Sunday, August 29, 2021

Review of the Daedalus Sparrow - my fortnight with Sojourner, the migrating Sparrow


Daedalus e-spinners have been on my radar for a few years now.   I began hearing spinners describe them using superlatives like fastestquietest, smoothest - most intelligently engineered - and so of course my interest was piqued and I began to quietly follow their progress.

Daedalus is run by husband and wife team, David and Rebecca Giles.  Rebecca began as an indie dyer, running Spotted Ewe Fibers and David is the original mind behind Daedalus Spinning Wheels.  Together they design and build an ever-growing flock of electric spinning wheels - from their largest, The Magpie, through to The Starling and now their most recent and smallest wheel - The Sparrow.

Their wheels are now so highly sought after that whenever there is a shop update on their website, there is an international race to purchase one, with dozens of lovingly handmade wheels regularly selling out in a matter of seconds.  I desperately wanted to know what all the fuss was about...

My spinning wheels in order of purchase - Ashford Traveller,
Electric Eel Wheel 4, Electric Eel Wheel 5,
 Hansencrafts MiniSpinner, Electric Eel Wheel Nano 

I thought that my e-spinning needs were covered - I have my Nano for spin anywhere, small scale spinning, and throw-in-a-handbag portability, and my Hansencrafts Minispinner for when high-speed plying and massive bobbins are in order.  I love them both equally, but neither of them is the perfect, all-rounder e-spinner.  I have niggling issues with both of them and would love an electric spinning wheel that fulfils all of my needs.  So, when the opportunity arose to try out a Daedalus Sparrow, curiosity got the better of me and I jumped at the chance.  My husband is a keen cyclist and he tells me that the consensus for the correct number of bikes to own is N + 1.  Surely this applies to e-spinners too?!  

Image from the Spotted Ewe Fibres Website

Daedalus have started a ‘Migrating Sparrows’ project, and I’m really excited to be chosen to participate.  The idea is that two Daedalus Sparrows - Sojourner and Tweety - travel the world, spending two weeks with a spinner, who tries it out and hopefully takes it on an adventure.  I think it’s a brilliant idea!  It kind of reminds me of when my daughter was given the cuddly mascot at Rainbows or Brownies and we had to take it out with us, and photograph it in interesting places - only this time I’m going to be the one having the most fun!  If you'd like to see what we got up to, please take a look at Sojourner's tour of Melton Mowbray.

I’m the third person in the UK to get to meet Sojourner and she’s already been put through her paces by Vampy, spinning the finest yarn I’ve ever seen!  I think she’s going to have a slightly more sedate vacation with me, but hopefully, we’ll both still have a great time.

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The Sparrow arrived in a seriously, heavy box.  It had been packed in a Pelican case, with every item labeled and in its own compartment. 


A QR code on the outside of the box automatically linked to a video, giving me step-by-step instructions on how to set it up.  I was already impressed - just by the level of detail and thought that had gone into making sure that Sojourner the Sparrow was prepared for the long and eventful journey ahead of her.

My First Impressions of the Daedalus Sparrow



On taking the Sparrow out of the box, my first impression was that it’s a lovely weight.  It feels very solid, and any mild concerns I might have had about it being 3D printed vanished.  It has little rubber feet, presumably to cushion any vibrations and to keep it fixed in place. It truly is a beautifully designed machine, with an extremely aeronautic feel about its curves and styling.


The bulk of the body of the Daedalus Sparrow is 3D printed out of ABS plastic, making it much more able to withstand changes in temperature than more commonly used 3D printed plastics.  It also has a carbon fibre frame and flyer arms, complementing its lightweight and modern design.  The flyer is a very intelligent design, with a setup that I haven’t seen on any spinning wheel before, electric or otherwise.

The Footprint of the Sparrow



The footprint of the Sparrow is just 20cm x 15cm, which pleases me a great deal.  My favourite spot to spin in the house is slightly reclined on my conservatory sofa, with my spinner perched on the windowsill to the right-hand side of me.  When I found that the Sparrow could also fit on my conservatory windowsill, I must confess to letting out a tiny shriek of glee!

