Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Testing the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter Prototype

I was asked by Maurice Ribble, of Dreaming Robots, if I would be interested in testing a prototype of the Electric Eel Wheel yarn counter that he is currently developing.

Maurice developed the Electric Eel Wheel range of e-spinners that were intended to be the most affordable, yet thoughtfully designed electric spinning wheels available.  In response to asking the Electric Eel Wheel community what other fibre related products they'd like to see improved and made more affordable, Maurice set himself the task of developing the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter - a portable device for electronically measuring the length of yarn or thread.  His goal was to find a balance between usability and functionality, while still staying within a price range that the majority of spinners would deem reasonable.

There are a few options available to the spinner or weaver that wants to measure their yarn accurately, but they tend to be either very expensive, inaccurate, or not very durable due to the bearings getting clogged up with fibres, and so there is definitely room for a little competition.

This is not Maurice’s most up-to-date yarn counter prototype and further improvements have been made after this iteration, but the basic functionality is all here.


counting the turns of a yarn swift with an app

I have my own method for measuring my handspun yarn using a turns counter app on my phone and I’m pretty happy with it, but the yarn geek in me couldn’t turn down the opportunity to see how my method compares to an electronic device that is actually designed to speed up the whole process.

Fishing line depth gauge 

have looked at makeshift yarn measuring devices in the past. I even bought a fishing line depth gauge as I’d heard many spinners on Ravelry recommending them, but I found it too awkward to set up and it would randomly stop working at any given moment; it just wasn’t designed for the job I was challenging it to do. 

 I’ve also tried measuring out and weighing 10 metres of yarn and then weighing the whole skein to calculate the length of it. Ultimately though, I’ve always returned to counting the rotations of the swift and multiplying it by the length of a single loop around the skein winder.

It just seems the most reliable method of measuring hand-spun yarn that is not as uniform, or as consistent as a commercially spun yarn.  Of course, this method has its limitations and so I had no hesitation in taking up the opportunity to put the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter through its paces.

The Different Elements of the Yarn Counter 

I mentioned earlier that this isn’t the final version of the yarn counter; quite a few things have been changed, or are going to change as a result of beta testing.  I’ll give a summary of the basic features that are likely to be in the final version, and a few thoughts on them -

Large pulley and guides - the yarn passes 1.5 times around the pulley and turns it as it travels through.  As the disc rotates, the device starts counting up.  The yarn can be measured traveling from either right to left or from left to right without needing to change any settings.  I just needed to be aware that if, for some reason, I started reversing the yarn, (causing the pulley to turn in the opposite direction), it would continue to count upwards.

Here's a gif of the route that most yarns take through the first guide, around the pulley, and through the second guide.

For some thicker, more textured or less elastic yarns, I found that wrapping the yarn around the pulley applied a little too much tension on the pulley and guides (this super bulky yarn caused the guides to rotate inwards) and so it was necessary just to take the yarn only through the channel below the pulley. This wasn't an issue for me at all and I soon learned whether my yarn needed to take the shorter route.

I did have an issue with some yarn leaping off the pulley completely and so I prevented this by tensioning it with my hand as it entered the guides.  Maurice tells me that the pulley system has changed somewhat and so yarns are much less likely to slip and come off the pulley in the final version.

The Menu and Screen 

The display is changed by pressing the Menu buttons and there are 4 different screens to scroll through to adjust the various settings - 

The first screen is the option to change whether your measurements are recorded in yards or metres.  The British pedant in me would prefer a third optional spelling of 'metres'  but I appreciate that I'm probably in the minority here...

Secondly, you can enter the approximate WPI of the yarn you are measuring.  There are 8, 12, 15, 20, 30, 40 and 80 WPI to choose from.  I believe the reason Maurice added this option was that the thickness of the yarn alters the length of the circumference measured ever so slightly and so this setting adjusts the software to compensate.  Without these settings, 8 WPI yarns would have the most error at 5.8% and 80 WPI yarns would have the least error at 0.6%.  With the adjustments, all yarns have a margin of error of less than 1%.  Given that there is far more room for error by adding too much tension when measuring your yarn, I think this is a nice attention to detail.

