Spinning Equipment

Questionable Origin’s 2018 E-Spinner Survey!

We’ve spent a while here at QO talking about what we think is important in an e-spinner, what we think spinners want, and so forth.

In the beginning, this was easy — we just built what Abby wanted. Because she’s a lifelong spinner, and a well-seasoned spinning teacher, she was able to articulate her needs, define the reasons for them, and prioritize the lists. And if all we were ever going to do was build the e-spinner Abby wants, that’s all we’d need to do.

Sloth Spinning
This is the first public photo we can remember putting up.

But we’ve learned a lot over the almost 2 years since our official launch (and the 18 months of development before that). In the process of putting more than a gross (or twelve dozen) e-spinners into people’s hands, we’ve collected lots of feedback and solved lots of problems we never anticipated, and as we’re taking stock of everything approaching the 2 year milestone, we thought it was time to do a real survey.

Click here to take the QO e-spinner survey!

You don’t have to own a Device (Questionable Origin’s groundbreaking e-spinner), or even own an e-spinner at all, to take this survey — we’re interested in your thoughts. We’ll leave this open through the end of July, and periodically report on what we’re finding, then summarize it all in August.

Today, I’m just going to mention a few surprises in the results so far, and what we’re seeing from the first couple of days.

Who Answered So Far

We’ve had 81 responses so far, with 36 individuals saying they already own an e-spinner, and that breaks down further to represent this list (from most commonly owned to least commonly owned).

  • Hansen, 17
  • Device, 12
  • Ashford, 5
  • Ertoel Roberta, 3
  • Womack Butterfly, 2
  • Electric Eel Wheel (full size), 2
  • Electric Eel Wheel (mini), 2
  • SpinTech, Marg, Homemade, Fricke, and Spinolution Firefly, all 1

Savvy counters will notice that we said 36 respondents owned an e-spinner, and the total number of e-spinners owned is 49. This is because some respondents own more than one e-spinner. Some even own more than one of the *same* e-spinner brand (as in, an original Hansen miniSpinner and a miniSpinner Pro).

We would also like to note that, since QO is putting out this survey, we expect Devices to be over-represented among respondents. We’ve no real guesses as to what proportion of existing e-spinners is represented by the 150-some-odd Devices that exist so far, and we don’t think it’s likely that we’ll be able to make a good guess on that front any time soon, if ever.

It didn’t occur to us that an e-spinner might be someone’s first wheel.

In a lot of our ad copy and documentation, we reference conventional treadled spinning wheels and how they operate. We didn’t specifically ask if this was a first wheel, but some respondents volunteered that information, and in other cases, some comment responses strongly indicate that.

What this means for us is that we need to be sure, when we talk about the Device, that we’re not assuming people already know things like “what scotch tension is and how it works” or the definition of “takeup,” for example — and that we probably don’t want to spend a lot of time saying “Just like on a treadle-powered wheel,” and that we also should expand the “how does spinning work in general” aspect of our documentation, so as to make it more approachable for folks who don’t already have a background in wheel ownership and wheel spinning.

If you’re someone who acquired an e-spinner as your first wheel, we’d love to hear from you, and we’ll probably make another survey about that later.

People own multiple e-spinners.

This should have been super obvious to us, considering Abby has owned multiple e-spinners, and did at the point when Chad developed the first prototype for her, and still does, even though she hasn’t touched the others since she got her first Device. “Maybe I should sell off that SpinTech,” Abby said while pondering that.

Survey design is actually not trivial.

I mean, we knew this, so we included some questions intended to serve as checks against others. Like this one:

"Do you presently own a Device?"
“Do you presently own a Device?”

This shows 25 people own a Device, 55 people don’t, and 3 people said “other,” which broke down to “I want to try one out first,” and 2 respondents saying they didn’t know what we meant by “a Device.”

So, we didn’t nail it on the survey design, and we should have made it more obvious what a Device is, even though we were at least partly trying to not just do a survey that would be interesting to people who already knew what a Device was.

What people deemed most important, so far, has been a surprise.

The heart of the survey is one “rate the importance of these features” question. We listed a feature, and then asked respondents to determine if: Don’t care, Maybe I care, I guess I care, I definitely care, and I care a lot.

For one thing, we learned through comments that users of the Chrome web browser were having a problem with this part not scrolling laterally, meaning that all the options weren’t presented for them to click. So we changed it to ask people to rate the importance with numbers, where 1 is “don’t care at all” and 5 is “I care a lot.” We also reported the bug with display in Chrome to SurveyMonkey.

