Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Evolution of the Electric Eel Wheel

I've been writing this post for a while now, so when the Kickstarter for the new Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 went live, I decided it was the perfect time to finish it.


Do take a look at the Kickstarter, it runs until the 20th of December 2018 - if you've always wanted to try spinning, or just fancy a fun, travel wheel that will fit in your handbag, starting at $60, this hand-sized fully functioning electric spinning wheel is hard to pass up.

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Three years ago I wrote a review for the Electric Eel Wheel 4.  I loved that little wheel, but it did have quite a few issues - some I managed to overcome, but others I just endured.


Despite its problems, I was so thankful for the invention of the Electric Eel Wheel 4, as it allowed me to try spinning on an electric wheel for the first time, at a price that was low enough for me to take the risk.

I thought it would be interesting to look back at the inception of the Electric Eel Wheel to see just how far it’s come in less than a decade and to show a little of what the future holds for this little machine that’s taking on the big boys.

The Electric Eel Wheel


Maurice Ribble, the inventor of the Electric Eel Wheel, has been committed to designing and inventing an affordable, yet extremely usable electric spinning wheel, for several years now.  He felt that spinners were being exploited, and that it was time to introduce a little competition to redress the balance.

I first heard about the Electric Eel Wheel when I was searching online for an affordable e-spinner - I wanted an electric wheel as I was finding spinning on my Ashford Traveller more and more painful.

Unfortunately, when I first looked, every electric spinning wheel was prohibitively expensive, especially as there was no way for me to find out if I would even enjoy using an e-spinner before I bought it.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, January 2009

I did, however, stumble upon Maurice Ribble's blog, where he talked about his experience designing an electric spinning wheel at a more affordable price.

I love looking at these early images of the Electric Eel Wheel in its infancy.  It shows just how far the Electric Eel Wheel has come in under a decade. The romantic in me also loves the fact that it was invented for his wife, Emily, to save her from lugging a full-sized spinning wheel around to spinning and knitting groups.


I love how home-made and functional it looks in its wooden box, but still, Maurice realised that there was a demand for this slightly inelegant looking e-spinner when many of Emily's friends started asking him to make one for them.  At the same time, Maurice also generously ‘gave away’ his design as an open source project, helping other spinning enthusiasts to build their own Electric Eel Wheels at an affordable price.

By the next year, you could buy a kit to build your own spinning wheel in a box, and if you didn't have the technical know-how, you could buy an assembled version.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, February 2010

You can see that the Electric Eel Wheel is gradually rising out of the box and it's started to become a little more compact.

The Electric Eel Wheel 2


Later that year, Maurice made several improvements on his original design, improving the motor life and reducing the volume, increasing the bobbin capacity and improving the assembly process, making it easier for people that bought it in kit form to make their own.  This was the birth of the Electric Eel Wheel 2.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, September 2010

It was now starting to look ever so slightly more commercial, with a custom, plastic controller box to protect the electronics.  It was however, still modestly hiding away in its box.

The Electric Eel Wheel 3


By 2013, there was enough demand for the Electric Eel Wheel, (in what was still a very niche market,) that Maurice was able to redesign it, using laser cut parts bought in bulk, making it cheaper to build and quicker to assemble.

Image from Ponoko.com, September 2013


The Electric Eel Wheel 3 was a much more professional and commercial looking machine and it had finally escaped out of the box!  It was starting to look a little more like the Electric Eel Wheel on sale today.  Anecdotally, I know a lady that still owns this version of the Electric Eel Wheel and it spins just as well as any spinning wheel.  She does find it quite noisy though.  

The volume of the Eel is one of the main problems that Maurice Ribble has had to try to overcome, and is continually trying to improve.  Keeping the cost down means using a cheaper motor and light, thin veneered wood, which just aren't going to be as quiet and as stable as a heavy, solid hardwood electric spinning wheel, using a brushless motor.

