Spinning wheel drive ratio – getting down to the nitty gritty, and learning to control my tendency to over-spin yarn

Spinning wheel drive ratio is the number of times the bobbin revolves whilst the drive wheel makes one revolution. It is governed by the size of the whorl that drives the bobbin. There is of course the effect of any brake to be considered as well, but this has to be adjusted to get the yarn to wind onto the bobbin and is not the same as the drive ratio.

Most modern wheels offer different ratios by providing several different sized whorls on the bobbin or flyer. Probably because my upright double drive is an old wheel, and I mean old, wobbly and fragile – one that would be termed ‘vintage’ on eBay, it only has one ratio (it only has one whorl on the bobbin). I tend to over-spin when using this wheel, so I wanted to teach myself to make softer yarn and thought understanding drive ratio might help me. Being a bit techie and liking to understand how things work, I decided as a first step to check out what the drive ratio is on my upright double drive wheel.

Using advice from ‘Spinning Wool – beyond the basics’ by Anne Field, I started the process. Firstly I removed any yarn from the orifice and bobbin and slackened the tension screw to the lowest setting. Next I tied a tag of yarn on one arm of the flyer as a marker, and aligned this arm with the rear maiden. Now, using my hand I turned the wheel one complete revolution, counting how many times the tag of yarn passed the rear maiden. This figure is the drive ratio of the wheel as it is set up (remember that a different sized whorl will give a different ratio). In this example, the bobbin revolved 6 times during one revolution of the drive wheel, which means that my old double drive upright wheel has a 6:1 ratio.

Next in my experiment to spin softer yarn I trawled further advice from Anne Field. She suggests that the fibre itself can give you information as to how to spin it, and that frequency of crimps along the staple length of fibre can give you a clue about how the twist frequency. In her opinion a fibre with 7 crimps in 2.5cm, for example, is best spun with 7 twists per 2.5cm of singles. OK, I thought, so I pulled a staple from the Shetland fleece I am working with, and counted the crimps per 2.5cm. I used a magnifying glass to help me, and came out with a figure of 5 crimps in 2.5cm, which meant that I needed to aim for 5 twists in every 2.5cm of singles as I spun the fibre.

Once again I referred to Field’s book, and from the suggested methods for establishing a visual reference for the distance in which the twists should lie, I chose to mark 2.5cm on a piece of paper. I then taped this my lap whilst spinning. Other methods included marking these lines in your spinning apron, or using points on your fingers, e.g. tip of thumb to knuckle. This last one is the one I plan to move to once I am a bit more confident.

To re-cap, my aim, based on the Shetland fibre’s crimp, was to have 5 twists in 2.5cm of yarn. This meant 2.5cm of twisted yarn had to be drawn onto the wheel during one revolution of the drive wheel (5 revolutions of the bobbin), thus 5 twists would be inserted into that set length of yarn.

Anne Field estimates that approximately 1 twist will be lost in each 2.5cm of singles once the yarn is plied (although I am a bit hazy about how that happens), and so it seemed to me that I could spin the yarn with 6 twists per 2.5cm and finish with the 5 twists I wanted. This fitted in really neatly with the wheel’s drive ratio of 6:1, (1 treadle, and therefore 1 revolution of the wheel, turns the bobbin 6 times). This made me wonder whether this wheel was designed and made for spinning this type of wool from the older British breeds.

So by treading SLOWLY, drafting 2.5cm of fibre and releasing 2.5cm of yarn into the bobbin for each revolution of the drive wheel (one pedal motion), I actually managed to make a start.

To check how I was doing I stopped after a few metres of singles, pulled some back off the bobbin and let the yarn twist back on itself to emulate the final plied yarn. After evaluating the twist, and adjusting my spinning accordingly, I eventually managed to achieve approximately 5 twists per 2.5cm! Yes….I was getting it – slowly.

The resulting yarn is so much softer and fuller than my normal attempts – and a small hank is now drying in the bathroom for me to evaluate tomorrow.

