Tinkertoy spindle wheel tutorial

(Instructions for spinning yarn not included.)

Finished Wheel

I’ve been toying with the idea of making a charkha, also called a spindle wheel, for Maker Faire. I do want to make something sturdier, but this does have its charms. And it does actually work. (Photo taken with the wheel lying on its side so I don’t have to find a backdrop. Click any picture to see a bigger version.)

Make one of these:
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The spindle has to turn freely; the two wheels it sits in need to have the larger holes.

Make two of these:
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Put them together like this (note the addition of two more red sticks):
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Make two square “wheels” (ignore the string for the moment; all will become clear):
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Gather up some more bits like this to make an axle:

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(Note that the stick is the same length as the green bits from the wheels.)

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  1. axle through the circle at the top of the big purple triangle.
  2. one small round wheel from this picture onto the axle.
  3. a big square wheel on the axle.
  4. three small wheels on the axle.
  5. the other square wheel on the axle.
  6. one more little wheel on the axle.
  7. axle through the top of the other purple triangle.
  8. second stopper on the end of the axle.

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Get some crochet cotton. Using a darning needle or crochet hook, thread it through alternating points of the square wheels so the string zigzags back and forth. When you’ve threaded it through all the points, cut the string, gently pull it so that the wheels don’t shift, but not so tightly that the square wheels come apart. Turn the square wheels so the points are out of sync with each other and the wheels are parallel.

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The two square wheels now make a bigger single wheel. The next step is to make a belt that goes around the big wheel and the spindle whorl. More crochet cotton! Tie it in a big loop around the smaller part of the whorl and around the string part of the big wheel. Tie it fairly tightly, but not so tight that the contraption’s base starts to fold.

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Ta-dah! (Video yet to come.)

The spindle won’t hold much in the way of thick yarn, but I’ve seen pictures of spindle wheels like this used for making cotton thread or fine yarn. I do want to come up with a way of using a proper pointy spindle, but this will do for now, when my son lets me use his Tinkertoys.

The Secret Code of the Librarians

Back in April 2010, one of the Ravelry groups I belong to started an -along. There are lots of knit-alongs or crochet-alongs or spin-alongs out there – a group of like-minded people work on a particular project or kind of project at the same time, and cheer each other on. In this case, the Friends of Abbys Yarns (started as a fan group for Abby Franquemont’s work but continuing as a community as well as a fan group) started the Friends of Abby’s Yarns Spin and Knit Along for Lace, FOAYSAKALFL for short. The goal was to have spun yarn and knit it into a finished lace project by the end of 2010. Only, you know, the rules weren’t really that hard and fast. I’m still knitting.

I had some batts that Abby had made just sitting around, and so I thought it would be apt to use those. I decided to use my two Backwoods batts that I picked up at Sock Summit 2009 (photo was taken in late afternoon, so the color is off):

I finished my spinning and plying during the Tour de Fleece 2010 and ended up with about 595 yards of laceweight:

So, what to knit? At first I thought of making a cowl, but that ended up not appealing. Then I hit upon a brainwave: why not encode something meaningful to me? A significant source of numbers for me is my job: I’m a reference librarian. So I figured out the right numbers, worked out a way of encoding them (I had to leave any zeros out, unfortunately), and then started swatching. Some things needed adjusting, but the original numbers are still where they belong, which has the extra benefit that I can tell even more easily when I’ve gone wrong with my knitting.

I was lucky in that the two numbers I used each had their digits fit nicely in a 27 stitch wide pattern, though I can see some other ways to play around. I will have a blog post after I reveal the secret about how I worked things out.

In the meantime, here is a photo of my work in progress as of yesterday. I blocked it gently with steam from my iron. This is one corner of what will be a crescent-shaped shawl or scarf (depending on how far my yarn goes):

What’s in the works

I am theoretically rewriting my free pirate baby boot pattern.