As far as I’m aware, this is the only yarn measuring device, available to the home spinner, that allows for this discrepancy between fine and bulky yarns.

This is the main Yarn Counter screen and the screen that I think most people will have it on most of the time.  The number counts up in real-time as the disc rotates.  Apparently, the maximum figure it can reach is 99,999.9 before it rolls over to zero, but I didn't manage to get anywhere close to that figure in testing!  

The newer version of the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter will calculate to one-tenth of a metre or yard.  Having played with it and got consistently reliable results, I can see why other beta testers requested a finer-tuned figure.  

The target length screen gives you the option of having the yarn counter buzz at you when it reaches a length that you have programmed in.  You can scroll through the 10s, 100s, 1000s, etc. with a long press, so you don't have to keep repeatedly pressing the up and down arrows to program in the exact figure you want.  I can see many, uses for this feature and I'll show how I put it to the test in another blog post...


Myself and several others have requested an OLED or backlit display as it is a little difficult to read if you aren’t positioned at a direct angle to the screen, or in dim-light.  Unfortunately, this would significantly affect the battery life and, more importantly, the final price point.  Maybe that’s something for a future model...

One change that is probably going to appear in the final version is the ability to rotate the screen display.  I found that the ideal position for me, from a comfort point of view, was sitting in front of the counter with the pulley and guides closest to me.  (Occasionally I found it necessary to put light tension on the yarn as it entered the counter; I also imagine that people might want to use it with a cone, ball, or bobbin on the floor directly below the guides.)  Having the pulley and guides orientated towards me meant that I was reading the screen upside down.  Others would prefer to use it with the yarn going across the table, so the ability to have a choice of orientations will be a very welcome feature, I’m sure.

The Magnetic Case and Batteries 

I love the simplicity of this!  The two parts of the case click together and are held in place with four pairs of small neodymium magnets.  It means that you don't need a screwdriver to access the battery compartment.  Incidentally, the yarn counter is powered by 2AA batteries, so there are no cables to interfere with your yarn winding setup.  Because the screen and circuit board use so little power, two AA batteries should last a couple of years or so, depending on how often you use it.


Testing Commercial Yarns

If I was going to test the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter properly I knew that I was going to have to assess my own method of measuring yarn first to see how accurate it was.  I looked through my stash of commercial yarns and found a few full balls that still had the length of the yarn printed on the label.  I did a little research and I found out from a couple of manufacturers that they were allowed a margin of error of plus or minus 5% on the stated length, so that was where I set my bar.

To start off with, I chose this Debbie Bliss Cashmerino yarn, which has a stated length of 90m.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it turns out that when measuring commercial yarn that is an even thickness throughout, it is much more accurate to measure 10 metres of it, weigh that 10m and then calculate the length of the whole ball, once you’ve calculated the length of 1g of yarn.  

When measuring the Debbie Bliss yarn by hand, I got a total yarn length of 90.4m

I spent quite a while, playing with various setups, trying to find the  swift   >   yarn counter  >  ball winder configuration that worked best for me.   

Here’s the set-up that I settled on.  I’ve got the counter clamped to a low table as it was the only surface I have that I could attach it securely to.  (The clamp is still very much in development at the moment.)  As my table is low, the only way I could get a clear and level path to the guides was by attaching my swift vertically to the back of a dining chair.  I’m sure I wouldn’t have struggled to get a clear path to the yarn counter if I’d had a different swift (as opposed to my rickety, 30-year-old umbrella swift) but I had to work with what I’ve got.

It might be useful to some to see that I did have success, attaching the yarn counter vertically to the back of a chair. My only problem I had here was getting my old skein winder to work without interfering with the yarn on its way to the counter.

