Monday, June 6, 2011

Spinning Wheel Charkha Mod

This is a pretty technical post, but I figure there are probably some other people out there trying to get by with an Ashford Traditional as their one and only all-purpose spinning wheel. This is a fun little trick to try to get a little more diversity out of it.

For a long time I've had in my fiber stash a newspaper-wrapped bundle of cotton punis from India. These are dense little rolags shaped like cigars, intended for long-draw spinning on a charkha.

Srsly dude, from India.

Every now and then, I pull them out of cold storage and have a go at spinning them on my wheel, a single-drive Ashford Traditional with scotch tension. I have a high-ratio flyer, so theoretically this should be possible. (Cotton yarn needs a lot of twist because of its fine, short fibers.) However, I find that the main problem with my wheel is not that it isn't fast enough, but that I just can't get the tension right. Too much tension, and the yarn simply pulls free of the puni rather than drafting smoothly. But the light tension that works for drafting is not sufficient for winding on; the yarn kinks and snarls on its way into the orifice. This is why these punis have languished at the bottom of the fiber pile for so many years.

A proper charkha has a quill spindle which is pretty much directly hooked up to the wheel via a drive band. There is no intermediating tension like you have with a flyer and bobbin setup. You are either spinning off the tip of the spindle, or you are winding on. I began to wonder if I could set up my spinning wheel to work in this way.

Enter a 14-inch straight knitting needle, electrical tape, and a rubber grommet.

These are all the materials you need to convert an Ahsford Traddy into a pretty functional, foot-driven spindle wheel! Note that you need to have a snap-down style rear maiden bearing (introduced on the wheel in 1991) rather than a closed loop, so that you can install and remove the spindle.

From left to right, the purposes of the three "corks" of wrapped electrical tape are: 1. To keep the spindle from moving backward in the bearings. 2. To make a thick spot for the rubber electrical grommet. 3. To make a thicker and less noisy spot for the spindle to rest in the front bearing. There is also a thinly stretched single layer of tape just beneath the head of the needle, to reduce noise and hopefully prevent a bit of wear on the rear maiden bearing. The rubber electrical grommet is there to provide a track for the driveband. These grommets are a bit hard to find; you could substitute a pair of tape wraps with a groove between them.

Here is the spindle in place on the wheel.

And here is the wheel all set up to go.

Notice anything funny?

Yep! I have turned the wheel around backwards, with the drive wheel on the left. The maidens have switched places and been turned around. I did this because I needed to be able to reach out and move the drive wheel with my left hand, while drafting with my right. This is because you need to be able to spin the wheel a short distance backwards to wind the thread down from the spindle tip before winding onto the cop. However, looking at photos of people using actual charkhas, it seems more common to draft with the left hand and work the wheel with the right, so perhaps I just need to work on my left-hand drafting!

In any case, here's a short (and noisy!) video of me spinning on this crazy setup. The backwards treadling is surprisingly easy.

I'm not sure I'd want to regularly spin large amounts of cotton this way, but for a bit of quill-tip spinning practice, it does the job.

(Note to self: observe spinning posture in this video. Consider headaches. Hmm.)

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