In 2013, an Electric Eel Wheel 3 sold for $290 and you could buy a self-assembly kit for $240.  That's pretty incredible considering that it was difficult to buy any kind of decent e-spinner for less than $800 at the time.

The Electric Eel Wheel 4


In March 2015, Maurice took the big step of launching the Electric Eel Wheel on Kickstarter, in the hope of funding the production of the 4th iteration of his little wheel.  For the project to go ahead, he needed to raise $5,000.  In the end, with the help of 245 backers, he managed to raise over 10 times that.



Some of those original 245 backers helped to form a community on Ravelry where they showed off their altered wheels, shared spinning tips, showed off the yarns they had spun and gave new spinners advice.  Fundamentally, they also shared issues that they had with their wheels - the main problems being the sound levels and the sharp yarn hooks.  The wonderful thing is that Maurice was, and is, a very active member of that group and Maurice listened to everybody.  Maurice also read my blog post about the Electric Eel Wheel 4 too, and took on board all of my comments.

Continuing in this spirit of openness and sharing, the Electric Eel Wheel 4 is open sourced, and if you are technically minded enough to build your own, you can find more information on how to here.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5


November 2016 saw the Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel 5.  Maurice Ribble wanted to address everyone's issues to make an even smaller, quieter spinning wheel with a more usable sliding hook system.  A lot of the people that invested in the first Kickstarter jumped onboard to get the improved Eel Wheel and word was slowly spreading about this new affordable electric spinning wheel.  With a target of $5,000 to get the project off the ground, the Electric Eel Wheel 5 raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter - which is pretty incredible when you consider that this is a niche product that very few people have seen in person.


There is no doubt that the Electric Eel Wheel 5 and its later updates are a significant improvement on the Electric Eel Wheel 4 and its predecessors.  The sliding hook system on the 5 caused a lot less frustration (once initial issues had been resolved) and the sound levels were much improved.

Here is a little video showing the 4 and 5 side by side just to get an idea of the difference in volume.




You can hear that the 5 has thankfully lost that annoying high pitched whine that irritated most people.  The Electric Eel Wheel 4 noise levels measured about 68 decibels at my spinning speed, but the Electric Eel Wheel 5 measures a much more bearable 59 decibels.  (For the uninitiated, 70 decibels is twice as loud as 60 decibels.)

My family and I are all quite sensitive to noise and so I purposely wouldn't use the Electric Eel Wheel 4 when others were in the room, as I knew the noise would be too loud for anyone to watch the television at a comfortable level.  I am however happy to use my Electric Eel Wheel 5 with others in the room - albeit at a slightly lower speed than when I'm on my own.

I should probably point out that the first Electric Eel Wheel 5 came with a plastic flyer spindle and sliding hooks.  Quite a few spinners (myself included) started to see a wearing down of the plastic where the spun yarn was running over the plastic and so Maurice sent out replacement aluminium flyer spindles and sliding hooks to anyone affected.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5.1


Maurice is constantly working on new ideas and asking members of the Ravelry forum what they want in an electric spinning wheel, whilst listening to the problems and issues that arise.  It's a very unique and open business model and it's almost like later models of the Electric Eel Wheel have been designed by Maurice, but with Ravelry members as his design consultants.  Most companies are incredibly secretive about new ideas and inventions, but Maurice will happily risk sharing designs and ideas that he has for future models of the Electric Eel Wheel, knowing that feedback from Ravelry members has helped the Electric Eel Wheel become the little gem it is today. 

I never actually got around to writing a review for the Electric Eel Wheel 5, as Maurice had brought out the 5.1 very soon after everyone received their updated aluminium flyer rods and hooks.  



