning to use those ratios to your advantage. Where do you start? I’ll share my story of where I started when I began using ratios, hopefully it will be helpful, and then please ask any questions you have in the comments below. This will help me to generate some more information for those wanting more information in a subsequent post!
Above :: A standard flyer and whorl attached. Below :: Flyers with ratios built into them which sometimes provide slightly less choice but lessen the chances of loosing whorls!
How do I know which ratio to choose on my spinning wheel when I want to spin a specific fibre? I start with a little research into the breed or fibre* that I am spinning. Let us say that I am spinning Polwarth. We will keep it simple to start and say that this is not a blend, but is a braid of 100% Polwarth. Upon some researching, I learn that the crimps per inch (CPI) on a Polwarth sheep are generally 8CPI; therefore, the ratio that I begin spinning at is 8:1. Matching the CPI to your twists per inch (TPI) will create a ‘balanced’ yarn based on matching the twists to crimps in the original fibre. In these early days of learning this theory, I pulled out a small ruler, plied a sample back on itself and counted TPI. I would highly encourage you to do the same! There are great tutorials out there on how to do that and I am in the process of creating one as well.
*Remember than man-made fibres do not have any scales or crimp so fibres like nylon, Firestar or Angelina can take a lot of twist. Beware that while they can take a lot of twist, Firestar and Angelina in particular will eventually break.
What’s the catch? There’s a huge catch. Most of us don’t place 8TPI in our yarn when we spin on a ratio of 8:1. Most of the time, we are drafting much faster than we are treadling so our drive wheel may be rotating 1-2 times for every 2, 3 … 6 inches of yarn. Some quick math means that there may be less than 1-2 twists per inch in that yarn rather than 8 because the twist is distributed over a much larger distance.
One inch is not very long when compared to the yardage of a skein of yarn and to allow the drive wheel to complete ONE FULL revolution takes time.
Here are some things to consider to help with this process!
An example of a drive system (Double drive) with two whorl choices (small and large, currently being used by the white drive band on the right of the photo) to drive the drive wheel. In double drive, the drive band also applies the brake on the bobbin (the white band on the left of the photo), which is out of the scope of this post. Suffice to know that there are different drive systems but ALL use ratios!
We will stick with our Polwarth example but for quick reference here are some CPI of major breeds (I generally find the closest breed in this list to what I’m spinning and work from there – sample, sample, sample!):
- Corriedale – 5CPI
- Lincoln – 2CPI
- Merino – 11CPI
- Polwarth – 8CPI
- Romney – 4CPI
- Border Leicester – 2.5CPI
- Cheviot – 5CPI
- Shetland – 8-12CPI
The first thing to consider is the speed at which one is treadling. Treadling so fast that your wheel is levitating off the ground will definitely help to get some of that twist that your chosen ratio is producing into your yarn. But how do you measure that?
What if you are a very, very, very slooooow treadler and barely move the drive wheel? Do you have too much twist entering your yarn because it is literally sitting in front of the wheel (ie. in your hands) for longer, rather than being sucked into the wheel at Mock 400?
In both cases, it is difficult to determine whether your flyer is indeed rotating at 8 revolutions to 1 rotation of the drive wheel due to erratic or hap-hazard treadling. I will reference you here to a video I filmed about spinning and consistency using tape on your leg, which can be found here.
Now that we are treadling consistently, in a default pattern, we can next begin to measure the number of twists entering our yarn per inch. Starting with simple short forward draft, pull an inch of yarn forward and wait for your feet to treadle one full revolution (ie. with double treadle wheels, both feet need to depress to create ONE revolution of your drive wheel but with single treadle, one foot only depresses once. Some prefer this and that is one reason why single treadle wheels remain popular!). Since we are currently spinning on a ratio of 8:1 (per the example we started with), we now have 8 twists in that ONE inch of singles. How cool is that?
But it’s slow and hard to be that disciplined, you say. Yup. It is. It’s really hard. And it takes practice. One approach you can try is to place a ratio close to or equal to 16:1. For every ONE revolution of the drive wheel, if you draft TWO inches (ie. draft two times, 1 inch each time), the resulting yarn will have 8 twists per inch:
16 rotations of the flyer to 1 rotation of the drive wheel ÷ 2 inches of yarn = 8 twists per inch of yarn
Using a high ratio to create the same effect over an inch of yarn will help you to begin to create yarns with matching twists and crimps per inch, and also learn how ratios work. You may find you’ve been spinning yarns grossly under twist to crimp, or maybe the opposite! This is how I figured out the reason behind my ropey BFL!
Does this mean every yarn we all spin from now on need to be spun with matching crimps and twists? NO! Please NO! Absolutely not! This is a place to start, to begin understanding ratios on your wheel and how they act in relation to the yarns you want to spin. Guess what you have to do now? Sample, sample, sample … sample … and then? sample some more! Maybe the Polwarth yarns you really like are spun at 10:1. Or maybe you really like BFL when it is spun at 5:1 (instead of 8:1, which is often recommended) because it prevents the ropey-ness that often comes with more tightly spun BFL. Maybe your Wensleydale is actually even lower than 2.5:1 and spinning it at 1:1 creates a nicer yarn to work with. Only you can figure that out but now you have some information to get started with, learn from and create the yarns you want to create, rather than yarns you happen to create.
These whorls may all look the same at first glance, but they are actually all different and provide 6 different ratios for me to choose from when spinning. That’s a lot of choice! Consider using a permanent marker on the back to remind yourself of the ratios each one provides for quick reference.
Write down your process: The ratio you used, how the uptake felt and your chosen draft (ie. short forward, long draw, from the fold, etc) because chances are you are going to create a yarn you want to re-create. If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget what you did and kick yourself!
Please leave questions, comments and thoughts in the comments below! What did I miss that you’d like to know more about? How have ratios helped you in your spinning?