Guinea Pig for Scale

Threading the Orifice



The first couple of times I tried it, I found threading the yarn through the orifice a little awkward, as the flyer is a more complex design than most.  However, after threading it a few times, I learned the necessary technique of pushing the hook a little further, until it holds in place unaided, and I was absolutely fine.  The orifice hook attaches securely to two neodymium magnets on the side, which is a nice touch and prevents it from getting lost.


There’s a little disc for wrapping your spun singles around below the orifice, which is quite thoughtful, but it doesn’t really work for me.  I’m used to sitting an arm’s length away from my wheel and so I usually have quite a long length of singles that I need to secure.  Ideally, I would prefer two smaller points on either side of the base so that I can wrap my singles around in a figure of 8, allowing me to hold the twist in a much longer length of singles.  

I did eventually learn that if I wind the spun singles onto the bobbin to secure them, I can later pull them back out again through the orifice, with very little effort or concern for the singles breaking.  I have never known a spinning wheel bobbin to turn this freely and it is very pleasing.

The Orifice



The orifice of the Daedalus Sparrow is just 6mm, so it’s really only suited to spinning the most refrained of fancy yarns, but it does make it perfect for the kind of lightweight yarns that I love to spin and knit with.  The orifice is surrounded by a rounded metal ring, which adds to the smooth spinning experience.  I’m used to spinning with a smaller orifice reducer attached, but the size of this orifice is fine for me.

The Sliding Yarn Guides



The two sliding yarn guides are oriented in opposite directions to keep the flyer balanced.  

When I was first threading the leader through the sliding yarn guide, it felt slightly awkward.  I’m right-handed and it felt odd reaching to thread the yarn through the yarn guide on the left.  However, once it’s threaded, I have no problems moving the yarn guide with my right hand, while it’s on the right-hand side of the flyer.  


It was at this point that I fell in love with the size and scale of the Sparrow.  I'm more particular about sliding yarn guides than most people as I don’t like to have to grip the flyer rod too hard when I move the yarn guides.  Thankfully, the shorter flyer rods on the Sparrow mean that my hand can span the whole rod, and I can move the sliding hooks very easily with one hand, with just the lightest of nudges.

Adjusting the Tension Belt



There are two levels of brake tension adjustment.  Larger adjustments are made by rotating this hook away from the bobbin, which expands the spring...


...while finer adjustments are made by rotating this dial.  Initially, I loved the fact that there is an option to make finer adjustments, but as I worked my way through the bobbin, I found it much more intuitive to just rotate the first hook.  I think that this is because I like to spin with minimal pull from my singles and so I found that I was having to turn the dial much more frequently than when I was increasing the tension using the primary tension setting.

I certainly had no problems using the brake tension system on the Sparrow (once I'd read up on how it worked) and I was able to easily obtain my ideal level of super-low tension.

The Bobbins



The Daedalus Sparrow bobbins are an ideal size for me.  I like to spin fine and if it takes me too long to fill a bobbin, I don’t feel like I’m making progress.  The Daedalus website states that you can fit more than 5oz (about 142g) on a Sparrow bobbin.  Of course, this is a conservative estimate and I managed to squeeze 6.6oz (187g) on there.


The singles for all of these yarns were spun on one Sparrow bobbin.  I split them over two bobbins when I plied them, but I still managed to get 146g (with room to spare) of chain-plied fingering and double knit weight yarn onto one bobbin.

Like the wheel, the bobbins are 3D printed and there are bearings on either end, for incredibly smooth movement.  When I was chain playing later, I noticed how much quieter they are on my lazy Kate than any other bobbins I own.  Everything about the Daedalus Sparrow is perfectly balanced and weighted with smooth movement and quiet action in mind.

Ashford Traveller Bobbin and Daedalus Sparrow Bobbin for size comparison

I do love the very open, 3D-printed bobbin design, especially as I often spin gradients or rainbows and it's very pleasing to see the subtle colour changes emerging as the bobbin fills. They are definitely some of the prettiest bobbin ends I've seen.