Here’s a video I made demonstrating using the yarn counter in the set-up that worked for me.  I was so pleased when I got 90m on the display!  I tried it maybe 10 times and each time I got within 1 metre.

Going from ball to swift was a little more challenging.  I found if I didn’t tension the yarn coming from the ball, the yarn would gather on the guides.  I did however get a pretty accurate result of 89 - 91m going from ball to swift too.

Yarn is notoriously difficult to measure as it is usually stretchy and so different methods of measuring the same yarn can result in wildly different results.  The main thing I learned when starting these tests is that yarn measurements given by manufacturers are based on the yarn being under tension - or stretched a little.  This makes perfect sense as, throughout the whole industrial spinning process, the fibres and yarn are kept under tension to keep them under control.

I tried another commercial yarn, just to confirm that my set-up was sound...

The second yarn I tried was a super bulky Peruvian Highland Wool by Cascade Yarns.

I don’t believe that the Electric Eel Wheel yarn counter was designed with super bulky yarns in mind, but I thought it was worth a try.

The label states that there are 79.5m in the ball.  Measuring it by hand, I got a figure of 81m.

I must have gone forwards and back between ball and swift 8 times and each time I got a figure of between 79m and 82m.  Given the fact that I was tensioning it with my hand half of the time, I'm pretty happy with that.


Testing Hand Spun Yarn

I think it's worth noting that when I switched to testing the yarn counter with hand-spun yarn I also switched my method of measuring the yarn by hand.  

Because of the inconsistent nature of hand-spun yarn, calculating the length of a skein by multiplying the length of 1g by the weight of the total yarn gives quite inaccurate results - or at least it does with my handspun yarn...  I had to revert to counting the rotations of the swift and multiplying that by the distance around the swift to get a more accurate measurement.  Unfortunately, this method is inherently flawed with my setup, as the length of the yarn circumference increases as it builds up around the swift - but it was as good as I was going to get without measuring the whole lot by hand!

The first hand-spun yarn I measured the length of was this Alaskan Malamute that I spun last year.  I chose this first as it has the thickest halo of any yarn I've spun.  It's also quite uneven, but not so uneven that it would get caught on the guides.

Here's a video I made of me testing the yarn counter with chiengora - 

When I measured the yarn by hand, I calculated it to be 41m long and so getting a yarn counter readout of 40 metres was very satisfying.

Corespun yarn - I know a lot of spinners would like to see how the Yarn Counter copes with a more textured yarn like a core-spun.  I was actually pretty impressed with how it managed.  This is a yarn that really needed to go halfway around the pulley, instead of a full loop to prevent the fluffy sections from overlapping and catching on each other.  I also needed to tension it with my hand as it went through the counter - but this was more because there was still a little live twist left in the yarn.  I've made a little video to show how I handled using the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter slightly differently to measure a lumpy core-spun.

Measuring it by hand I calculated the length to be about 56m and the yarn counter gave me results varying between 54 and 56 metres.

I hope you've found this overview of the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter helpful.  Unfortunately, I can't say when it will be available for sale, but I believe that there will be a Kickstarter for it when Maurice has the design for the yarn counter finalised. 

To see how I explored other ways of using the yarn counter, you might like to read how I put the target length setting to the test to spin this 5 ply yarn.

Please Pin this post for later - 

At this point, I normally suggest similar related blog posts, however, my list of spinning-related content is becoming a little unmanageable...  If you'd like to read more blog posts about spinning and fibre preparation, please take a look at this page here where you will find links to all of my spinning and fibre articles.  

Thank you for reading, and happy spinning! 

Other spinning related posts - 

Testing the Electric Eel Wheel
Yarn Counter Prototype

Testing the Electric Eel Wheel Yarn Counter
Prototype to Spin a 5 ply yarn

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

Free Hand Spun Yarn Labels

The Evolution of the Electric Eel Wheel


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