Friday, June 04, 2021

Using the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter to Sample Yarn Gauges and Ply the Yarn Weight I Want

Last year, Maurice Ribble asked me to beta test a prototype of the Dreaming Robots EEW Yarn Counter - a little gadget that measures yarn.

Aside from just measuring finished yarn, my mind has been buzzing with other uses for the yarn counter.  I think one of the most valuable tasks it can undertake is to help with dividing yarn up into however many plies you need.

I think every experienced spinner eventually works out that there are a few neat tricks that you can do to use one bobbin full of yarn to make a plied yarn more efficiently.  Whether it is chain plying, Andean plying, or winding a centre pull ball and plying from either end of that.  All of these methods, (in their simplest forms), take a little skill and practice, and result in either a two or three-ply yarn.  I started to wonder if I could use the EEW Yarn Counter to measure off small samples of singles, ply them, wash and then swatch them to work out how many plies of a certain single are required to spin specific gauges of yarn.

I spun a bobbin full of hand-blended merino on my Nano.  I was attempting to see the maximum amount I could get on my hand made resin bobbins, but at the same time, spinning singles for a long term mitred blanket project I’ve been working on.   I should say that this is my default spinning weight on the Nano.  It’s the gauge of singles that I spin when I’m not concentrating on thickness, and the type of yarn I find most relaxing to spin.  If I were to chain-ply it, I know from experience that it would make a good sock weight yarn, but, for example, I’m not sure what I would get if I were to make a 6 or 7 ply yarn.  I was intrigued to find out…

Sampling for swatching

I knew that I wanted to turn the singles into a double knit yarn, but I wasn’t completely sure how many plies I needed.  My guess was 5, but you can rarely be completely sure how your yarn is going to turn out until you’ve plied and washed it.  (Spoiler alert - I was wrong.)

This is where the yarn counter is just invaluable.  In the past, if I’ve wanted to do a sample ply of more than 3 singles, I had to spin a set number of grams onto a few bobbins and ply those.  It was impossible to get exactly the same length onto each bobbin, I always ended up using a lot more than I needed and there was always wastage at the end.

With the yarn counter, I was able to measure off exactly 12 metres onto each bobbin.  I have 7 of these storage bobbins and so out of curiosity, I made sample yarns in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 plies.

Here are all of my various plied yarns, all knotted together for washing…

I would always recommend knitting a full swatch to definitively determine the gauge of your yarn.

However, I designed my mitred blanket to allow me to use any gauge of yarn I want and I’ve knitted so many mitred squares, that I’m able to tell very quickly whether or not I’ve estimated the yarn gauge and needles required correctly.  

After comparing my plied yarns with the yarns on my yarn gauge reference tool and knitting the beginnings of a mitred square, I’m able to conclude that 4 plies of my singles make a double knit yarn.

I’ve now added my plying samples to my yarn gauge reference tool to give me a starting point in the future when I’m looking to ply to a particular yarn gauge.

I made a short YouTube video of my process for measuring off singles to make a 4 ply double knit yarn here


If you’d like to learn a little more, read on…

I tried three different methods for winding my singles onto bobbins that worked for me. I do not recommend trying to wind them onto centre pull balls. I tried that, it got very messy during plying, especially as I was dealing with 5 of them. If none of these methods is available to you, you could just wind your singles onto ping-pong balls, while pulling them through the yarn counter.   I’m sure that would work just as well, it would just take much longer.

The first method I used was to attach the storage bobbins that I got with my Electric Eel Wheel 5 to a power drill, running the singles through my Yarn Counter until I reached the desired length.  This worked very well, but I have chronic pain and the drill is very heavy.  It needed to be held at an angle with the button compressed.  This would not be a problem for most people, but it was for me.

The second tool I used was an electric screwdriver.  This was significantly lighter and easier on my shoulder, but it was slow!

I did manage to do all of the sampling with the electric screwdriver though and, as I was only winding off 12m at a time, the slow pace was a bit of an advantage as it made it easier to keep an eye on the rising measurement.

