I started researching spinning wheels in the summer of 2009 and ended up buying a 1970s-era Ashford Traditional that had 2 bobbins and a really bad stain job. Researching wheels and all the options available was really overwhelming; I had no idea what to look for or the advantage or use of one thing over another (like single/Scotch tension vs. double drive, single treadle vs. double treadle, etc.). In addition, it’s not an inexpensive purchase – the most I had spent on fiber tools before buying a wheel was the cost of spindles and Addi circular needles. The prospect of dropping a few hundred dollars on a wheel was daunting. Not only that, but I didn’t have a wheel available to learn on. My friends were more than happy to let me try spinning on theirs, but I didn’t want to impose and ask to borrow one.
The Ashford Traditional I ended up with seemed like a good deal and despite the design of the wheel having been updated several times, it was fundamentally still the same and still supported by Ashford. I think I got it for around $200 plus shipping, which seemed less risky than buying a new wheel.
I refinished my little Traddy, refurbished it with an Ashford Maintenance Kit and a few other parts from Ashford, and got new bobbins. I sank a lot of time and more money into it than I probably would have buying a new wheel, but I’m okay with that; I like the idea of getting something used or old and making it functional again.
I also eventually tricked the wheel out totally: I got a jumbo flyer & 4 jumbo bobbins and high speed flyer for spinning lace weight.
In the Spring of 2010, I went with a friend to a Spinning Loft retreat led by the amazing Beth Smith. If you ever get to take a class or go on a retreat with Beth for anything, you should do it! She’s a wonderful teacher, very quirky and funny, and incredibly knowledgeable. Everyone that went to the retreat brought their wheels – Majacrafts and Schachts were well-represented, but I was the only one with a Traddy. I asked the others about their wheels – spinners are usually proud of their wheels, customize and even name them, so they were all happy to tell my why I should look at getting one like theirs. Beth reassured me though; Ashford Traditionals are highly versatile and they also have the highest available ratio for spinning lace weight.
Getting reassurance from an expert that I had a good wheel was all I needed; at Maryland Sheep and Wool that year, I got a double-treadle kit for my little wheel and immediately put it on the day that I got it. I felt like I had the ultimate wheel – I had figured out all its quirks and I had tricked it out. The only thing I wanted to change was the drive system, from single drive Scotch tension to double drive, but I deemed that a step too far as I would have had to replace all the flyers.
As it happens, Maryland Sheep and Wool falls on or around my birthday, May 3. And it happens just before Mother’s Day in the US, the second Sunday in May. That same year, 2010, my husband got me a Schacht Matchless for my birthday, having asked some of my friends what kind of wheel to get me and where (The Woolery). So I had a double drive wheel at last and it spun like a dream without the clattering and infinite adjustments I had to make to find the sweet spot with my Traditional.
I know many spinners who collect wheels but I don’t have the desire or the space to do that; one wheel is enough. So I ended up selling the Traditional to a friend from my knitting group who got into spinning after I did. I let her borrow the wheel and try it out before buying, which I really recommend anyone do before buying one if you can. She loved the versatility of it and also loved that all of the restoration work was done. I miss that wheel and sometimes wish I had held onto it; I think I probably knew it better than the Matchless, even now. But I still love the Matchless; it’s up there among the best presents I’ve gotten.