My next step is to lengthen the draft and feed 5cm of yarn onto the bobbin in 2 treadles (revolution s of the drive wheel). In theory I can increase the length of draft and feed depending on the length of fibre I am working with, providing it has 5 crimps per 2.5cm.

I’m not sure what happens if there is more or less crimp, and therefore more or less twist required in 2.5cm. That is my next learning curve.

I may I have made some mistakes and probably over generalised, so welcome comments and advice.


Brighton Textile Art Group meeting 11th May

Well I did it, I made it along to the meeting today and joined the group. Thank you to all the kind members who made me feel so welcomed. There was a natural dyeing workshop today, but of course I had not booked in advance. However, I took some singles spun on my Spurtzler and plied this using my hands in an Andean ply. Then I had two little hanks to dye in the onion skin and the daffodil dye baths.

Click on the photo to visit the brighton Textile Art Group website and see what other events and workshops are in the future.

There is a little more detail of the day on my Natural Dyeing page.

Natural Dyeing workshop

Yesterday was a busy day, and included a two hour workshop on very basic natural dyeing. Because I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, and keep costs low, it mainly featured ‘kitchen’ dyeing.

I’d asked people to provide thier own 100% DK wool yarn, (I even suggested a yarn brand to look for as I know this one dyes really well), and prepare it in hanks. I then mordanted it over the weekend, and took it into the workshop ready to go into the dye. Unfortunately there was some confusion (well isn’t there always), and so some brought Aran, others brought 4ply and they were all different spins and types of wool, (but luckily only wool blends, not with synthetics).  I’d written out clear instructions on how to make balls into 10g hanks on the back of a chair – but even that went a bit wrong for some, so I then had to unwind and re-hank it all. At that point I began to wonder why I was doing this for free!

So now I had a kilogram of yarn soaking ready to go into an Alum mordant. Of course the more wool, the more water, and the more likelihood that you will soak the floor – which of course I did. So by the time I got it into the mordant I was not in love with the yarn!



My BIG pan was not big enough, so two lots were necessary, and the room was a bit steamy by the end of it all. I use a portable induction hob for dyeing – I think it is pretty energy efficient – and love it’s responsiveness.






So on to the workshop. Our dye materials were:

  • red cabbage
  • turmeric
  • spinach
  • avocado stones (soaked in 1:6 ammonia/water solution for a week beforehand)
  • avocado skins (half soaked in 1:6 ammonia solution for a week beforehand)
  • used coffee grounds
  • onion skins

Ammonia and vinegar were the only modifiers used to change the acidity of the dye baths, as I did not want to work with copper or iron in this situation.

Firstly a concentrated dye was made by boiling up  the chopped red cabbage, onion skins, and coffee grounds in enough water to cover them. The avocado baths were brought to a high heat, but not boiled as this helps keep the colour fresh and pinker. Once the colour was really released (this took between 30-60 minutes), these concentrates were strained into larger pots, cold water was added to make them lukewarm, and salt stirred in to help fix the colours. The red cabbage was divided into three baths: one left plain, one with ammonia added and one with vinegar added. The plain dye yields a purply-blue, ammonia encourages the dye to yield blue/green and the vinegar brings out a lilac colour. This was the fun part; the students introduced their hanks of yarn to different dye baths and they were brought back up to tempature. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the lovely colours – even though I explained that they may change or wash out!

They experimented with tie-dying, dip-dyeing and rinsing and over-dye colours. Some more successful than others of course, and time (and hanks of yarn) were limited. One asked me, ‘Can I do this at home?’ , which seemed a strange question to me, but in retrospect it was a reasonable one, because it all seemed a bit to easy!











Why do the UK and US use different crochet terms, does the ‘murky’ history of crochet offer some clues?

This week I took part in a short radio interview with Simon May on Scala Radio. Apparently a recent question asked by a listener had caused some headaches, and they asked me if I could shed some light on the subject.

You can listen to my suggestions about the genesis of these annoyingly different terms in the interview here on the Planet Radio/Scala Radio Listen Again page. Slide the time slider to 1:40 (it only seems to go in 5 minute increments, (and won’t rewind). Then listen for a minute or two; my interview is just after the chat about Hans Zimmer – between approximately 1:42-1:47.