The 5.1 has a coat of varnish on it - so it looks much more finished than previous wheels -  I did have a problem with wood chipping off both of my wheels, so this definitely takes the design up a notch.  It also feels more finished and professional as the underneath is now enclosed by a detachable base.  Probably the biggest improvement made for the 5.1 is that the bobbins now have bearings at either end - making them quieter than the Bobbins Up bobbins that shipped with the 5.0

The Electric Eel Wheel Mini


Image from Kickstarter, November 2017


In November 2017, Maurice Ribble launched a Kickstarter for a new kind of Electric Eel Wheel - The Electric Eel Wheel Mini.  It was one of his most ambitious spinning projects yet as he challenged himself to make the smallest, most affordable electric spinning wheel ever.  Some would say that he'd already done this with the Electric Eel Wheels 3 - 5 but Maurice wanted to make a wheel that was even more affordable, to encourage many more people to try spinning for the first time.  The Electric Eel Wheel Mini sold on Kickstarter for an amazing, $50.   Unsurprisingly, over 1000 people backed it.
Maurice described it as a new category of spinning wheel to help bridge the gap between drop spindle and spinning wheel - the price being far closer to that of a drop spindle.  Inevitably, with such a low price tag came compromises - it was quite noisy and it was so light it needed to be strapped down to stop it from wobbling too much.  Changing direction to ply was also slightly awkward, but it was still an excellent introduction to spinning for a lot of people  - many of whom went on to upgrade to the larger model once they knew that they enjoyed spinning.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5.2


Image from Dreaming Robots


The latest and current model is the Electric Eel Wheel 5.2.  This went up for sale on the Dreaming Robots site on November 9th, 2018.  Once word went out that these were for sale, 100 of these wheels sold out in less than a day.  

I love the fact that it now retails at $260, which is $30 less than the Electric Eel Wheel 3 sold for, way back in 2013.  It just shows that being able to buy materials in bulk and mass produce many elements of the wheel has enabled Maurice to pass these savings onto his customers.

One of the most notable differences is the plastic flyer wheel.  I'm a little torn on the decision to use plastic for the flyer.  I much prefer the look of the wood, but I can appreciate that plastic helps to keep the price down when you are working in large quantities - also, the thin wood of previous flyers could warp, which would add to the noise levels and the vibration of the wheel itself.

The frame has bearings built into the front and back for the flyer spindle to sit in to help quieten the wheel further.  The back panel hinges downwards to make it easier to change the bobbins.  I love these design features and I feel it improves the quality feel of the wheel significantly.

Image from Dreaming Robots site

The spindle is also made from one piece of solid steel - the earlier flyer spindles were made from two pieces of aluminium screwed together and some people found (myself included) that the rods weren't completely straight - which added to the wobble of the wheel.  (Mine would go for a little walk when I used the aluminium spindle at high speeds.)  Making it from one piece of steel will lengthen the life of the spindle and reduce the chance of having a 'wobbly wheel'.

Quite a few people on the Ravelry forum requested a faster wheel so that they could ply faster and spin shorter fibres more easily.  The 5.2 spins at a maximum of 1400 rpms, which is 40% faster than the previous model.

The sliding hooks have also changed, making them significantly easier to move than the ones on the 5.1.  I must say though, I'm a little uneasy about how they look, but aesthetics are probably a little more important to me than most.

There is a regular discussion on the Electric Eel Wheel Ravelry forum on the aesthetics of the Eel and how important keeping the price down is, compared to how the wheel looks, and the functionality of the wheel.  Personally, I would rather pay more for an attractive, quiet wheel, but opinion is very much split on this issue.  Making the Electric Eel Wheel as affordable and as enjoyable to use as possible is at the forefront of Maurice's design concept and I cannot fault him for that.

The Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2


After the success of the Electric Eel Wheel Mini, Maurice took the feedback he received from his tiny wheel and made a radical decision - to design the new Mini completely out of plastic.  At first, I think quite a few people were quite uneasy at the thought of having a completely plastic spinning wheel, but as images and footage of the wheel began to come out, people started to come around to the concept of a tiny plastic spinning wheel. The primary reason for making the Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 was to make an affordable, yet easy to use electric spinning wheel.  By using modern, injection moulding techniques, it's much easier and cheaper to make a thousand wheels out of plastic, than it is out of wood.  Also, by making the frame out of one solid piece of plastic rather than several pieces of wood, there are far fewer variables - making for a quieter wheel with fewer vibrations.

