Thursday, November 19, 2015

Craft Fail! DIY shrink plastic with #6 packaging (and how to rescue it).


If you follow my blog you will know just how much I love shrink plastic.  I've used it to make jewellery, buttons, card embellishments, teacher gifts and fridge magnets.  I just love taking something that's almost as thin as paper, decorating it and then watching it shrink and transform into something tiny and cute right in front of me.  I like to think I'm pretty good with shrink plastic...

A few years ago I read on several craft sites, that shrink plastic is made from clear polystyrene, with the recycling symbol #6 and that you can actually use plastic packaging with the #6 symbol as shrink plastic.  The shrink plastic geek in me got really excited!

After a few months of checking our recycling, I finally found one container that had the rare #6 symbol on it.  Well I put that container aside and tried to plan an amazing project that I would make with it... then I gave up planning and decided that I'd just have a play instead.

I soaked off the label in hot water and washing up liquid, which left me with a plastic box covered in glue. I then washed off all the glue with Sticky Stuff Remover.  It was a lot of effort, but I was going to have some free shrink plastic by the end of it.  That was the plan anyway...

With a sharp pair of scissors, I carefully cut the container up into the largest flat sections I could make. It was certainly starting to look like shrink plastic. I knew that I wanted to either stamp or trace onto it, so flatter pieces worked better in this case.

To begin with I thought I'd see how well my recycle shrink plastic took to permanent inks. I used one of my favourite Little Gorjuss stamps and a Paper Panda Bunny and Bird stamp with a Timber Brown StazOn Inkpad.  I then added a little colour to the girl stamp with some light coloured Sharpie Pens.  It was just like colouring regular shrink plastic, so I was really pleased with my experiment so far.

I cut them out carefully and then popped them in the oven at 175 degrees Centigrade (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and waited.  My regular shrink plastic takes about 2 minutes and this was behaving very much the same.  Unfortunately this was when I realised that my shrink plastic might not be quite so wonderful as I'd hoped...

As I'd expected, the colours became darker and more intense and my shapes were now lovely and thick and flat, sadly they hadn't shrunk equally in height and width.  My bunny and bird look like they've taken a visit to the hall of mirrors and my little girl is only slightly narrower than she was in the beginning and has become extremely short and dumpy.  Not exactly the look I was going for...

I decided to see if I could salvage something from my little experiment, so I thought I'd approach it mathematically.  

I made myself a little 5cm x 5cm square ruler from one of the larger pieces and shrunk that in the oven to see what happened...

... and here's what I got!  The scale on the left is showing the size of the original piece of plastic before it went in the oven.  The width has gone from 5cm to 4.5cm, but the height has gone from 5cm to 1.3cm.   At least it appears to be consistent.

Strangely it's also skewed by about 5 degrees to the right. 

So in an effort to make at least something from my recycled #6 plastic I decided to use these figures to create an image for a card embellishment.

I took the design of a vintage fawn that I created a few months ago for a lino printing workshop that I attended and decided to adjust it for this project.  I then did a little simple maths - 

The width went from 5cm to 4.5.  
5 divided by 4.5 = 1.11.  

The height went from 5cm to 1.3cm.  
5 divided by 1.3 = 3.85.

Therefore I need to multiply the width by 1.11 and the height by 3.85.  Thankfully I'm able to do this easily in Photoshop using the percentage size option.  

I turned off constrain proportions and then altered the width by 110% and the height by 385% to get this image.  I also skewed my image by 5 degrees to the left.

As I was going to be tracing with Sakura Gelly Roll glitter pens I sanded the whole sheet down with some coarse sandpaper to roughen the surface so that the pen ink would dry on it without smudging.

I taped my plastic down onto my stretched image and then traced over it with my Sakura Gelly Roll pen.  I then left it to dry for 20 minutes before cutting it out.  I popped it back in the oven to see if my maths experiment had actually worked...

... and it had!  My little fawn now actually looks fairly in proportion.  OK he's quite difficult to see as the glitter pen is very overpowering, but it worked!

Having had success with getting the scale of my original design right I decided to try a simple black pen for a more subtle and better defined image.

I traced the design again, this time with a 0.8mm black pen, cut a rectangle around it and shrunk it down again.