One point I must make, especially if you plan to listen to interview, is that I did not say that ‘crochet people hate knitting people’, what I said was that people tend to affiliate to one in particular, so there are knitters who do not crochet and crocheters who do not knit. I also pointed out that many people, like me, practise both crafts to lesser or greater extents. I do dislike the way presenters try to make an adversarial situation out of one that is not. Just wanted to clear that up!

As it was a radio interview, time was of course limited, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts that I didn’t have the opportunity to include in the interview. I will be posting some of these over the next few days.

Meanwhile, whilst I found this BBC article about crochet in Brazilian prisons

What I would have liked to have had time to say during my interview with Simon Mayo on Scala Radio. 11:45am 18th March 2019

Crochet: from the French word croc or croche (hook) which originated from the old Norse word krokr which also meant ‘hook’. Variously know as haken (Holland), haekling (Denmark), hekling (Norway) and virkning (Sweden).(1)

Question I was asked: Why are crochet terms different in the UK and US?


Well, this was a biggie, and of course those of you who have done any reading around this will know that there is not definitive answer!

I quite quickly developed a theory that the terms probably diverged around the end of the 19th century. My guess is that this was a hugely significant period – when skilled crochet practitioners took their skills with them when they emigrated from Europe to the US; four million people emigrated there from Ireland alone between 1850-1990.

I decided to begin my explanation with the history of the craft itself, to try to decipher how these might have come about. I started with a bit or reading and found that Lis Paludan, although she addressed this subject from a largely European perspective, theorised that crochet originated in either China, the Middle East or South America. Both Ann Stearns and Clinton MacKenzie discussed the connections between modern day crochet and historical textiles, but MacKenzie cited Mary Thomas as his source. Now this gives us is a pretty wide geographical ballpark, but let’s explore these theories a bit.

There were most likely some crochet and knit-like practises in China and Japan prior to the importation of Western crafts when trade began with the West in the 1800s. Paludan suggests that crochet’s roots may have stemmed from tambour work (chain stitching with a hook through tightly stretched mesh), which came via the Middle East, and Stearns shows her contemporary experiments with this technique.(p72-74) Paludan speculates that latterly the mesh was discarded, so that the chain stitches became a self-supporting fabric. Regarding the Middle Eastern theory, Stearns dedicates a chapter to the 19th century textiles of Turkey, discussing lace, purses and ‘tiğ oyasi’ (headscarf decorations) made with crochet, and from the way in which she describes these as embedded in the culture, it is clear that these practises had a long history in this arguably Middle Eastern country. (p144-153)

MacKenzie writes that Mary Thomas did not give much credence to the suggestions that crochet-type textiles, possibly descended from Pre-Columbian textile practises and used in puberty rites, existed in South America before the Spanish introduced European methods. However, we know that crochet is popular in South America today, with highly skilled practitioners producing varied types from fine white lace to chunkier colourful work.

Many claims are made that crochet was first practised in Italy and France during the 16th century, and cite ‘nun’s lace’, created in religious houses for ecclesiastical textiles, as evidence for this. Ruthie Marks, writing for the Crochet Guild of America, reports that Anne Potter agrees with this, but I sadly don’t have access to this text, so can’t verify this. What I can tell you is that Potter was as mystified as others, and had her own theories, like we all do. However according to Paludan the surviving evidence does not resemble crochet so fails to support this theory.

Like knitting, and other crafts considered ‘domestic’, crochet skills would have been taught informally by being demonstrated and explained verbally in domestic situations, (and indeed this is still often the case, but we now use written patterns as well). This was opposed to the largely male orientated formal craft apprenticeship system that continued for several centuries in which mastering craft skills led to recognition, authority and inclusion in record keeping of the craft guild system.