Changing the Bobbin


Changing a bobbin is so easy!  You simply slip off the tension band and lift and rotate the bobbin and flyer to the side.  Pop off the bearing and put it safely back on the magnets, change your bobbin, slide the bearing back onto the flyer rod, and then rotate everything back into position.  It's so clever and smooth!  You never have to remove the drive band.


The volume of the Daedalus Sparrow

 

When I purchased my first electric spinning wheel, back in 2015, I hadn't realised just how important having the quietest wheel possible was to me.  For me, spinning is a meditative and relaxing activity.  It’s a mindful way to distract my brain, while I focus on the soothing, rhythmic process of turning soft fibres into beautiful yarn.  If the volume of an e-spinner is too jarring, it destroys what should be a peaceful, calming experience. 

Whether something is considered loud is very subjective, as everyone has different tolerances for noise levels and not everyone has the same hearing range.  Some neurological conditions also make it impossible for many people to ignore background noise - my daughter, for example, has sensory processing disorder and seems to notice every possible sound indiscriminately and simultaneously - yet another reason why having a quiet wheel is very important to me. Individual expectation is also a large factor;  I can remember having a disagreement with a lady that was insistent that the Electric Eel Wheel 4 wasn’t loud, as her sewing machine was louder.  I had no words…

I like to watch T.V. with my family while I spin, and having to turn up the volume of the television to hear it over the noise of an e-spinner is annoying for everyone.  With my first two e-spinners I would frequently spin at a lower speed while other people were in the room, or I would wear Bluetooth headphones connected to the T.V to block out the wheel volume.

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I wanted to try out a Daedalus because low volume is at the heart of its design.  To quote the Daedalus website - 
Each and every component was chosen for quiet operation and long life... Features common to all Daedalus wheels include a hardened tool-steel axle, precision bearings, and high-quality ball bearing whisper-quiet motor.​

I've noticed a few other unique, intelligent aspects to the design, that reduce the volume of the Sparrow, but it would be unfair to Daedalus to give them all away here. 

I cannot overstate how quiet it is!  When I first set up the Sparrow and started spinning, my husband was stopped in his tracks when he could see me spinning from the other side of the room, but he couldn’t hear it.  The clock on the wall, 5 metres away, ticks louder than the Sparrow an arm’s length away, and if I take it outside, the wind in the trees blocks out the noise of the wheel completely.

I thought it would be interesting to take a Decibel reading of the Daedalus Sparrow to compare it with the two other e-spinners that I use most frequently, but the video itself is better evidence of the Sparrow’s quietness than the actual Decibel figures.  (All of the wheels are spinning at approximately 1000 rpm and are much closer to the camera than I like to spin from.)

Of course, decibels are logarithmic, not linear, and the difference of one decibel can be a noticeable volume increase, but I was still surprised by how close the Nano reading was to the Sparrow.  I wonder if the Sparrow’s volume is more smooth, constant and without any repetitive clicks and rattles than the Nano and the Hansen, which makes it less impactful and much easier for the brain to tune out?  The Sparrow is like a soothing, low hum or whisper compared to the others.

For comparison, the Electric Eel Wheel 5 regularly ran at 65 decibels and the Electric Eel Wheel 4 was twice as loud, at an uncomfortable 75 decibels.  Thankfully I don't have to deal with those volumes anymore!

If you'd like to see a fibre to yarn video I made while Sojourner was with me, there's another example of how quiet it is in the middle of this video - 


The speed of the Daedalus Sparrow 


The Sparrow is the smallest, most affordable wheel that Daedalus make, but it feels like very few compromises have been made.  In Scotch tension, it can reach 2040 rpm, and in Irish tension, it maxes out at 2200 rpm. (I didn’t test Irish tension as I’ve no experience with it, and I prefer the low take-up that Scotch tension provides.)  I’m a relatively sedate spinner, I don't have a desire to knit with fancy yarns, my body can’t cope with the big movements involved in spinning long-draw and I rarely spin cotton or other fibres with very short staple length, so I really wouldn’t have any need for a faster wheel.  On the Sparrow, I found I was content to keep the controller at 55% for longer staple fibres, like silk and merino and I increased it to 60% for a trickier, shorter stapled yak.  I plied at 65% and I can't imagine needing a faster wheel than the Sparrow, given my spinning preferences.