Finally I had something I could use on the front of a card!  I dusted around the edge of my shrink plastic rectangle with decorative shimmer chalks and then roughly coloured the edge with silver leaf pen.

Finally I added a tiny drop of red Stickles glitter glue to turn my fawn into Rudolph.

I was so pleased with how my little piece of shrink plastic had shrunk down - almost to the right proportions.

I got cocky and decided to finish off my section of shrink plastic, which was made up of one long side of the box.

Sadly it would appear that the calculations I used to worked out the shrinkage and degree of distortion only applied to half of my piece of shrink plastic.  These had been cut from the far end of the same piece and so the last one was really seriously distorted again.  I might be able to salvage something from the one on the left, but the one on the right is beyond saving.

And so ends my effort to make something out of recycled shrink plastic.  Yes I managed to make a simple Christmas card and I learned a lot in the process.  Sadly I think I'll continue to buy my shrink plastic in future - it's far less effort and definitely much more reliable!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, if you click through and purchase from them, I will receive a small percentage of the sale. This goes a small way towards funding further craft projects.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Electric Eel Wheel - My Honest Review and Modification

For a couple of years now I've been looking at buying an electric spinning wheel.  I've been spinning on my faithful Ashford Traveller wheel for over 20 years.  I love my wheel and I find creating and spinning my own yarn extremely relaxing and meditative - or at least I used to... Unfortunately the treadling of the wheel was starting to damage my hip joint, and so over the last year I've had to stop using my beloved Ashford Traveller altogether.

The obvious solution was to buy myself an e-spinner.  I'll be honest, I've been lusting after the American made Hansen miniSpinner for a while now.

Image copyright HansenCrafts

It's neat looking, very quiet, comes with a foot pedal and it has the option of a Woollee Winder flyer - which I'm sure I would need eventually.  It also comes with a significant price tag.  The cheapest wood and flyer option, with three bobbins and shipping to the UK would cost over £620.  When you add onto that the £137 I would have to pay in import duty, that's quite a large price to pay for something I'm unable to try before I buy.
The only e-spinner that I would actually be able to try before I bought it is the Ashford e-spinner.

Image copyright Ashford Handicrafts Ltd

It is also relatively small, but not nearly as quiet as the Hansen and is priced at a more reasonable £400. Unfortunately, as it doesn't come with a foot pedal, it's not really an option that works for me.  I like the idea of being able to spin standing up, sitting down or slightly reclined and the notion of having to lurch forward to turn it off seems quite limiting to me - it's certainly not something I would like to be doing too often anyway.

Earlier this year, on one of my many searches for electric spinning wheels, I stumbled across the Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel.  I'd actually heard about the Electric Eel Wheel a few years ago and had been very intrigued by it.  Maurice Ribble, an engineer, designed it for his wife Emily, who loves spinning and knitting.  Back then I remember being impressed that he was very generously giving away the cutting files so that others could build their own, and advising people just how to go about it.  He'd made his Electric Eel wheel open sourced for anyone to build their own from his design if they are that way inclined. Even now, Maurice provides the files to help technically savvy people build their own Electric Eel Wheel 4 for their own personal use.

Unfortunately I just haven't got the skills to build my own electric spinning wheel, so when I stumbled upon the Kickstarter to help fund the 4th version of the EEW I was very excited!  

Maurice and his wife Emily say that their main motivation in designing the Electric Eel Wheel was to create a highly usable spinning wheel that has been optimised for cost.  They wanted to make it a quality spinning wheel at an affordable price so that beginners just wanting to try out the hobby for the first time could do so at an affordable price.  The Kickstarter price was certainly very attractive.  I managed to get an EEW, foot pedal and three bobbins, plus shipping for £164 and the import duty was a much more affordable £34.

When I told my husband (who's invested in several Kickstarters in the past) that they were intending to start shipping them in August he said, "Oh, you'll have it by Christmas then."  Kickstarter projects are notoriously late, but true to his word, Maurice actually managed to start shipping them in July and the last EEWs reached their destination by the beginning of September.

On opening the box, my first impression was how small, delicate looking and light it is!  The wheel, flyer and 1 bobbin weigh just over 800g - that's very light compared to the 1.6 kilo Hansen miniSpinner or the 2.8 kilo Ashford e-spinner.  It really is a very neat looking wheel and cleverly designed.  Considering its pretty low price tag, it's quite attractive too.

