Thank you, Queen B., for posting this -- it is truly appreciated! I love reading about people's processes for wheel selection. Even though I have not yet committed to purchasing one....
Sometime I'd love to read about your first experiences spinning on your first wheel, after it was all stained and assembled....
Even before I could get the drop spindle to turn without dropping it I believed I would want a spinning wheel and sometime in the past 10 days it became apparent I could not wait till Christmas or Birthday to get one. I’ve been reading articles on spinning wheels, watching videos, and talking to vendors and yesterday I bought my new Ashford Elizabeth from Barbara Gentry of Stony Mountain Fibers just outside Charlottesville, VA. (and yes, they do have that awful busy background on the homepage of their website, but it gets better on subsequent pages.)
What an experience! And what a surprise too. Nothing turned out as I expected, beyond actually buying a wheel. First, I have never yet accurately estimated how long it takes to get to C’ville and sure enough it took an hour longer than I wanted it to. Second, it rained! Third, I had done a lot of research and talked to several different vendors and had a $$ limit I was absolutely going to stick to. As a result, I had eliminated 2 brands based on my own esthetic taste and comments of others. But I had also promised myself to try them all. One wise vendor had said “...one of them will speak to you.”
What I was seriously considering was the Kromski Mazurka because of its size and price and looks and because everyone who sold it had the same thing to say ... “It’s a lovely little wheel”. The two brands I had all but eliminated were Ashford, because one vendor said they popped their drive bands and the only wheel I’ve seen up close did just that, and the Louet, because I just can not like how they look. Well, guess which two wheels made it to the top of my list?
Time for a word here about Stony Mountain Fibers - it’s a grand place to visit. The drive there is so lovely and Barbara Gentry was welcoming and friendly. She has the look of a person who spends her life doing what makes her happy. In fact, I commented that she must have the happiest life, and she smiled and said she did. Her shop is a paradise. One of those “good vibes” places. Looms, wheels, yarns, dyes, fibers, slivers, tops, fleeces, tools, books - it’s the sort of place you could set up camp in. Besides, the building was light and airy and roomy. If Charlottesville, VA is anywhere within your meandering circle, do take a ramble on over there. You will have such sensory delight.
She had a fantastic selection of wheels, including some old wheels of unnamed origin. The only wheels I didn’t get to see were the Jensen, which was one on my list, and Lendrum. But she had Kromski, Majacraft, Ashford, Louet, Fricke, nearly all the brands in the under-$500 category - where I was shopping - as well as the Schact. She had every wheel set up ready for me to try, along with lots of lovely colored wool. She was there with advice, or to demonstrate, but didn’t crowd me. She chatted easily with DH while I made my selection.
I must say that the Mazurka really is a lovely little wheel, but I’m afraid it is too little for me. It sat on 3 legs and tilted forward when I treadled, although I could immediately make a passable yarn on it. Keep in mind, I’ve been spinning all of 10 weeks, and this was the first time ever on a spinning wheel, so passable for me is the highest level I can reach. Mazurka is very light and very pretty and even in its unfinished, never-used-before state, it performed for me. I have a very tiny friend who is also interested in a wheel and I am going to encourage her to take a look at Mazurka.
The larger Kromski wheel, Polonaise, was not nearly as easy for me to use. It, too, was unfinished, and had a lot of stiffness in it that I believe would smooth out with use. I might have bought it, under different circumstances. One person had warned me that the Polonaise had a lot of fiddly adjustments on it, but I didn’t find them either mystifying or daunting.
I have to confess that my heart yearned for a Saxony wheel and my practical side advised I get a castle style. There is a bit (bit? HA! how about mountain) of romantic fairy princess in me that responds to fancily turned wood, while the practical side whispered “get as many ratios as you can squeeze into the wheel you can afford”. Miss Practical was in the front as I began trying out wheels, and the Louets surprised me no end. They are so contemporary looking - almost industrial, to my eyes - but their action was as smooth as silk and right away I could create satisfactory yarn. The price was certainly right, too, and Miss P kept saying “listen to me - you can paint beautiful designs on that flat circle or that old handsome prince of yours could fancy it up a bit”. So right away, I took Louet off the banned list.
The next wheel I tried was a production level Majacraft wheel and it fought me like a high strung thoroughbred horse fights an unskilled rider. As I struggled with it I knew I could learn to master this wheel, (well, I believe I can master anything except a sailboat) but it would take some time. What I really thought was “this is the wheel for when I turn pro.” All of the Majacrafts were stained and oiled as opposed to the unfinished Kromskis. I tried 3 different styles of them, but they all had that same mettlesome feel.
Along one wall, available, but not put in the forefront, was an Ashford Elizabeth. This one was stained and finished. Miss Fairy Princess began to sigh and swoon and flirt at the sight of that pretty wood, the lovely finish, the princess-like turnings on legs and spokes and distaff. The moment I sat down it said “hello sugar, have some fun”. It just whispered and sang and tickled my fingers. Miss Practical’s eyes popped out of her head at the beautiful yarn that was spinning off of her fingers. It was exactly what I was dreaming of. Fiber flew out of my hands. The treadle caressed my foot, rather than my foot pumping the treadle. “Aren’t I pretty?” it asked me and I had to admit, she really was.
Barbara had moved out of sight but DH was sitting next to me and whispered “this is her wheel, and she says she doesn’t use anything else”. Something inside me went “click” and though I tried two more wheels, and even went back to the Polonaise, to give it a fair trial, since I had been awfully excited when I sat down to that one, but really, from the moment I sat down at the Ashford, there really was no other choice. Barbara came back and commented that this was her wheel, and that I was to keep in mind that it had been used a lot and was well broken in, but that only made me want one more.
Still, to continue with the review, I thought the Fricke was another very very fine wheel that performed for me right from the get-go. And it was also quite inexpensive. Not beautiful, with that man made wheel and no-nonsense look. I had a look at the Ashford traveler, too, but it was pretty pointless after my waltz with Elizabeth. Yes, I know, the Elizabeth has only 2 speeds, and yes I also know that I’ll have to “break mine in”, but after all, this does not have to be my only spinning wheel, ever, for the rest of my life. If I become more serious, if I ever want more wheel, then the two Miss P's can make other choices and other decisions. For a brand new beginner spinner, I believe I’m going to be happy with my choice.
So out came the checkbook. I would like to have bought one of the Gentry’s beautiful Cormo fleeces, but I don’t have carders and I felt I ought to get wheel spinning under my belt first. Also, I resisted (perhaps unwisely) buying any books or back issues of Spin-off magazine, although I am a sucker for magazines. One thing at a time, I told myself. Besides, I can always call and place an order for whatever I regret leaving behind. I did purchase some wonderful mohair/merino, hand dyed by Barbara, in a color called Jamaica It will make the prettiest scarf for my mother for Christmas. Or for any of my blue wearing friends. And a bag of “mystery wool”, in all the natural colors, to play with.
We left the shop and never even bothered to go into C’ville (where one can shop at Food of All Nations, a not to be lightly disregarded food extravaganza). Instead we headed straight to our favorite hardware store in Richmond, bought stains and tung oil, and headed home.
It’s a little hard to have to wait the few days it will take to get my new baby finished and assembled, but it was worth the difference in price to buy unfinished and unassembled. For the curious, I chose Minwax 235 cherry stain for my wheel and put 2 coats on it last night. I’ll give it a tung oil treatment today and if it is dry, DH and I will put it together tomorrow night.
What an adventure this has been. And what wonderful adventures I have to look forward to.
good knitting to you all
and good spinning