It was while knitting on holiday that Mrs ExterminatingDalek began to muse over the money which might be "saved" if she were to start to fill the house with the entire outsides of sheep and spin her own wool, clucking with glee at the prospect of the sheer quantity of socks, hats, gloves, jumpers and mobile phone cases which could then be introduced into our lives. After all, if our iron-age ancestors could do it, why couldn't we?
Thus it was that I found plans for a spinning wheel, and proceeded to knock one up from some reclaimed wood, and to my great surprise it actually worked. While I was sorting out the adjustments, a lady from the local knitting group gave Mrs E-D her old spinning wheel, so we now have two.
My last hopes of being saved from all of this woolliness rested on the hope that sheep fleeces might prove difficult to obtain, but alas they are frighteningly easy to get hold of, and quite inexpensive.
We have, however, been astonished - nay, stunned - by the prices of the peripheral equipment needed to get one's life sheep-shaped.
The Lazy Kate we were given with the spinning wheel doesn't, frankly, work very well, so I decided to make one myself using bits and pieces which were knocking around in the shed, and present it to my good lady with all of the compliments of the season. Bought commercially, these babies start at about £50, and that's not even the silver-plated ones, so one of these would make a welcome gift for any spinner in your life.
Step 1: Ingredients
6mm steel tubing or rod (about 18"/45cm)
9mm dowel (about 6"/15cm)
Small knob, which can be fashioned out of practically anything
Small elastic band
Short length of fishing line
Old wire coat hanger
Saw (if you need to cut your base out)
Drill (preferably pillar drill, or a hand/electric drill and a very steady hand)
2.5mm, 6mm and 9mm drill bits
I also found my bench vice extremely useful for this project.
Step 2: A Big, Heavy Base and Some Holes
Using a circular saw, I cut about a foot off the end of a great big heavy plank salvaged from a skip a while back, and sanded it roughly prior to marking out where the holes needed to go.
The bobbins we have are standard Ashford ones, obviously you'll need to adapt the plans to suit whichever ones you'll be using.
I took three bobbins and stood them on the base to get an idea of the arrangement. The two end ones are in a line, the middle one is set about half an inch back to give the tension band a bit more edge to hold on to.
The Lazy Kate we had been given has three pieces of wire to hold the bobbins in place, and these tend to rattle around and fall out when the bobbins are spinning, so I wanted the holders to be a good fit.
The Ashford bobbins have about a 7mm diameter centre, so I used 6mm steel tubing for the uprights. I used tubing rather than rod because it offers more than enough strength while being easier to cut through with a hacksaw. Cut three lengths, about the height of the bobbins plus about an inch to be driven into the base. The ends will be rough, so clean them up with a metal file.
Having marked off the centres for the rods, I used a 6mm bit on a pillar drill to a depth of about an inch. The rods need to be vertical at 90 degrees to the base to allow the bobbins to spin freely, so if you haven't got a pillar drill make sure your holes are as accurate as you can get them.
I used 9mm dowel for the tension band knobs, so drilled two 9mm holes again to the depth of about an inch at the front corners.
Once these holes were drilled I sanded the base with 120 and 240 grit sandpaper to get a nice smooth finish, and drove the uprights into the base with a great big mallet.
Step 3: Testing the Spinniness and Making the Knobs
Next cut a piece of dowel about two inches long and press it into the hole on the right-hand corner. Get a small elastic band and wrap it around the dowel, this will provide the tension.
The left-hand knob adjusts the tension, so I got a small wooden cabinet knob and increased the size of the screw-hole in the back to 9mm, so that it could be glued easily onto the dowel.
The bobbins have grooves in their bases, so the tension band needs to be positioned very slightly above the level of the base to run around them when in use, which in the case of the ones we're using is about the radius of a pencil, (making the next step extremely simple).
Push your dowel as far as it will go into the left-hand hole on the base, lay a pencil on the base, and mark the dowel for a small hole through which the fishing line will be fed. Drill through the dowel using a small bit, I used 2.5mm.
Poke a bit of dowel into the hole you've drilled in the knob and mark off where it stops. Mark off this distance plus about 2mm above the hole you've just drilled and hacksaw off the rest. Splodge a dollop of wood glue into the hole in the knob, push the dowel in (making sure the glue doesn't get into the hole you've drilled in the dowel), wipe off the excess and leave to dry.
Step 4: Add the Tension Band
Stand your bobbins on the uprights, tie your fishing line to the elastic band on the right-hand dowel, feed it around the grooves in the bobbins and finally through the hole in the adjustment knob on the left. If you've ever tuned a stringed instrument you'll have figured out what's going on here. (If you haven't tuned a stringed instrument, you need to leave a couple of inches of slack and turn the knob to tighten it up).
We're looking for a really feeble amount of tension here, if you turn it too tight then the bobbins won't move. The tension is only to discourage them in a very polite way from whizzing off or reversing while you're plying.
It's pretty easy to judge when you've got it right - if the tension band falls off then it's too loose, if the bobbins don't go round at all then slacken it off, you'll soon figure it out.
Step 5: Yarn Guides
Get an old wire coat hanger and twist it around the smooth end of your 9mm drill bit to form a sort of keyring shape, loose enough to be able to slip the yarn through.
Use pliers to cut off the end by the loop, and to cut to what you judge to be about the right length, plus about an inch to go into the base.
I used a little plastic gauge which came with my drill bit set to check the diameter of the wire coat hanger, the one I was using was 2.5mm, so I drilled three holes in the base at even intervals towards the front edge to poke the guides into.
Step 6: Try It Out
Pop them onto the uprights, checking that they spin properly and that the holders haven't got knocked. If they have then push them gently back to the upright and give them a moderate whack with a mallet to encourage them to stay where they should be.
If you haven't done so already, run the brake band around the grooves in the bobbins and adjust so that they spin with just the slightest of drag from the band.
Either poke the yarn through the hole in its nearest guide, or feed it around the edge in the way that you'd put a key onto a keyring.
Now you're all ready to ply your yarn.