Unfortunately I couldn't actually use it straight away.  I knew that it would come with a US plug and that I would need a travel adaptor, but it wasn't until I pulled it out of the box that it dawned on me that the travel plug that I had was a UK one, not a US one.

Thankfully my husband is an awful lot more technically minded than I am and so he could see that the plug was connected with an IEC kettle lead- something he had in a drawer at home already.  He plugged it in and I was ready to go.

Honestly, my first reaction on turning it on was of slight disappointment at how loud it is.  I'd watched the Kickstarter video and there was only a slightly perceptible humming noise, so when I started it up, I was a little surprised.  If you look at the user manual, the first 2 FAQs are about the noise level, so it must be an issue for some people.  There's a Ravelry forum dedicated to the EEW and on reading people's first impressions, some said they thought it was loud, while others were in complete disagreement.  It's obviously very subjective and I have to keep reminding myself how little I paid for it.  To make it as quiet as the Hansen would have required a much more expensive motor and made the price prohibitive to so many people.

One way to demonstrate the sound is to show you the wheel in action, so I've made a little video so that you can hear it.  You may notice that I have to raise my voice slightly to be heard - and the camera is closer to me than the wheel.  I'd be interested to hear your opinions.

To put it into perspective, when I'm right next to the EEW, it's measuring 70 to 75 decibels, which is about as loud as being next to an animated conversation and certainly louder than I like to have my television at home.  My daughter has very sensitive hearing and she doesn't like to be in the same room as me while I'm using the Electric Eel Wheel, so that is a real down side for me.

The Ashford E-spinner's sound levels measure between 55 and 65 decibels, which is closer to the volume of household music, but I'm sure it would also become an annoyance if you were trying to watch television with others in the room.   Unfortunately I haven't got the decibel levels of the Hansen miniSpinner, but to quote Kevin Hansen, "MiniSpinners are usually nearly silent in operation".  I would be very interested to find out if anyone has measured the db levels of the Hansen...

Moving onto the actual spinning - it took me 10 minutes or so to find my "sweet spot" for spinning the first time I used it.  This was mostly because when I took the wheel out of the box, the Scotch tension had been set quite tight - maybe to keep the flyer secure in transit.

It has a covered elastic band for a Scotch tension, which I think is quite unique.  (The elastic band is identical to a stretchy hairband I have, so I know what to use if it ever wears out!)  I like to spin with very little pull from my Scotch tension, so it took a little while to loosen it enough for me to spin without the yarn pulling away from me too much, but once I loosened it enough, I found I was perfectly happy with the elastic band system.  It takes just the tiniest of tweaks to loosen or tighten the band, but it is perfectly and easily adjustable.  Some people have had issues with the elastic band scotch tension system as they're finding it a little unresponsive and have swapped the elastic band for something less stretchy.  Personally I don't envisage myself having a problem with it.

Maurice Ribble ran some stress tests on the Electric Eel Wheel to test it's durability.  He ran it solidly for 9 days and the only thing that wore out was the Scotch tension band.  You can read more about his tests here.

The drive belt loops around the large flyer wheel and then around a pulley connected to the motor underneath.  The band looks pretty durable and has a nice stretch to it making it fairly easy to replace if it ever wears out.  The string drive band on my Ashford Traveller took 20 years to wear out and I'd say that this band looks much more durable, so I don't anticipate this to be a problem.

I've always been very worried that I wouldn't get on with an e-spinner, which is one reason that I was so happy to get on the EEW Kickstarter.  I've read lots of people on spinning forums say how much they miss treadling or that they only use their e-spinners for plying. I wanted this to be my sole machine and I really didn't want to spend several hundred pounds on a wheel, only to find that I struggled with controlling it, or I just didn't find it enjoyable.  I'm really pleased to say that I needn't have worried.

The EEW has a dial that works both as an on and off switch and a direction controller.  The central position is off and then you turn it to the right for clock-wise spinning or to the left for anti-clockwise plying.  I would say that it's actually more controllable than a traditional treadle spinning wheel as you can start as slowly as you want if you are a beginner, or are just getting to grips with a more difficult fibre, and then turn the dial up for high speed plying. 

I certainly think that the foot pedal on the Electric Eel Wheel is an absolute necessity and it seems odd that Ashford don't offer this as an option with their e-spinner.