Anyway, the top 3 important things so far:

  • Availability of replacement parts and consumables, like drive bands, brake bands, and the like
  • Range of takeup adjustments from “almost none” to “very strong”
  • Ease of common in-the-field repairs, like replacing a drive band or brake band

and the 3 things deemed least important so far:

  • Unboxing experience
  • Ability to buy from a dealer
  • Internationally-compatible power supply

We thought we’d find out there were things we could cross off the development priority list from doing this survey, but that turns out to possibly not be the case. For instance, customers outside the USA absolutely require the 100-240 volts AC power system we’re using, so that one’s not optional. And the dealer question is a tricky one, because it also has to be considered alongside the question of whether people will buy without trying, and where people can go try stuff, and what shops need to carry, and all kinds of complex things. So we probably can’t really back-burner that either. But, we might spend less time thinking about how we can make the experience of opening up a newly-shipped Device more exciting. Perhaps it’s exciting enough.

Some of the things Abby really cared about are also things other people really care about.

Some of the comments really drove this home. For example:

Consumables really need to be as widely available as possible. Replacement parts, either readily available from the maker of they’re custom, or if they’re off the shelf… Make it a commonly available shelf.

Consumables, in this case, refers to things that will wear out and need replacing, like drive bands and brake bands. This was a major priority for Abby — because if she takes her Device on the road, and it’s a mission-critical teaching engagement and all, she needs to be able to quickly and expediently handle something like “TSA stretched out my brake band spring” or “my drive band broke.”

If it’s custom to the equipment, I need to be able to find and buy it easily. If it’s universal, I need to know *exactly* what it is.

We agree — from the perspective of using the Device as well as from the perspective of providing service. We’d rather be able to tell you “Crochet cotton, or any fairly non-stretchy yarn, and small elastic band will solve this quickly, but if you don’t want to go that route, we can ship you an entire replacement.” We don’t want anybody sitting around like “Dang, I can’t do any spinning at all until a week from now when my replacement gets here,” so we designed the Device to be as field-fixable as we possibly could. If Abby can’t fix it with stuff she carries routinely or can find in a hotel or randomly at a fiber event, it’s a problem. She actually has this rule for treadled wheels, too, if she’s going to use it for work.

I always hesitate to buy a product I want to use for years, if I think I won’t be able to buy or source/make parts for it. One of the reasons I don’t by antique wheels.

Yes, indeed. This was also super important to Chad, as a person who restores and repairs old cars. He spared no effort to build a system that could be repaired with parts from standard hardware and auto parts stores. Worst case, we wanted this to have electronics that could probably be repaired by anyone who could install a car stereo in a car that isn’t built to make it hard to install a car stereo.

“How long will this thing keep working?” is a really interesting question, too — especially to two veterans of Silicon Valley during the early Internet boom. Nobody wants to have to upgrade something every year or two, which is why so many people are always crabby about their phones nowadays.

Some of the problems we’ve solved are problems people didn’t think were solvable.

Like what? Like having an upgrade path and still being backwards compatible. We’re far from the only spinning equipment makers who do a good job with this — in fact, we’d say it’s a major requirement for anybody making spinning equipment in the past half-century or so. In fairness, this does get trickier when you add electronics to the mix, but not as much trickier as one might think if it is a core design goal.

How do we know? Because we’re currently building version 1.3 of the Device. In other words, there have been 3 major revisions since we launched. It costs about $250 to bring a version 1.0 Device up to version 1.3.

What are some other examples? We were surprised to find out lots of people didn’t know about our approach to battery power — again, something Abby had as a real requirement. We selected lithium-ion rechargeable 18650 batteries, with an external charger, so you can always have a set charging. Not only are these batteries pretty common at electronics shops or for mail order, but you can usually find them at places that sell e-cigarettes. So, if Abby’s out on the road and something’s gone amiss with her batteries, you can often even find them at truck stops. They’re also available in different capacities, so it’s possible to get anywhere from 3-12 hours from a single set, and there’s no limit to how many sets you can have.

Another one is “could it run off a car charger thing?” Yep. In fact, the Device is natively 12 volts DC, so it’ll run off any power source that puts out 12v and fits in the plug.

What else surprised us?

That “digital tachometer” was not in the top 3 important things. This was an innovation nobody was even considering when Abby’s first Device was built — but which Abby wanted as a feature to prove some theories of hers, and to be able to reference as a setting which would be compatible with the math many spinners already use when counting treadles per length of yarn drafted. We think this is one of the coolest features we’ve rolled out, and we’ve been glad to see other makers of e-spinners start to offer this as an option as well. We really think it’s the way to go.

That “noise level when spinning” was not the single most critical factor. Admittedly, this was a key reason why Chad wanted to build Abby an e-spinner in the first place — she had some that worked pretty well, but which were noisy at the speeds she likes to spin at, so she couldn’t hang out and binge stuff on Netflix with the rest of the family while spinning.

That speed at the flyer wasn’t in the top 3 (or isn’t yet). We hear all the time that this is a key reason why people have selected the Device. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out as responses keep coming.


Well, that’s an initial walk through a few pieces of survey data! There’ll be plenty more to come, so stay tuned! We welcome your comments, here or on social media!

One thought on “Questionable Origin’s 2018 E-Spinner Survey!

  1. For me, I don’t know now how to use the tachometer in the way you describe, so that’s why it’s not important to me lol

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