Spinning wheels come in all shapes and sizes. We can create an infinite number of yarn varieties with our wheels. One way to make that easier on ourselves is to alter the ratio of our wheels. I have three different wheels that I use regularly. They are all antiques. Why on Earth does one spinner require three wheels? They all have different spinning ratios.
The spinning ratio is the number of times the whorl and flyer rotate for each rotation of the wheel. This, in turn, determines how many twists will be in each draft length of the yarn. If your wheel is set up for a fine ratio, say 20:1, the flyer will add 20 twists to the fiber with each full turn of the wheel. So, if you want to spin a yarn that has 20 tpi (twists per inch), you would draft one inch of fiber for each treadle of the wheel. To make a yarn that has only 10 tpi, you would need to double your draft to 2 inches per treadle. As you create a yarn, be sure to include the wheel ratio in your spinning journal to make it easier to create the yarn again.
This is where my three wheel system comes in. Because they are all old wheels, I cannot just go out and buy whorls to change the spinning ratio. I have one that is set to 24:1. This is my favorite wheel because as a long drafter I employ a drafting zone that is often over 12 inches long. With this wheel I can easily spin a very fine yarn without feeling as though I am running a marathon. The second wheel is my plying wheel. It has a ratio of about 11 to 1. My husband made the whorl for this one, which was not an easy endeavor. The third wheel is my thick wheel. It has a ratio of 8:1 which is perfect for pencil rovings and anything else that I want to spin thick.
When you begin to spin, it is much easier to create different types of yarn because you are more aware of the individual steps you are using to spin. As we become more experienced, spinning becomes more of a habit that our bodies can do without much thought. That is when the ability to alter the spinning ratio can become a very useful tool to hand spinners. Be sure to buy the extra whorls when you purchase your wheel. The dealer is not trying to up sell you in any way. They are thinking ahead to the time when you become an experienced spinner who would like to create a variety of yarns. Otherwise your living room may also end up looking like a “granny biker bar” like mine.