Image from Kickstarter, November 2018

The Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 launched on the 15th of November 2018 and it reached its target in less than an hour.  The Kickstarter has been running for 12 days now and already over 2,400 people have backed it - and there are another 23 days to go!  I think that's a real achievement and it shows just how much confidence has built up around the Electric Eel Wheel product range over the last few years.

The new Mini has a much more open design than any of the previous Eel Wheels, allowing you to see how much yarn is on the bobbin very easily.  It's also significantly quieter than the previous Mini and apparently, it's quieter than the 5.0.  Changing direction is done by the flick of a switch, which is a real improvement on the previous Mini.

The basic Kickstarter package is just $60.  I'm in the UK and so I anticipate that this is going to cost me about £80 with shipping and import duty.  Even for an entry level spinning wheel, that is incredible!

Future Electric Eel Wheels


Maurice Ribble is fundamentally an inventor who found a gap in the market.  He's constantly working on new ideas and designs.  He compares the design process of the Electric Eel Wheel to mobile phone companies, constantly working on future iterations of the device - improving it and upgrading it so as to maintain interest in the product and to keep the product fresh and innovative. 

One request that is often made on the Ravelry forum is for the Electric Eel Wheel to have some kind of auto flyer, similar to the Woolee Winder so that spinners don't have to constantly keep stopping to move the sliding hooks.  Maurice is working on his own, redesigned version of this for future wheels and it could well be a possibility in the future.

There's also talk of a phone app so that you can see how fast you're spinning, how long you've spun for and maybe even get the app to communicate with the wheel to get it to stop and start instead of using a foot pedal.  All of this is very exciting and it's why I love the Electric Eel Wheel!

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The Competition


You only have to look at the number of new Electric Eel Wheel forum members every day on the Ravelry forum to see how much talk there is amongst spinners about the Eel and how information about it is slowly spreading by word of mouth; whether it's amongst spinning friends or over social media. Everybody loves a bargain and everyone loves to share information about bargains with their friends.  Telling everyone about the £1,200 spinning wheel you've just bought might be considered a little vulgar, but plenty of people are telling their friends about the £80 spinning wheel they just backed on Kickstarter.

Until now, the big e-spinner companies haven't taken the Electric Eel Wheel seriously and it's been pretty much overlooked - the Ashford site describes their e-spinner as the smallest, lightest and most versatile electronic spinner ever, and the Hansen website describes their e-spinner as the lightest, most compact, technically advanced e-spinner that is commercially available today.  (Incidentally, the Ashford e-spinner weighs 2 kilos, the Hansen weighs 2.2 kilos and the Electric Eel Wheel weighs 1.8 kilos.)

While one or two of these superlatives may be true, it's obvious that the Electric Eel Wheel is not yet seen as competition by these bigger companies.  I believe that with the future release of the Mini 2 and the current performance of the Electric Eel Wheel 5.2, the big companies have got some serious competition on their hands that they can't afford to ignore anymore.


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Monday, November 05, 2018

Rescuing an Ugly Yarn


A few years ago my daughter and I dyed some wool tops for me to spin into yarn.  To be quite honest, I didn't blog about it because it was a bit of a failure. We used Wilton's food colouring, as it's child safe.  Unfortunately, a lot of the colours blended together and so the reds and purples didn't show up at all.  


I'm sure there are people that love bright, vibrant colours, but personally, I found the yarn quite hideous.


Fast forward to now, and I'm currently trying to learn more about using acid dyes to dye my own wool tops.  My other half bought me a Eurolana dyeing kit for Christmas and so I thought an excellent first project would be for one that can't go wrong - it couldn't get much worse. 

