You all know I'm a spindle person, so if left to myself I might never have gotten a wheel. But when a friend of mine offered me a spinning wheel she had inherited and couldn't use, I decided to accept. After all, it doesn't mean I'll abandon my spindle -- it means I'll be able to do twice as much spinning!
And so far it's definitely adding to my spinning game. I can spin till I'm tired on the spindle, working on one project, and then move to the spinning wheel and another project, because each uses different muscles. The spindle is definitely a lot more adaptable to different postures and activities -- I can take it with me; I can spin sitting, standing, or walking; and I can use it when my leg joints hurt. But the wheel goes a whole lot faster -- I spun about 400 yards in a couple of days, while with the spindle it always seems to take forever to spin for much smaller projects.
The big thing I've found it's useful for is chunkier yarn. Maybe it's the size of my spindle or my own muscle memory, but I can't for the life of me do chunky yarn on my spindle. Even if I could, I couldn't hold very much on the spindle at a time, so it would be tedious spinning little balls of it. With the spinning wheel, my instinct leads me to make a fatter yarn, so it's easier to keep my yarn consistently chunky if that's what I'm going for.
It took a couple days for me to figure out how to make yarn on it at all. I don't have a manual, so I've had to read a lot of websites and try to guess what sort of tensioning system it has. (Honestly, I ... still don't know what it's called. But I've figured out how it works, anyway.) The trick, which I'm sure any wheel spinner could have told me, is that you control the twistiness of the thread by how fast you let it go onto the bobbin. You don't have to follow the speed the wheel tries to wind it on -- you can hold the yarn back and let more twist go into it before you let it on. I had thought the twist was pretty much set and you couldn't change it without messing with the brake or something, but it turns out I have a lot more control than I thought. I just have to be very conscious of how fast I'm drafting and pedaling, because if I get distracted I either start pedaling way too fast, or I slow down on drafting and the yarn starts to get all kinky.
The other challenge for me is that it goes by so fast. You need to have the wool really fully prepped, because you don't have time to fuss with it before the spinning wheel gets to it. I'm used to using rather sticky or messy wool on my spindle, because at any time I can just pause a moment and pick a piece of hay out of it or untangle something, and with the wheel you can't easily do that. It takes a moment to slow and stop on the pedals and by then you've got all this extra twist built up waiting for you. So for the wheel it's really better to have a nice smooth roving, even if it takes extra time prepping it.
My friend handed down, along with the wheel, a number of bags of really gorgeous roving. Some was a bit compacted (apparently it had sat in her grandma's craft room for years!) but a little pre-drafting made it cooperate. It was like Christmas unpacking what she'd given me! Normally I measure wool by the ounce, and the prep work takes me ages, but this came in pounds and was already combed, so I could get right to spinning.
My favorite was a bag containing dark green and dark reddish-purple Corriedale, plus some white Wensleydale. Both the colored wools were mixed with small amounts of other colors, making a nice deep interesting color in each, and all three went together well, so I did a couple projects incorporating all of them. I spun them at a light worsted weight -- very chunky for me!
I made one garter-knit scarf and one woven scarf. The woven scarf was a sudden inspiration that got me very excited, because three coordinating colors means plaid and I love plaid. I used an online program to try to help me plan the pattern, but I found that difficult to use, so in the end I just used colored pencils to draw out what I wanted.
The only unexpected problem was that the Wensleydale didn't react at all like the Corriedale -- it spun a bit thinner and didn't draw in as much, so the white stripes have little loops hanging out on the sides. I'm sure no one notices this but me, though. Next time I'll probably try to use all the same kind of wool for a weaving project. The knit scarf didn't have the same problem, because I was able to correct it in blocking. But for next time, I definitely will keep the Wensleydale separate -- it is a beautiful, luminous wool but it has almost no spring to it. It was like spinning llama! I'd love to spin the rest of it pretty fine and make something lacy out of it -- possibly a shawl. It naturally made very open loops when knitted, so it's sure to show off a fancy pattern really well.
Next adventure planned with the wheel: trying some of the fancy plying methods (boucle, spiral) that seemed so difficult to even try on a spindle. We'll see what I manage to accomplish!