The Daedalus Sparrow Controller



To control the Daedalus Sparrow you also need to purchase a digital speed controller, which allows you to adjust the speed in 1% increments.  The controller also gives you the ability to program in a slow, stop/start delay to prevent bobbin backlash: The slow stop is absolutely essential as the bobbin rotation is so smooth that the singles will coil up on themselves if the wheel stops suddenly, even if there is just a minimal amount on the bobbin.

The whole front of the speed controller is an on/off switch and it's designed to sit next to the wheel.  I believe it makes the Daedalus one of the most programmable e-spinners on the market.

Unfortunately, the size of the controller and how it is also designed to be used as a switch was my first disappointment.*  With my other wheels, I’m used to being able to turn them on and off with uninterrupted, hands-free controls, whether I use the foot pedal on the floor as intended, or on my lap, turning it off with the side of my hand while still spinning.  My husband's modified a cable for my Nano to work in the same way, and it feels like a step-down, not being able to have this level of control with the Sparrow.  The controller attaches to the wheel with a relatively short cable, so it’s intended to sit right next to the wheel.  After a while, I did kind of get used to this setup, but having to lunge to turn it off, while the wheel is still turning is not ideal for someone with physical limitations.

I have a couple of chronic pain conditions and e-spinners have given me the ability to spin again after I learned that treadling my wheel was damaging my hip.  Unlike treadle wheels, e-spinners can potentially give you the freedom to spin in a choice of different positions, seating styles, and on different surfaces.  The Sparrow definitely works better for a person that likes to spin sitting in an upright position, with the e-spinner sat on a hard surface, relatively close, right in front of them.  It does seem a shame that the controller seems to limit the spinner to the centuries-old position of only sitting or standing right in front of the wheel.  This may well be the majority of spinners, but it’s just not me.


By far the most comfortable position for me to spin in is slightly reclined, using a sideways draft, with the wheel sitting perpendicular to me on the right.  Sadly, with the Daedalus Sparrow, this means that the switch is not in my eye line and so it’s impossible for me to stop the wheel while I’m still drafting.  Add to that, the slow stop, and it means that the twist builds up significantly more than I would like and I have to continue drafting while the wheel is stationary before I start the wheel again.  I end up leaning to the left, in quite an uncomfortable position, until I start the wheel again and I'm able to feed the singles onto the bobbin.

Sadly, the switch having* to sit right next to the Sparrow doesn’t suit my preferred spinning position.  I do, however, have a suggestion (which I’ll mention later) for how a controller could possibly be programmed to suit a sideways drafter and probably satisfy a few other people too…

Updated 31-08-2021

Image of the Magpie, controller, and extension cable from the
Daedalus Spinning Wheels Website

*I should say that Dave Giles read through my review and he told me that there's actually a 6 foot extension cable for the controller that comes as standard with the Magpie and Starling, but can be purchased separately for the Sparrow.  From an accessibility point of view, I think it's a shame that this doesn't also come as standard with the Sparrow.


On the side of the controller, there is a toggle switch.  Selecting I allows the wheel to spin clockwise, II is anti-clockwise, and positioning the switch to the middle (O) is neutral.

The speed being controlled by the push of a button does mean that it adds more steps to speed changes.  Instead of just stopping the wheel and turning a dial, I have to stop the wheel, turn the controller switch to neutral, press the front switch to display the numbers, adjust the speed, press the front switch again to off mode, turn the controller switch back to the direction I want to spin in and then press the front of the controller to start the wheel spinning again.  This wouldn’t be enough to put me off the Sparrow, as once I've found a speed that works with the fibre I'm spinning, I tend to continue with it, but it’s a slight annoyance.  I imagine if you had the Sparrow and controller much closer to you, and in your eye line, you could adjust the speed without having to go through all the steps involved when you turn it off to adjust it.