I am also theoretically deep in the throes of designing and knitting a shawl. That’s going pretty well, but it’s being more finicky than I expected. I got about a quarter of the way, then frogged the whole thing. Then I charted a lot, and did some samples, and then started again with lots of life lines. Thank goodness for that, because I got more than halfway and had to frog another large chunk of it. Not only that, but I dropped down some stitches from there and worked them back up again (but at least I didn’t have to frog another eight rows). I’m making good progress on it, but I’m feeling a little beaten up by the whole thing. I’m charting and taking notes as I go, which is a good thing. I can tell I would never remember what I did otherwise.

I am also spinning for the FOAYSAKALFL (Friends of Abby’s Yarns* Spin and Knit Along for Lace). The idea is to spin a bunch of yarn for knitting something lacey, all to be finished by the end of 2010. I haven’t even finished spinning the yarn for the FOAYSAKALFL, but planning the design started to consume my brain today. I’ve even been sampling the stitch patterns for that and seeing if I can make them flow well. So far so good, and I’ve even been improvising some stitch patterns, which pleases me.

I like using stitch dictionaries, but there are some gaps in what I need for this pattern. Not going into great detail, but I need five different stitch patterns with a particular overall character, and with five different repeat numbers. I found one that was exactly what I needed, two more that just needed slight modifications, and have worked out the fourth. This gives me confidence that I can come up with the fifth on my own. This is all very satisfying.

And then, of course, there’s all my other works in progress. I periodically need to sit down and unravel the things that just aren’t going anywhere, so as to clear out the backlog and free my brain a bit. I have a suspicion that the time is nigh. (Interesting that this seems to happen in the spring or early summer.)

*a Ravelry Group.

Sock Summit!

Well, I’m exhausted and all peopled out, but I had a great time.

First, let me say that I highly recommend the HI Hostel in Northwest Portland. It’s inexpensive and pleasant with good service, and it’s within walking distance of everything I needed, including free public transportation.

I got to Portland on Wednesday, checked in at the hostel, and then took the train over to the Convention Center, where I arrived shortly before they started registration. Everything was well organized – they had three lines (depending on last name), but when they saw how many people were there (and figured out that they had enough volunteers), they allowed people with any last name to form a fourth line in front of the Information desk. This speeded things up immensely.

Once I was duly registered, there wasn’t anything else scheduled for the Sock Summit on Wednesday. I could have stuck around just to be part of the crowd, but I’m enough of an introvert that I knew that I needed to go spend some time alone so as not to wear myself out before the weekend even really started. So I headed back toward the hostel. I think that was the day I stopped at a food stand and got a sort of Greek-style grilled cheese sandwich (spinach, feta, tomato, and something else I don’t recall). In any event, it was tasty.

I took note that Powell’s City of Books was on what looked likely to be my daily route, made it back to the hostel, dropped off the registration materials, and then walked over to Trader Joe’s for basic supplies. Then back to the hostel, where I puttered around online and read books and forced myself to stay up to 10 on the theory that even if I had insomnia, perhaps I could wake up at 4 am Portland time instead of 4 am Eastern Time.

And indeed, I was up at 4 am Portland time. Alas. At least I could make myself tea and access the internet and work out what time I needed to catch the light rail to get to my first class.

My first class was one of the short sessions. Chrissy Gardiner taught us her three favorite bind-offs for toe-up socks. I was familiar with a couple of them, as it happened, but hadn’t ever tried the third. I’m not sure I’m likely to use it much, but I do like having more knowledge, so it’s all good.

I went back to the hostel for lunch, and then made a stop in Powell’s. In any case, my afternoon class was with Star Athena, and covered a combination of methods of sock designing, how to write sock patterns, and how the knitting pattern publication process works. I think this was the class I took that had the most information that was new to me. It was extremely encouraging to me, and I’ve got a fire lit under me to get my Inset sock pattern finished. Not that far to go, folks, and then I publish on Ravelry.

Following the design class, the Marketplace opened for people who were registered for classes. It was overwhelming and amazing. I had some missions in mind, and so I headed straight for Carolina Homespun, where I nabbed some Abby batts (mmmmm) and the class pack for the spindle spinning basics class. Then I went up and down the aisles, spending friends’ money and a little of my own. I’m still not certain I made the best choices, but I think they were pretty good ones. And oh, there was so much beautiful stuff there.