Knitting and crochet patterns were not written down until the mid-1800s, and even then, this may have been in a form that would be largely unrecognisable today. Many authors assumed the actual skill of making the stitches was already understood (for the reasons discussed above), so did not include the explicit instructions we are accustomed to in modern patterns.  An exception to this was Mlle Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere, who wrote over fifty books of crochet and knitting patterns, (the first one when she was only 18), and so brought crochet to a wide audience. According to Marks, Mlle Branchardiere, who had a French father and an Irish mother, claimed to have invented the form of lace-like crochet later known as ‘Irish crochet’. You can read some of her books on the University of Southampton Knitting library web resource and via the VADS website, or as eBooks via Project Gutenberg.

In Knitting, Crochet and Netting, published in 1946, Branchardiere describes working what in modern UK terms is called a slip stitch as making a ‘Shepherd or Single Crochet’. She writes, ‘Put the needle in the 1st chain, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st’. Although she describes drawing the new loop through the old loops one after the other, rather than both together as we would do today, this is clearly a slip stitch. (p57) She then describes making a modern UK double crochet stitch and designates it as, ‘Plain, Double or French Crochet’. (p57-58) So at this point in history, there is already some confusion; single crochet is being used to describe a slip stitch.  

It seems that Branchardiere was not the first crochet author. I happened upon https://blog.lovecrochet.com/the-history-of-crochet-is-it-as-old-as-the-hills/ which featured an article by Kathryn Senior, The History of Crochet: is it as old as the hills?. In this she writes of an early crochet bag pattern published in 1824 in Amsterdam by Penelope magazine. Sadly there is only an image and no instruction shown which might shine some more light on the terminology in use then.

Irish crochet

Crochet was particularly significant in Ireland in the mid-to late 1800s, because it could provide vital economic support for families that were starving in the terrible famine. This lasted from 1846-1852 and devastated the Irish population leading to mass immigration, and of course those who could crochet went as well, taking their skills to a new land.

Irish crochet comprises very finely worked motifs, sometimes with a relief effect, joined together by a crochet mesh. The thread used is fine cotton, and it is worked with a very small hook. Originally the hooks would have been home-made from steel wire and set into a wooden handle. To learn more about the technique and history of Irish Crochet, I recommend visiting Ann Reillet’s ‘Crochet Thread’.(2)

Nuns were partly responsible for bringing crochet to Ireland. As reported in the Kenmare Times of 2011, in the 1860s Carmelite nuns established a lace school in which they taught Irish crochet amongst other lace-making skills. Other crochet schools were established, but the Kenmare school became famous for its excellent design quality. Through collaboration with two design schools in London and Cork and the establishment of an art programme the quality of design was developed further until their clientele included royalty, which in turn influenced additional fashion interest in lace. Irish lace of various types was highly prized for both wedding dresses, veils, lingerie and ecclesiastical pieces.

Crochet lace and beyond…

The Victorian and Edwardian obsession with lace ensured the continuing popularity of fine crochet, and although this abated by the 1920s, it was replaced by using crochet to make complete garments. The new synthetic rayon yarns draped exceedingly well, and crochet worked in these made elegant, elongated shapes perfect for the ‘flapper’ look.

Through the two World Wars knitting tended to take precedence, possible because it seemed more utilitarian and practical compared to the lacey crochet look.

Come the 1950s crochet grew in popularity and re-entered the fashion scene. Magazines such as Stitchcraft featured patterns for hats and accessories made in the new synthetic yarns coming onto the market, and certainly by the 1960s, crochet was really back. In the 60s all sorts of clothing was made from crochet and in the early 70s fashion embraced the granny-square in bold colours.  The power dressing 1980s saw a slump in popularity, hand crafts were not part of the new look, being relegated to the ‘hippy’ and ‘homely’.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that there was a resurgence of interest in both knitting and crochet, ignited partly by Debbie Stoller’s Stitch’n Bitch movement, but also inspired by a reaction to the fast pace of life. Although part of the technology that might be seen to be encouraging the fast pace, social media is still playing a significant part in maintaining and widening the impact of hand making. The latest in this is of course the popularity of the Japanese Amigurumi style of crochet, making small items from tightly packed stitches.