Undoubtedly, many spinners welcome this high-end level of control, but by the end of my two weeks with Sojourner, I was starting to yearn for just a dial, a footswitch, and a single slow stop delay setting.  I spun a full, heavy bobbin, and from start to finish, I didn't find it necessary to change the 3 second slow stop/start delay that was programmed into the controller when it arrived with me.  If it was essential to have a controller that was also a switch, I would want it to do so much more...

Portability and Battery Power


When it comes to spinning wheels, the definition of portable is very broad and subject to expectations. When I bought my Ashford Traveller in 1994, I chose it because it was light enough and compact enough for me to pick up with two hands, and strap into the back seat of a car.  At the time, that was about as portable as spinning wheels got.  I would take it to craft clubs, and occasionally I would take it outside into the garden on a sunny day, but mostly, it lived in one room, and there it stayed until it was time for the next crafty meet-up.

My spinning time now is split between the Nano and the Hansen, and although the Nano is certainly not the better of the two spinning wheels, I find myself using it more, purely because of its portability.  It’s the most intentionally basic and limited of e-spinners, but unfortunately, it’s changed my expectations of portable where e-spinners are concerned.  The ease of being able to continue a large project anywhere, in chunks of “snatched time” is the simple reason that my Hansen often gets sidelined.

For me, I would be happy with an e-spinner’s level of portability if I could pick up everything required to start spinning with two hands and carry it around the house.  If I have to make several trips, start unplugging and packing everything into a bag, or keep everything on a large tray, I know that I wouldn’t use it in the 10 minutes I have to wait in the car for my daughter to finish her after school club, or the 15 minutes that I’m just keeping an eye on a simmering pan in the kitchen.


For a visual comparison, the top is everything I need to start portable spinning on the Nano (excluding fibre) - compared to everything required to spin with a battery on the Sparrow.  (For added scale reference, I can get about 70g of singles onto a Nano bobbin compared to 187g on the Sparrow bobbin)

In the first few days that I had the Sparrow, I tried to spin in my usual spots around the house, but eventually, I just set her up on my conservatory windowsill and she lived there for the rest of her stay.  It was just too much effort to relocate everything.  I'm certainly not suggesting that I would prefer something on the scale of the top image, but not needing an assistant to carry everything would be nice.

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The Daedalus Sparrow uses 15v battery power, while my other e-spinners use either 9v or 12v.  A 15v battery pack is much more difficult and expensive to get hold of and so when I heard that Sojourner, the migrating Sparrow would come with a battery pack, kindly lent by Longdraw James, I was very relieved.

It’s the branded battery sold by Daedalus and so presumably this is one of the most suitable 15v batteries available.


Unfortunately, the 833g battery does feel a little bit like overkill next to the compact, 605g Sparrow. The battery is so powerful in fact, that if I run the Sparrow at less than 75%, the battery doesn’t recognise that the wheel is drawing any power and will turn itself off.

For this reason, when you buy the battery from the Daedalus website, you also need to buy a USB light to plug into the 5v socket so that the battery will remain switched on.  This does feel like a slightly unpolished workaround and I wonder if another solution will be found in the future.  I plugged my phone in (as the manual suggests) but I had to keep the screen on to ensure that it continued to require power once it was fully charged.  I started to suspect that my phone was drawing more power from the battery than the wheel itself, which was slightly frustrating.

The weight of everything required for portable spinning on the Sparrow is around 2 kilos.  For me, that’s a fine weight for putting everything in a bag for packing away to take on holiday, or to put in the car for a spinning meet-up.  Unfortunately, it’s not a weight that I would like to carry while I walked any kind of distance, so spinning in the park would be out of the question for me.


The other reason that I couldn't spin in quite as many places as I would like with the Sparrow is that the pulley for the motor is so low, that if I sit the wheel on anything other than a hard, flat surface, the pulley drags on the surface underneath.**  I'm sure having such a low-slung motor is an intelligent engineering decision, but it meant that I was limited to where I could spin around the house.  I will often sit with my daughter to watch cartoons, with the wheel next to me on the sofa, sit outside with the wheel on the garden sofa, or relax on the bed to watch a film, with the wheel by my side.  I'm sure if I owned a Sparrow, I would hide little boards around the house so that I could pop it on the sofa or bed, but this would be one more thing that I would have to carry with me if I wanted to travel with the Sparrow.