There are obviously the times that you need to stop and reach forward to adjust the position of the yarn on the bobbin, but there are also frequent times when you might just need to pull out vegetable matter from your fibre, or the occasional guard hair that would make the yarn itchier.  To be lunging forward and back to switch off the machine every time you needed to fix a fault in the yarn would drive me crazy! I'm happy to say that I've spun with the Electric Eel Wheel sitting in an upright chair, on the sofa, and with my feet up in bed (working the foot pedal with my hand). I've also managed to ply standing up and walking around a little, which for me, (I have a chronic back condition), is a real game changer and highlights how much more freedom a foot pedal gives you.

Another reason that I think you really need a foot pedal with the EEW is that the On/Off switch and the direction dial are combined.  Once you've found your perfect spot on the dial for putting the ideal amount of twist in, you want to keep it in that position when you want to take a break and for it to be in the same position when you come back to it.

One aspect I hadn't considered is the fact that not having to sit right next to the wheel makes long draw spinning much easier too.  I've tried it on my Ashford Traveller, but I either have to twist my body in ways that it doesn't want to go, or stretch my arms out, which again, I find very uncomfortable.  I'm able to stand with the EEW sitting on a raised table and do long draw spinning by slowly walking away and towards the wheel.  It's a joy!

The moment that I absolutely fell in love with the Electric Eel Wheel was the day that I found my favourite position for spinning, that hurts me much less than any spinning position I've tried before.  For the last twenty years I've sat upright in a chair and spun with the wheel right in front of me, using a short forward drafting motion; this is how I'm used to spinning, so when I first got my EEW it didn't occur to me to switch things around.  It took me a couple of weeks to work out that I could sit, reclined on my bed, with the EEW sitting to the side of me, perpendicular to my thigh, and draft by gently moving my hands apart and together. 

I can't tell you the RPM of the EEW as this varies from machine to machine and your Scotch tension set up, but I can tell you that it is certainly fast enough for me.  I find that I spin at about the 3 o'clock dial position and ply at about 4 o'clock on the dial (and it goes all the way up to 5 o'clock), so I certainly can't envisage a time when I felt it needed more RPM.

The bobbins that come with the Electric Eel Wheel are quite substantial, if a little basic looking. Maurice Ribble states that they hold up to 170g (6oz) which is a real treat for me.

I've photographed the EEW bobbin (on the left) next to a Traditional/Traveller bobbin (on the right) to show just how sizeable the bobbins are. They're certainly quite substantial. I'm used to struggling to get 100g on my small Ashford bobbins, so I'm looking forward to having much longer lengths of yarn without breaks.

 I must confess, I was intrigued to find out if you really could get 170g on the bobbins, so I spun some Wilton dyed tops until the bobbins was as full as possible and I actually managed to get just shy of 200g of singles on there.

I then Navajo plied the singles and managed to squeeze 175g onto the bobbin.  In the past, if the bobbins on my Ashford Traveller were approaching 70g, the wheel would become much harder and painful for me to treadle.  With the Electric Eel wheel, all the hard work is done for you and there is no change in performance as the bobbin fills up.

The Electric Eel wheel is constructed mainly from layers of 5.2mm birch veneer and I would highly recommend sanding and varnishing all of the wood before you do much spinning on it.  I actually chipped the tiniest splinter of wood off the back section when I was lifting my bobbin off, which made me stop everything and go over all of the upper wood with three thin coats of clear varnish, sanding it back between coats. This seems to have sealed it really well and it's feeling a lot more finished now.

Image taken from the Electric
Eel Wheel Builder's Guide, Version 3

Past versions of the Electric Eel wheel have a section of plastic at the front and back for the flyer tube to sit in and I must admit that I'd be much happier if this was still in place as I do worry about damaging the thin 5.2mm wood every time I remove the bobbin.

My Modification

Aside from the volume, my only other disappointment with the Electric Eel Wheel is the plastic hooks.  As you can see, they are quite close together and they've been cut from a flat sheet of 3mm acrylic to minimise cost.  The points of the hooks are fairly sharp and the edges of the plastic are angular and also quite sharp.  When I first started spinning on the EEW I kept having breakages and snags, which I can only put down to my yarn catching on the edges and points of the hooks.  I found that if I spun thicker my yarn didn't break so much, but it did still snag on the hooks.  Many people on the EEW Ravelry forum had a similar problem and it was undecided as to whether it was down to not putting enough twist in the yarn or whether the hooks were to blame.