Friday morning I got to the Convention Center before 7 so I could get a ticket for the World Record attempt. I am still bemused that I did this, but it seemed like it might be fun. And it was. A few hours later, the attempt started, and I had a good time chatting with the people around me while we knit. Then back to the hostel.

Saturday morning I walked down to the Rose Garden. I was really hoping for a visit to the Japanese Garden, but it wasn’t open yet, and seemed to have an entrance fee to boot, so I skipped it. It was a lovely walk regardless. Then I gathered up my supplies for the spinning class and the books I’d bought and already read. I stopped in at Powell’s, where I sold the books back to them and picked up another for the plane. (This was really quite convenient.)

Then off to Sock Summit again.

I wandered through the marketplace one more time, and then it was off to “Spindle Spinning Basics” with Abby Franquemont. I didn’t actually learn all that many new techniques, but it was a wonderful class nonetheless. Abby & Denny are very funny! But best of all, I loved watching Abby start with some history, and then move from the techniques used to teach children in the Andes (this was new to me, and I hope to use it with my son) to teaching park & draft spinning. Somehow she made the transitions effortless. I wouldn’t say that people found the actual spinning effortless; I mean that the shifts between techniques were natural.

After the class I was almost entirely wiped out. Back to the hostel, with a stop for dinner on the way. I got up the next morning, finally found out that there were other Sock Summit attendees there (we’d been on different schedules), then packed up, checked out, and headed off to the airport.

My flights were pretty much on time (which meant that I got home past midnight). I was exhausted, and seem to have managed to leave the camera on the plane. This means no pictures, alas.

It was an excellent trip, all in all.

Current spinning project

I have some scrumptious tussah silk top that I started spinning shortly before I decided to sign up for the Tour de Fleece, so it is my current work in progress (as opposed to something that’s been languishing in a dark corner).

Sanguine Gryphon tussah silk for spinning

Sanguine Gryphon tussah silk for spinning - shiny in the sun

The shaded picture of the braid shows the colors more truly (on my screen, anyway), and the sunlit one shows just why I called this “ooooh shiny” on my stash entry for it on Ravelry.

I’m almost a third of the way through spinning it on my beloved Bosworth spindle:

Stereotypically me

(the photo was taken before I did quite a bit more spinning yesterday afternoon.)

It’s being a dream to spin up – I’m having an easy time drafting it (I’m doing something more on the worsted end of the things) and don’t have a lot of waste. I bought the braid from the Sanguine Gryphon during a charity fundraiser she had going more than a year ago, and while I was scared of the silk at first, I’m having a lovely time of it.

I’m either going to not ply it, or I will ply it with a silk thread. It’s laceweight, and I’m considering making either the Aeolian or Laminaria shawl from it, if I have enough. On the other hand, it’s coming out a little paler than I had hoped, so it might end up being a color I’d be unlikely to wear.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see the finished yarn!

Challenging myself to finish some old spinning projects


I’ve joined the Tour de Fleece (the Ravelry one, that is).

The challenge involves spinning every day that the Tour de France is riding. (We spin while they do. This is not my bad pun.)

I’ve been a little lacklustre about spinning lately, but am already feeling more excited. I’m spinning a lot more on my current project already.

For the challenge, I’ve decided that I’ll pull out three works in progress that I haven’t touched in months and do my best to finish all three. Then I will have more yarn and more space for more fiber!

We’re putting together a “team” from String Thing, which I think will be fun: we can egg each other on.

Here’s some pictures of the fiber that I’ll be finishing spinning for the Tour:


Some silk hankies I dyed last summer and started spinning last November. My hands were too dry to work with silk over the winter and then I never went back to them.


Some silk given to me by my Ravelry friend debolsillo blended with some Ashland Bay merino I bought from the Woolery. This one will be the challenge: I’m spinning it thick and even, and I’m better at thin and even.


Some handpainted Blue Faced Leicester top from Three Waters Farm, which is local to me. I don’t think I’ll be spinning the rest up the way I started, so this will kind of be a new project.