We had a great question come in via our Facebook page:
Question for Abby: Watched the video. Can you be most specific about what technical needs this espinner fulfills for you that were not available in other models currently available? or have you done a post somewhere with those details? Thanks.
Abby says: Welp. Guess I’d better do a post with those details, then. Here we go!
First, let me say that my spinning needs are probably not typical. When I’m in production mode, I really will spin for 8-12 hours in a given day. I also tend to spin a fair bit of fine, high-twist yarn for weaving, meaning that most of the spinning wheels I use on a regular basis are equipped with fine fiber and high twist delivery options — lace kits and the like.
The first major problem was simply that, at the speeds where I like to spin (1200 rpm is the low end of where I like to spin), all my e-spinners were noisy enough that nobody wanted to be in the room with me while I was spinning. One in particular, my fastest one, Chad was listening to and he could hear there was an issue with a bearing, so he swapped in new, heavier-duty ones, and that alone made a huge difference.
So then I borrowed a friend’s newer, much quieter, e-spinner. It performed beautifully while spinning, although I didn’t love the bobbin and flyer selections and my entry speeds were pretty much the machine’s top speeds. It also got problematic for me while plying or spinning S or counter-clockwise, overheating and shutting down. And I didn’t love the scotch tension implementation, which was hard to swap out but fairly easy to snag during routine operations like bobbin changes. Chad made a mental note of all these gripes, unbeknownst to me at the time.
The big thing, though, is that e-spinners tend to spin at an incredibly regular pace, meaning that there isn’t room for the fluid, flexible, tactile shifts that happen reflexively when you’re spinning with a wheel. My favorite e-spinner had a rheostat-controlled footswitch, so you could speed up or slow down by changing how much you were stepping on the foot pedal. That helped some, but alas, it was not viable for me with the bum ankle, which got tired from trying to maintain the right speed.
I truly did not believe that a motorized spinning apparatus could feel the same way a treadle-powered one does, and I told Chad as much. I was certain that there was absolutely no way he could get a motorized thing to replicate that feeling.
Chad started by finding an assortment of motors, putting a pulley on them, and literally holding them to the drive bands of various of my spinning wheels while I spun. I actually spun the first batches of yarn for my Get More Spun video this way, and finished up all the spinning for that plus several other videos on the Device as it took shape.
So, to sum up, my initial wish list:
- Be quiet at speeds over 1000 rpm
- Not overheat or shut down at high speed
- Feel like a spinning wheel
- Offer the same kinds of adjustments that treadled wheels do, like changes to drive band and brake band material
- Be really, really easy to travel with
- Be adjustable for super light takeup (and super strong, but super light is harder)
Over the course of a year and a half of testing and development, though, Chad brought me new features to try on a regular basis, and he incorporated the things I said as well as the things my colleagues said. I’m a habitual long draw spinner, and double drafter, and even though I can and do spin in pretty much every style imaginable, we felt like we really needed feedback from other folks on this, and so in addition to letting everyone in my classes try out the Device if they were curious, Chad made some others for testing, and we sent the first few to Beth Smith, Amy King, and Esther Rodgers. Why spinning teachers? Well, because if there’s a problem to be found with a spinning wheel, spinning teachers will find it. Or their students will. Between me, Beth, Amy, and Esther, we cover pretty much every base to be found in style and technique. All of us are experienced new product testers to boot, because, well, what I just said: if there’s a problem to be found with a piece of spinning equipment, just let your friendly neighborhood spinning teacher take it to a class, and that problem will show up.
So we got a whole new wish list of things from that process. Some of them are pie in the sky, or vaporware, as we used to say when we worked in tech, and some of them are real but not rolled out yet, and some of them became absolute necessities.
The first one was the tachometer. I admit, this was a little opportunistic of me, because I also had a few theories as to how flyer and bobbin RPM shift during normal spinning and I thought it would be cool to get real numbers on how scotch tension affects speed, so before long, Chad had rigged up a tachometer to display the speed at which the flyer was turning. I thought in the beginning that the tach would be gimmicky and provide me with the data I wanted for an article I planned, but within moments it was clear that it had many positive benefits, not least of which is if you’re a treadle-counter, now you can stop counting and let the machine handle that for you. What’s more, you can write down in your notes what RPM you spun a given yarn at, and not have to worry about the ratios.
You can also leave your Device set for a particular speed, and turn it off or on, and it’ll go right back to where it was, while still giving you a comfortable ramp-up that’s controlled not by software, but mechanically. The net result of all of this is that the Device feels like a regular treadle-powered spinning wheel, even when you’re starting and stopping.
Because the Device was a prototype — and there were several of them that existed then — there was a lot of iteration settling on the design and the layout and everything .This meant lots of taking it apart and putting it back together, which meant it made sense to make it easy to repair.
Being water-resistant wasn’t a design goal originally, but waiting for airport shuttles and whatnot, I found I really, really appreciated the fact that I didn’t even have to worry about the weather. I’ve said elsewhere that I still haven’t found the nerve to drop my Device into the bathtub and see what happens, but it sure doesn’t care about being dropped in a puddle when a stack of luggage falls over. “Call it mudproof,” Chad suggested. Pelican cases are airtight, but ours are drilled to mount the hardware, and even though those bolts and the scotch tension knob are tightly fit, like I say, I haven’t had it in me to drop it in a bathtub. Or even the sink, since it’ll fit.
One thing we all found we wanted, though, was onboard batteries that would enable the Device to be used in all the same settings as a regular spinning wheel, without even thinking about it, without having to find a third-party external battery.
So Chad also added:
- Runs off onboard batteries
- Easy to repair
- Mechanical, not software, performance tuning
- Water resistant / mud proof
- Room for future feature expansion (including some possible software).
While we’ve been in development and testing, some other e-spinners have added tachometer options, and we think that’s great! We don’t want to be competitors, but rather, collaborators. So that also makes it hard to say what didn’t quite work for me about my other e-spinners, which I don’t want to name, because they’re all great products and I like the folks who make them. But none of them were quite what I, personally, needed for a primary spinning wheel — and that’s what the Device is: a spinning tool I, personally, can use happily for all my bobbin-and-flyer projects.
One thing that really surprised me taking the Device to my classes was that it wasn’t only the experienced spinners who liked it — absolute beginners also found it pretty intuitive and comfortable to use. So even though I never anticipated this, yes, I would absolutely recommend it for a brand new spinner’s first wheel.
I think that’s it, for now. If you’ve got other questions, feel free to comment, and I’ll keep answering!