**Updated 02-09-2021 - The footprint of the Sparrow is marginally smaller than that of the battery, and many people are able to sit their Daedalus Sparrow on top of the battery to spin, very happily.  I don't know if it's because I move the yarn guides more often than most, but when I tried this, I found that I was having to occasionally adjust the postion of the Sparrow to prevent it from toppling off the battery.  As someone that finds it painful to lift anything at arm's length, this wasn't an option for me, but I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem for most people.

The footprint of not just the spinning wheel, but all the necessary accessories is also an important consideration.  I occasionally go to a non-spinning craft club, where space is at a premium, and it’s very easy to encroach on someone else’s territory.  


I would certainly be receiving sideways glances if I had all of this, plus fibre and unruly cables, in front of me.  I did actually take the Sparrow out to a small coffee shop with my daughter, but by the time I'd got everything out, there was no room in front of me for coffee and a cake, so I had to put it all back.

Sadly, I have to conclude that Daedalus's most portable wheel, is not quite portable enough for me.

My Idea for An Additional Potential Controller Function 


I personally felt that the controller was an unnecessary overkill next to the adorably petite Sparrow, but I have an idea for a way in which it could possibly be programmed with an added function that would make me appreciate it a whole lot more...

As a sideways drafter that can't turn her neck very well (!), I've had to think of another method to gauge when I need to move the yarn guides.  


The solution I've worked out is to use an interval timer app that is programmed to repeat, and is set to a range of different times.   I have various intervals programmed into the Seconds app on my phone that range between 40 seconds and 5 minutes.  When it beeps, or I see it change colour, I stop and move the yarn guide.  It's a basic method, but in the absence of an automatic winding system, I believe this is the next best thing.  Auto winders have a reputation for being heavy, increasing pull, noisy, or needing regular maintenance, so in some ways, using an interval timer gives me the best of both worlds, as it allows me to regularly stop and check my yarn.  


Moving the yarn guides regularly allows you to fit more yarn onto a bobbin than a Woolee Winder would, as you don't get the same amount of crisscrossing of singles, which creates more gaps between strands.

It also gives you lovely, neat bobbins!

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When you design products with accessibility and inclusivity in mind, you frequently end up designing a product that is better for everyone.

When I saw the size of the Sparrow controller, it got me thinking about its potential and what else you could program it to do...  What if you could program in spinning intervals into the controller that would automatically stop the wheel slowly after a set amount of time?  That way you could move the yarn guides a tiny amount when it stopped, and press the controller to start the wheel again, the wheel stopping automatically again slowly after the same set amount of time.   I find it much more relaxing to zone out and spin when I'm not constantly turning my neck to check how full the bobbin is and I do wonder if a perfectly able-bodied person would also welcome the idea of not having to constantly monitor their bobbin?

Anyway, I humbly offer my catchily titled, programmable, slow-stopping interval system idea to any e-spinner manufacturers that would like to use it - Please, just let me be an accessibility product tester!

Conclusion

Gosh, well done if you've made it this far!  You must be seriously interested in the Daedalus Sparrow!

There are so many positives to take away from my experience with Sojourner the Daedalus Sparrow, that I'm really quite gutted that it's not the e-spinner for me.

It's the quietest, smoothest, most intelligent wheel that I've ever spun on, and it was an absolute joy getting to know her.  I feel so lucky to have been allowed to take her for a spin and it was by far the most pleasurable spinning experience I've ever had.  Sadly all of the peripherals required for portable spinning mean that I'm still on the lookout for my ideal e-spinner.   So close!

I would not hesitate to recommend any of the wheels by Daedalus.  It's only because my definition of portable spinning has changed over time, that I won't be buying one right now.   If Daedalus had been around in 2014, when I was first seriously on the lookout for an electric spinning wheel to replace my treadle wheel, I'm sure I would have been queueing up to buy one like everybody else.

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If you've found this review of the Daedalus Sparrow useful, please consider pinning this image to Pinterest.  It really does make a big difference!


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