Sunday, 6 April 2014

Great Joy !

Those who know me are aware how much I love wool. It's an obsession. I keep sheep, I spin yarn, I knit, I crochet, I make felt fabric, and I weave fabric. From the fruits of all these activities I make clothes. All of this is tied together with my love of wool, preferably local.

Over the years there have been several spinning wheels in my life. None of them arrived new. Indeed most of them were brought back from the dead, with careful restoration and lots of 'elbow grease'. Like most people I started with an Ashford Traditional, which in car terms would be rather like owning a Ford Fiesta. It's extremely popular, it's readily available, it's a sensible price, it does the job, it's reliable, parts are easy to get hold of but it's nothing special.

The one that's stayed with me the longest is the charming Haldane Lewis. Now we're becoming a wee bit more selective. She's Scottish, she's beautiful, she has go-faster ball bearings, she has double drive and she spins like a dream. What's more, she matches the colour of the woodwork in our house.

However, this classic old girl was retired about a year ago when I acquired an ugly old banger, with a huge bash in the back end. Why would I / how could I do such a thing?

The Herring arrived, as cheap as chips and was perfect to throw in and out of the truck, without a care in the world. Strangely, I grew to love the ugly Herring. His huge bobbins, smaller overall size and superior engineering won me over. But, he's slightly heavy to treadle, he's still ugly and he's still not small enough for our caravan. Then, while I was dreaming about an enormous chunky wheel, it dawned on me - I need Joy! It was a sad goodbye, but Lewis and Herring have gone in to a home - a new home, where they'll be loved and used. What's more, the proceeds have financed something incredible.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I now have the Joy I need and I'd like to share the wonders of this machine, with you. She's amazing! This 'Joy 2' is my first ever brand new wheel. Much to my amazement, a brand new wheel is surprisingly affordable, especially if you sell your existing wheel/s to finance it.

I ordered the double treadle version, plus an additional flyer and bobbins, from Sanday Spinners, a small, friendly, local business, based on the Isle of Sanday, which is one of the Orkney Islands, just across the water from us here in Caithness, Scotland. They also happen to offer the best prices on the internet, as well as having great ethics and a delightful personal service. They did have a fantastic package deal, which included a sturdy carry case, but I resisted, thinking that I could easily make a carry case.

It took about a week (in the past they've been a wee bit faster) to arrive and was beautifully packed. My first reaction was what great design genius, to create something so compact and relatively light weight. This is so perfect for my miniature house (caravan), as well as taking in the car, to craft groups and demonstrations. It even has a built-in carry handle.

Despite the wooden origami, it's incredibly easy to set up and pack away. Just fold down the treadles, screw in the flyer and you're away. It really does only take seconds.

Apart from portability, another bonus is the absolutely enormous bobbins. Even the new 'standard' size is good, but the 'jumbo' size, that comes with the 'Freedom flyer'  is something else!

I love the range of ratios on the whorl. It means I can go twice as fast as I went on the Herring.

This is my first experience with the thick stretchy drive-band, that looks like silicone. I love the fact that it doesn't seem to need adjusting. One question I would ask is "How long will it last?". I'm not entirely clear about the availability of replacements from Ashford. The standard maintenance kit has a string drive-band in it. Will there be a Joy maintenance kit? I'm really not going to worry about this. If my drive-band breaks, I'll improvise with good old fashioned string.

The sliding flyer is something I could take or leave. I've spent so many years changing hooks that I'm quite used to it and the aesthetics of a wooden flyer pleases me. I can't help thinking that two sticks of something that look like carbon fibre don't quite float my boat. But, we have to move with the times - right?

I had the chance to try a double treadle before I ordered and thought I could probably get used to it. In fact I took to it straight away. The alternative, single treadle, is positioned centrally, which I felt may cause some bodily twisting, given that my legs are not attached centrally on my torso.

My greatest concern had been the single drive, with associated Scotch tension. These reservations proved groundless. It was nowhere near as annoying as I'd remembered it being in the past, maybe due to the double spring. I hardly need to touch it. I still find that the cord looks like a nasty piece of fishing line but it can soon be replaced with some thin Roman blind cord, or even a rubber band, in an emergency.

The 'Freedom flyer', which I affectionately call the 'wild' flyer is available as an optional extra and comes with one of the jumbo bobbins. I bought an additional two jumbos, not realising that the big standard bobbins would still work on the wild one. Another unforeseen benefit.

The star attraction on the Freedom (wild) flyer, apart from the gigantic bobbins, is the massive flyer hooks. One of these enormous hooks also replaces the orifice. Why would I want this? To create mega-thick art-yarn of course. It's enormous fun and now I don't need to buy a Country Spinner.

Thick'n thin - mega-thick in fact. Possibly a wee bit too wild, but I loved testing to the extremes.

This red and white is not to my taste at all, but the materials were what I had to hand and I'm impatient beyond belief. Beads, along with any other objects you'd care to add (feathers, bells, sequins, Wensleydale locks...) fit through the 1" flyer hooks with ease.  Art yarn options are only limited by your imagination. Be sure to slow down though, when you put solid objects through. They might take your eyes out, or your nose off!

The great thing is that the wild/Freedom flyer still works perfectly well for more restrained yarns. It also works perfectly well with the smaller bobbins, supplied with the wheel. Another happy accident has been that I've been using up all the odds and ends of fibres that I don't want but can't bring myself to ditch. However, it didn't take long before I returned to my own lovely lamb's wool. This Zwartble cross is so soft and what a monster of a skein size, weighing in at almost 200g (about 7oz) and the bobbin wasn't even full!

The only downside to the Freedom flyer is that it doesn't fit in the stowing position, in the wee cubby hole, where the standard one fits. So, for travelling I'll use the standard flyer. But, hey, you can't have everything!

If I was being really picky, the build quality of the wheel, flyers and bobbins could be better. They're not Scottish. I'm not entirely comfortable with shipping from NZ. To me, it feels morally wrong, but at least it helps support one local business. Besides, as far as I know, there's nothing like this made any closer to home. So, well done New Zealand.

In summary, I'd say that Joy's a Smart Car, only better, because she doesn't need a battery or fuel. She's cute, quiet, a modern innovation at a sensible price, I can park her anywhere, she's a little bit special and I love her. I'd thoroughly recommend the Joy 2 wheel and Freedom flyer to any spinner, from novice to professional.

In other news, feast your eyes on this lot - the most fabulous wool swap ever, from Margaret in Canada. It was spun at her local mill, from her own sheep, traditional to her area. Yes, you may be surprised that I can love wool from so far away, but the ethos is there. It wasn't blindly imported by the container load. It was raised and produced with love, jut like mine, so it's still local, just local to Margaret.

Next time I'll tell you about bags of fun that I had with some luxury hand-woven fabric and a visit to a lovely wool shop in Edinburgh. In the meantime, here's a couple of sneaky peaks.


  1. Nice wheel - says me who don’t know one end from the other. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. I love your spinning wheels - i don’t spin but would love to own one just because!

  3. Why not give it a go? There's sure to be a spinning group near where you live and you'll generally find that spinners are a friendly bunch. It's terribly therapeutic and you don't need expensive kit to get started.