One lovely thing about the Electric Eel Wheel being open source and economically made is that a lot of the parts can be sourced elsewhere.  I decided to see if I could work out my own sliding hook system as the existing hooks just weren't working for me.

I unscrewed the nuts at the end of the flyer rods and found that the hooks and spacers were all loosely threaded on to a single bolt.  This meant that I could take off all but one spacer and one hook and work out a sliding hook system for the rest of the flyer rod.

I bought a replacement Ashford sliding hook from Fibre Hut hoping to slide it onto some tubing to create a sliding hook flyer.

Unfortunately I couldn't use the sliding hook as it was, as there is very little clearance between the base and the flyer. The black ring would have collided with the underneath of the EEW as the flyer rotated, so I needed to modify it.

I pulled the black ring away from the spring to lengthen the wire attached to the spring and then used some strong metal cutters to cut off the wire holding the black ring. I then used some round nosed pliers to curve the remaining wire around into a loop that could still be used to open and close the grip of the sliding hook. Finally I threaded both the rod and the hook back onto the flyer rod and tightened the nut to hold everything in place.

Other owners of the Electric Eel Wheel have modified theirs by adding a replacement Louet sliding hook but this requires you to thread the yarn through the loop.  I prefer the Ashford sliding hook as it is a split ring, so no threading is necessary.

I must confess that I spent quite a bit of time and money experimenting with the right tubing to cover the threaded bolt. My main issue was finding a material that could withstand the tight metal spring gripping it, whilst giving a smooth sliding action when I wanted to change its position. All of the tubings I tried were 11cm in length, with an inner diameter of 6 cm and an outer diameter of 8 cm. Fibre glass worked well for a while, but it started to deteriorate after the sliding hook had been up and down it a few times, aluminium tubing was strong enough, but the movement wasn't smooth and it resulted in an unpleasant grating sensation, Teflon piping certainly had the smoothest movement, but after a while the sliding hook started to leave indentations in the tubing. Finally I tried fibre glass tubing. This gave a slightly less smooth action to Teflon but appears to be quite resilient so far.  Having said that, I would still have been content to stick with the Teflon tubing as it was the smoothest.  I've photographed the carbon fibre tubing here, but I may well revert back to Teflon in the future...

I'm much happier now with my sliding hook than I was with the closely spaced plastic hooks (although the lightness of the machine means that changing the yarn position is a 2 handed affair now) and I think it looks so much better too without all that white plastic. It's also confirmed that it was the hooks that were breaking my singles, as I've not had any unexplained breakages since.


Of course the true test of any spinning wheel is how well and easily it spins yarn.  Well here's the 200g of ombr√© dyed Wilton's Violet yarn I spun, all washed and set.  It's a really squishy, bouncy yarn because of all that extra twist to add durability.

The Electric Eel Wheel certainly speeds up spinning - I don't think I've spun 200g of Navajo plied aran weight yarn quite so quickly and with such an even distribution of twist.  In the past it's been so much effort to put this amount of twist into a yarn, but the Electric Eel Wheel does all the hard work for you while still creating a yarn that is very much hand spun.

Yes, there are things that I would and have changed about the EEW, it's not perfect, but it's still a very good machine for the price I paid for it and the more I use it, the more I fall in love with it.

I doubt that anybody that bought into the Electric Eel Wheel Kickstarter was expecting a top of the range machine, but what they did get was a pretty nifty little wheel, that's incredibly portable, (if a little delicate) that can spin a decent yarn along with the best of them.

I honestly bought my EEW just to see if I liked spinning on an electric spinning wheel and I'm glad to say I'm a convert.  After spending a few weeks playing with my Electric Eel Wheel, I've discovered that there's something incredibly freeing about not having to sit right next to the wheel and I really can't see me going back to a treadle wheel now.

Well, congratulations if you've got this far!  If you weren't lucky enough to get on the Kickstarter, the Electric Eel Wheel and accessories can be found here

Thank you so much for reading!  I'll be writing soon about the case that I modified for keeping my Electric Eel Wheel in... I promise that post won't be as long as this one!


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