Now I know I have not answered the question, but the history is important when considering how the terms diverged. I still think it has to do with the influx of immigrants, taking their skills with them to a new land, and the terms drifting apart after that.  We have already seen some ambivalence in Branchardiere’s terminology, so why would this not be perpetuated and terms come to mean different movements/stitches during a century of geographical separation? After all the size designations of the hooks have evolved differently; US are alpha-numeric and old Imperial became larger the smaller the number (and where is the sense in that?), whilst modern European metric hooks work on a direct millimetre diameter measurement.  

Some theories suggest that the UK terms are based on the number of loops left on the hook after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below, whilst US terms refer to the number of movements needed to complete the stitch after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below. This comes a bit unstuck when you get to the half-treble stitches, but it seems reasonable otherwise. There are probably others, but I think we just have to accept, and translate, rather like we do with other linguistic difference such as pavement being called a ‘sidewalk’ in the US, and a car boot being a ‘trunk’.

Most modern books now make it clear which terms they are using (US or UK), but older books and patterns can be a minefield. If you want to check whether a pattern or book is US or UK, the best way is to see if there is any reference to single crochet (sc) in the instructions. If there is, it is definitely a US pattern – as there is no single crochet in UK terms. If there is no reference to single crochet, this doesn’t mean it is a UK pattern, because it may just not include single crochet! So, beware and look for other signs; the hook sizes may give you a clue, and so may the yarns listed in the pattern.

I sometimes write the pattern out again, (if its short), or use a highlighter to mark where I need to be careful. Otherwise, a drop of Tippex works well, (but not on a library book)!

I apologise in advance for any mistakes, and hope that this has been of interest.



Paludan, Lis. Crochet: History and Technique, Interweave Press, 1995

Thomas, Mary. Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, Toggit, ??

Stearns, Ann. The Batsford Book of Crochet, Batsford, 1981

MacKenzie, Clinton. New Design in Crochet, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1972

Lucey, Anne. Fabric of Kenmare: nuns’ role in lace industry celebrate, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fabric-of-kenmare-nuns-role-in-lace-industry-celebrated-1.630452, 2011.

The Art of Kenmare Lace Making,  https://www.discoveringireland.com/the-art-of-kenmare-lace-making/, 2019.

Codiron, Roxanne. Meet Eleonore Riego de la Branchardière, the Mother of Modern Crochet https://www.marthastewart.com/1527206/meet-eleonore-riego-de-la-branchardiere-mother-modern-crochet

de la Branchardiere, Eleonore Riego. Knitting, Crochet and Netting, S.Knights, 1846. https://vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=133532&sos=0



Further reading:

Potter, Annie Louise. A living mystery: The international art & history of crochet, A. J. Publishing International, 1990.

 Download a pdf of this article





Futurescan4 conference

The last two days I’ve been at the FTC Futurescan4 conference in Bolton. It was stimulating and inspirational to spend time listening to the presentations and joining in discussions with fellow fashion and textile teachers.

My paper was about using textiles as a medium to raise awareness scabies; not a catchy title, but a fun project. You can read more about this on the project blog.

Here I am wooing my audience

Using Clover Wonder Clips when dressmaking

Today I’ve been sewing a jersey dress, and the fabric is a double-sided tubular jacquard which has very fine yarn loops that are easy to pull. When I was cutting it out I found that the pins points were catching the fine knit threads, even breaking one and making a hole so I had to move the whole pattern around – not much fun! I usually weight the pattern pieces and don’t pin, but this fabric is over stretchy for this, hence the pins.

So now I’m sewing-up the dress, I’m testing out using Clover Wonder Clips rather than pins to hold the seams together. These clips have made joining the seams very easy and seem to be a really good addition to my equipment. They have a flat back and a curved jaw with a ridge at the point that grips the fabric securely. The flat side makes it very easy to slide the clip under the fabric without disturbing it. On this flat side they also have measurement lines marked out to help keep a straight seam.

I’ve already used them to hold knitted pieces together when hand sewing them and they work extremely well for this, there are no pins drop out onto the floor for the dog to tread on!