A fellow dyer told me earlier this year that there are no dyeing failures - it just gets darker.  This thought has been quite freeing for me in my dyeing adventure.  If a dyed project goes wrong, you can always dye it again.


I took my 100g of blue-faced Leicester yarn and soaked it for an hour in warm water and Eurolana Wool wash, which came with my dyeing kit.

I thought long and hard about what colour to over-dye it with.  As it's a rainbow yarn I knew that some of the colours would inevitably turn muddy or brown.  I thought about dyeing it blue, but there was an awful lot of orange in the yarn, which would turn quite an unattractive colour.  The garish green section of the yarn was quite short, so red was the obvious choice - all of the other colours would hopefully be improved by a red dyebath.


I have an old casserole dish that is reserved for non-food craft experiments.  In the dish, I dissolved a teaspoon of citric acid in hot water and then filled my dish with enough water to cover the yarn.  I then dropped in a teaspoon of magenta dye and gave it a good stir.  I gently dropped my yarn into the casserole dish and turned up the heat very gently.


After doing a lot of reading about fixing acid dyes, I chose not to use vinegar, as the Eurolana dyes suggest.  Citric acid just smells a lot better, you need to use less and apparently it works much more quickly.   You know when the wool has absorbed the dye when the water starts to look clear.  With vinegar, the Eurolana instructions say that it should take 30 to 40 minutes for the dye to be absorbed.  My dye bath was almost clear after 15 minutes.


I felt that my yarn could take a little more colour and so I removed it and added some red dye to the casserole dish this time.  I'm afraid I wasn't taking strict notes on quantities at this stage.  I was just having fun and experimenting.


Again, my yarn absorbed the red dye in about 15 minutes.  I was pretty happy with the depth of colour I had achieved.  The greens had turned an olive colour and any darker they would be a definite brown, which I wanted to avoid if possible.


Here's my yarn all washed and set.  It's still a little bolder than I would normally wear, but I think it's a definite improvement on the original yarn.


Here you can see the gradient.  Oh, I do love a gradient cake!


The yarn still didn't turn out to be a colour that I would confidently wear, so I made a cute, bold and colourful purse instead.


I love how the yarn that my daughter dyed still lives on, but now with more depth and a lot less ugly!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the cushion. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Getting to Grips with Zips - A Beginners' Simple Zip-Backed Cushion Tutorial


For the last couple of months, I've been updating the cushions in our conservatory, living room and bedroom.  As I've said many times, I'm not particularly at home in front of a sewing machine, but having made nearly a dozen cushions in a short space of time, I feel confident enough to share the technique I worked out to make a simple zip-backed cushion.

In the past, I've made buttoned cushions and envelope cushions - being slightly apprehensive about inserting zips.  (I really needn't have been...) However buttoned cushions can be quite time-consuming to finish, with all the button-holes and buttons to stitch on, and I find that envelope cushions tend to gape over time and look less professional.  With eleven or so cushions to make, I knew that I had to get to grips with zips.



I bought some beautiful fabric last year from Modelli Fabrics.  I must confess that I'd spent more on material than I normally do, as I wanted a statement fabric for our conservatory that was fade-resistant and of course, this comes at a price.  So the fabric sat in the spare room for several months because I was just too scared to cut into it.

Eventually, after watching quite a few YouTube videos and procrastinating a little bit more, I finally bit the bullet and took my scissors to the precious fabric.  So here's my detailed step-by-step on how I make a simple zip-backed cushion.