Well, necessity is the mother of invention, and if I hadn’t found using the drill so painful, and the screwdriver so painfully slow, I wouldn’t have felt the need to look for another device to wind my bobbins with.  I didn’t have to look far, as I had the original Nano 5.0 from the Kickstarter.  I found that if I unscrewed the flyer arms and wrapped a couple of layers of washi tape around the flyer rod to stop the bobbin from rotating, I had myself a bobbin winder.  It’s so much better than using a drill, or an electric screwdriver as it doesn’t need to be held in position, it goes faster than I could ever need and you don’t need to keep the button pressed down to get it to work.  It’s almost like it was made for winding bobbins!

This section of the video shows how I added washi tape to the flyer to stop the bobbin from rotating.

You can see how my setup looks in this section of the video.  It’s a very basic arrangement with my Nano, Yarn Counter and Lazy Kate all in a straight line.  I chose to use the Lazy Kate on my Ashford Traveller as it’s raised up slightly and stays firmly in place.

Once I had the Lazy Kate to yarn counter to Nano bobbin winder in position and working well, I could turn the speed right up and I only needed to guide the yarn onto the bobbin with my hand to load it evenly.

This photo gives an idea of just how fast I was able to run the singles through the Yarn Counter and onto the bobbin as I stepped away for just a few moments to film the yarn being pulled off the bobbin by my makeshift Nano bobbin winder.

After filling the bobbin, the yarn counter gave me a singles measurement of 464m.  Dividing that by 4, I need to wind off 3 bobbins measuring 116m (the remaining 116m will be on the original bobbin).

Well it didn’t take long to measure off and ply 4 singles together, and here is the DK yarn after it’s been for a soak.  

Interestingly, the 4 x 116m singles have now become 103m of plied double knit yarn.  This is the first time I’ve been able to measure both the plied yarn and the original singles that made it and it’s quite helpful to see how much singles can shrink by when the twist is added and the yarn is washed.


The Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter launched on May 20th, 2021 and after watching the video, I saw yet another use for the Yarn Counter that I hadn't considered.

Maurice's wife, Emily, demonstrated how the yarn counter can be placed between your yarn and knitting to measure how much yarn a particular project takes.  I tried it with one of my stuffed mitred squares and it worked a treat!

I'm sure there must be many more uses for this clever little device that spinners, weavers, dyers and knitters will all discover eventually - I can't wait to see the ideas that this innovative group of makers come up with!

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Relationship Between Bobbin Tube Diameter and Brake Tension

Last week I wrote about how I finished making resin bobbins for my Electric Eel Wheel Nano -

Aside from wanting to make pretty, see-through bobbins so that my Nano would be as attractive as a traditional, elegant wooden spinning wheel, one of my main motivations for making my own resin Nano bobbins was to try to increase the capacity.

I managed to increase the volume area between the bobbin ends by 13% by using a narrower central tube and removing one of the groove ends.  I was very pleased with this.  13% makes quite a big difference, even on a small bobbin, where every extra millimetre counts.

If you’d like to see how I made my resin bobbin ends, you can read about it here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the original Nano bobbins have an outer tube diameter that is quite a bit wider than the tube ends that sit on the flyer.  Also, both ends have a groove (which shortens the capacity) when only one groove is necessary.

I asked Maurice why he had chosen to fabricate the Nano bobbins in two parts, when it meant that capacity would be reduced; he explained that this is partly due to the limitations of injection moulding, but it also helps to keep the cost of manufacture down and therefore keeps the Nano at a price that the majority of people would find acceptable.