I also used the little ones to clip long yarn tails (I keep them long to use for sewing-up), to both hand and machine knitting whilst I work. Yes I could use binder clips or bulldog clips or clothes pegs for this, and I still do, but I find the Wonder Clips grip more firmly and they look a lot nicer. They’re also not as heavy as the binder clip so don’t drag the knitting down.

Overall I’m really pleased with the way they work, and now have three sizes to work with. Their bright ‘jelly’ colours cheer me up on a grey day!

Sewing towards the Wonder Clips – I’m using a walking foot in my Bernina 1030 in this photo.

About Translating between Hand and MachineKnitting…

Hi, I’m Barbara from Italy and want to thank you for writing “Translating between hand and machine knitting”. It’s just great, I can now understand the differences between silver reed and brother. I have one of both but got frustrated trying to use the silver reed, so just stopped working with both… now I have the chance

Thank you Barbara, its great to hear your feedback.

Today is beanie day …

OK, I know it’s now mid January and this is a post about a Christmas gift but I’ve only just got around to finishing it off and getting it online. This is the story of knitting the hat worn in this photo.

December 2018…

I’ve started a beanie hat as a Christmas gift. Its in yarn from my stash, a rather nice airforce blue tweed 90% wool 10% acrylic blend Aran weight yarn. I dithered about the acrylic content I have to say, as I believe one’s toil is best rewarded by natural fibres, but the the colour (and having the yarn to hand), won the day.

The brim should work out to be around 7cm (3″) deep, and I’m going to knit it in a 3 row 2×2 cabled rib, with the shaped crown in stocking stitch. The pattern has been designed for a 61cm (24′) head circumference.

Gosh that doesn’t look very blue, more grey, must be the light. The rib shows though.

The cabled rib is worked on a 3.5mm circular needle, and the crown on a 4.5mm circular needle.

I have a set of those lovely interchangeable KnitPro needles, which means the world is my oyster when using circulars, but because the yarn is quite dark I have decided to use a white Prym triangular pointed circular so its easy to see the stitches. These are also comfortable to work with, and have a strange knob on the point that I quite like.

So far I have cast on 80sts (has to be divisible by 4 for the 4 stitch rib repeat) worked 2 rows rib and 6 repeats of the cable, and then 6 rows straight rib. I used the 2×2 alternate rib cast on recommended by Woolly Wormhead. Its not as stretchy as I had hoped, but looks good. Any stretchy one will do though, don’t beat yourself up about it.

How to work the c2b cable on the rib: Either use a cable needle, or work them as follows: slip the two knit stitches one-by-one knitwise, then insert the left needle from the right into the front of these stitches and slip them back to the left needle. This twists the stitches. Knit them one by one.

How I knitted the hat:

Cast on 80sts, using a stretchy cast on.

Join the round securely in your favourite way; for example work the first stitch, and pull the yarn to tighten the join before working the next stitch, or before working the first round slip the first stitch of the cast-on onto the point of the right needle so that it will be knitted at the end of the first round.

Mark the end of the round with a stitch marker.

Round 1 and 2: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 3: (c2b, p2) to end.

Repeat round 1-3, 5 times.

Round 16-20: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 21: purl.

Move the marker up to the current row.

Now you have the option to work all the stocking stitch in purl, and replace the knit decreases with purl versions, or if like me you find knit faster than purl, this is what I did.

Slip the last stitch to the left needle, and take the yarn to the back between the stitches then slip the stitch back so that the yarn is caught around the stitch. Invert the knitting and working in the opposite direction to former rounds, work the rest of the crown as knit stitches.

Round 22: knit

Continue working as Round 22 until the work measures 20.5cm from edge of rib.

Now to do the shaping.

I worked the first and every fourth round as a decrease round as follows.

First round,: k7, k2tog (70)

Second and third round: k all.

Fourth round: k6, k2tog (60)

Fifth and sixth round: k all.

Continue in this sequence, knitting one less stitch between decreases until 50 stitches on needle. Then work decreases on every second round until 20 stitches remain, finishing with a knit round.

Break yarn leaving a 40cm tail. Thread yarn onto a darning needle and slip the open stitches onto the darning needle. Draw the stitches in and secure the yarn end.