Materials 

  • Upholstery fabric. The fabric shown in this tutorial is Lusso Bronze Velvet. My cushion is 46cm x 46 cm, so a 50cm length was enough for one cushion.
  • Cushion insert or pillow pad - I prefer feather as I find it stays plump and holds its shape longer than poly-fil.
  • 3 pattern pieces  - One for the front and two for the back.  I like to make my cushion covers slightly smaller than the cushion insert for a plumper look.  My pattern pieces were 46cm x 46cm for the front and the two back pieces were 46cm x 35.5cm and 46cm x 13.5cm
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Pins and whatever method you prefer to attach your pattern to your fabric.  Rather unconventionally, I like to attach my pattern to my fabric with Sellotape.  I find the fabric distorts less and it reinforces the pattern edges for future use - although it is slightly wasteful... sorry.
  • Thread.
  • Sewing machine with a regular foot and a zipper foot.
  • Magnetic seam guide (optional).
  • Zip more than 5cm shorter than the width of your cushion. I used a 38cm zipper on my 46cm cushion to keep a good distance from the seam.
  • A seam ripper (also knows as a stitch ripper or Quick Unpick.)


Cut out your pattern pieces.


Lay the edge of the smaller back piece on top of the edge of the larger back piece, right sides together, making sure that if there is a nap, it runs in the right direction when it's opened out.  Place pins on either side.  Lay the zip centralised, close to the edge and mark just inside the top and bottom stoppers of the zip with pins.  You will want to keep these two pins in while you are sewing, so make sure that they are far enough away from the edge that they don't interfere with the needle and seam allowance.


Place more pins evenly along the seam.  I like to insert my pins at right angles to the seam.  I just find it distorts the seam a little less.  Some people find that they are able to stitch the seam with the pins in at this angle.  Personally, I've broken too many sewing machine needles and bent too many pins to keep them in while sewing.


With your regular sewing machine foot in place, a 1.5cm seam allowance and a short stitch, sew to the first pin that marks the start of the zip.  Put the sewing machine in reverse and go back 3 or 4 stitches, sew forward 3 or 4 stitches.  Keep repeating this so that you are sewing over the same 3 or 4 stitches several times.  You will be cutting the following stitches, so you need to make these edge stitches very secure.


Turn up the stitch length as high as it will go.


Stitch until you reach the pin that marks the second zipper stop.  These long stitches are effectively basting or tacking stitches.


Turn the stitch length dial down again.   Repeat the forward and back action over the next 3 or 4 stitches to secure them.  Continue sewing to the end.


You may want to press your zip seam open at this point, (personally I didn't bother).  Check the seam to see where the reinforced stitches are and place your zipper pull just inside.  Pin it in place.


Pin the rest of the zip in place, making sure that the teeth of the zip sit over the seam.


Change to a zipper foot, making sure that the base of the foot sits to the right of the needle.  Insert the needle close to the edge of the zip, to the right of the zip pull.  Stitch along the edge of the zip.


When you have sewn past the bottom zipper stop, keep the needle in the fabric and rotate your work to continue along the base of the zip.


Turn your cushion back again with the needle still in the fabric, continue to stitch up the other side of the zip.


When you reach the other side of the zipper pull, cut off your thread, leaving an end long enough for you to pull through.  Tidy your thread by threading it through to the reverse and sewing a few stitches into the back of the zip.


Insert your stitch ripper or Quick-Unpick into the longer tacking stitches and gently cut them.  I find it easier to start in the middle and work towards the outside, stopping when you meet the slight resistance of the reinforcing stitches.


Fortunately, I found that most of my tacking stitches came out clumped together on the stitch ripper, but the odd stray thread can be pulled out by hand.  If you have a lot of cut threads poking out, you may find a pair of tweezers or lint roller will make it easier to pull them out.


At this point it's important to unzip the zip - you only make that mistake once...


Lay the cushion-back over the cushion-front and pin around the edges.


Change back to a standard sewing foot and stitch all the way around the cushion edge with a 1.5cm seam allowance.  I like to use a magnetic seam guide as my fabric is so thick - it just makes it easier to see at a glance where I need to be stitching.


Trim the corners off at about 45 degrees, 1mm or so from the stitches.


Turn your cushion the right way around, pushing the corners out.


Insert your cushion inner, sit back and admire your handy work!


This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the cushion. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

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