More importantly, he also said that reducing the size of the tube would increase the need for more frequent tension adjustments.  This last consideration intrigued me.  I’ve been spinning for nearly 30 years, but shamefully, the correlation between how full the bobbin is and how frequently  I need to adjust the tension has never registered with me.  It's only in retrospect that I realise that this fact resonates with me.  I’ve always just spun for relaxation and never gone too deeply into the science involved in spinning.  I decided to take a bit more notice the next time I spun a full bobbin…

I use a spring-tensioned brake band with crimp beads to create small, incremental adjustments to the amount of tension added to the brake band.  This allows me to see exactly how many times I’ve increased the tension on the brake band and to adjust it by a little over 1mm every time. (It also allows me to start a new bobbin with precisely the right amount of tension every time, without struggling to find my ‘sweet spot’.)

Here is my tension band in place before I started filling the bobbin.  I always start with 8 crimp beads below the notch as I know this gives me my ideal amount of light tension.

At this stage, it’s probably worth mentioning that the Nano likes a very light tension, which suits my spinning style perfectly.  Rather than expecting the Nano to pull the fibre out of my hand, I prefer to draft towards the wheel and let the bobbin immediately accept the singles.  If there is any hesitation, and the singles don’t enter the wheel orifice in a perfectly straight line and possibly pigtail up, I know that it is now time to adjust the tension.  N.B. I always check that the yarn hasn’t somehow caught on the yarn guides, or is being hindered in some other way before adjusting the tension.  

For the first time, I decided to take a methodical, scientific approach when I was filling my bobbin to full capacity.  I measured the diameter of the bobbin tube and took a photograph every time I needed to tighten the brake.  I've never paid proper attention to the correlation between bobbin diameter and brake tension and I found the results very interesting. 

Before the first tension adjustment
- 18.7mm bobbin tube diameter

I observed just how noticeable the fluctuations in tension were in the early stages of this spin.  In the beginning, I could feel the pull of the singles reducing with every second until I moved the flyer hook along.  In the very early stages of filling my resin bobbin,  the tension was really quite erratic.  It certainly didn’t make me regret making narrower bobbin tubes, but I quickly concluded that Maurice Ribble had found the right balance for the diameter of the original Nano bobbin tubes.  

The Electric Eel Wheel Nano is ideally priced for beginner spinners and I imagine that narrower bobbin tubes would be a cause of genuine frustration to someone just learning to spin.

Before the second tension adjustment
- 28.6mm bobbin tube diameter

Once I’d tightened the tension for the first time, and the diameter of the yarn around the bobbin tube widened, the pull of the singles became significantly more restrained.  It felt like I was much more in control of the singles and the spin became much more relaxing.

Before the third tension adjustment
- 49mm bobbin tube diameter

After I’d increased the tension for a second time, I was starting to suspect that the amount of yarn I could get on the bobbin before I needed to adjust the tension was not linear and was increasing exponentially.  The wider the diameter of the yarn on the bobbin tube, the less frequently you need to adjust the brake tension?

Before the fourth tension adjustment
- 63.4mm bobbin tube diameter

However, I was proven wrong on my final tension adjustment when the need to adjust the tension came sooner than expected.  This may well just have been a user based anomaly rather than evidence of scientific fact.  I would have to carry this experiment out repeatedly to know for sure…

Here’s a graph that I’ve plotted that hopefully shows how much more frequent the need for tension adjustments is when the bobbin tube is narrower.  Given that the circumference of a yarn wrap around the bobbin tube increases as the bobbin fills, this is further reason that a wider bobbin tube is almost always desirable.

I would always prioritise bobbin capacity over less frequent tension adjustments, but I hadn’t realised just how much of a difference a thinner bobbin tube would make.   Also, anyone that prefers to spin slightly thicker singles, or doesn’t move the flyer hooks quite as obsessively as I do, would be constantly noticing the variations in tension in the early stages.  The tension would decrease as the bump of fibre built up and then increase again when the hooks were moved along.   I always spin fine singles on the Nano and move the hooks very regularly, so this is not an issue for me, but I imagine that I would be in the minority.

Here's my bobbin when it was just about as full as the flyer arms could accommodate.  There's 104g on there, which is very pleasing.  There's something about getting over that 100g mark that makes me love this little wheel even more!

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