Choosing my first spinning wheel was more difficult than buying my first car. I know that sounds silly, but by the time I bought a car, I’d been driving for 6 years. I’d only been spinning for 6 months when I began to look for a wheel. So here are some tips, things I wish I’d known at the start.
- Rent to own.
If a yarn/spinning store carries wheels, they probably have a rental program. Two of my local stores do, both apply some portion of the rental charge to a wheel purchase. And both allow you to switch wheels without losing your investment. Some stores also buy and sell used wheels. Rental and used wheels can be a bit bojankity, but in a business where “ugly yarn” is rebranded as “novelty yarn”, we call those little eccentricities “character”. The trick, of course, is determining whether a particular wheel has “character” or “fatal flaws”. That brings us to our next rule.
- Take your time.
The first time I rented a wheel, I couldn’t even figure out how to pick it up. How was I supposed to know if it was in working order? But after a weekend spinning on it, I began to understand what I was looking at, which parts moved, which didn’t, and which did move but probably shouldn’t.
Beyond just basic familiarity with the parts, you need time to get to know that specific wheel. The more time you spend with a particular wheel, the better you will understand its foibles. Is it just dinged up from years of use, or crooked to the point where it spins uneven yarn? Is it broken, or in need of a minor adjustment?
Finally, and this was a hard lesson for me, you need time to find out who you are as a spinner. Do you like to spin hair-thin silk thread or soft chunky yarn? Bigger wheels spin faster: they make thin yarn well but over-twist the thicker yarns. Do you want to spin feathers or springs or other flotsam into your yarn? Your orifice (the hole the yarn goes into) needs to be bigger for weird art yarns.
- Talk to other spinners.
Your local yarn and spinning store should be an essential resource during your search. Talk to other spinners about their wheels, what they do and don’t like, and what kind of yarn they spin. Find out which companies have good reputations, which are still in business, etc.
Online forums are another place to look for advice. If you aren’t comfortable asking complete strangers for their opinion, lurk. Usually someone has asked a similar question in the past. Everyone was a beginner once, and the best recognize they still have much to learn.
- Fall in love.
I knew I was going to be spinning a lot. We have 9 alpacas. I suspected I would need a medium-sized wheel with flexibility. But I almost immediately fell in love with a tiny, Saxony-style wheel. I tried other brands and bigger wheels; I knew that wheel was too small. Double drive wheels, which have two drive bands, are just too complicated for me. Having to move a drive band to remove the spindle (which I do every time I weigh them, to see how much I’ve got) slowed me down and frustrated the heck out of me. Reaching through all the gears and wheel parts and such in vertical, castle-style wheels bothered me. And the modern, portable wheels are just…not pretty. None of those other wheels measured up to the tiny one.
So I bought the little one. On average, I spend three hours a day with my wheel. You better bet I chose one I liked to look at and interact with.
- Once you’ve looked, leap!
Like many things in the spinning world, wheels hold their value well. Antique ones may actually gain value over time. So long as it isn’t obviously broken, and you have space for it, buy it. You can only get better at wheel spinning by wheel spinning, and you can only do that with a wheel. You have very little to lose and much to gain. Unless you are a hoarder or something.