Vintage Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel

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If you are new to spinning yarn, the different parts of a spinning wheel can sometimes seem confusing at first! Today I wanted to cover the anatomy of a spinning wheel and explain the different names for different parts.

As I’ve covered before, there are many different types of spinning wheels. While they may come in different shapes and styles, they typically share common characteristics.

For diagrams and explanation purposes, I’m using my older Ashford Traditional spinning wheel for reference purposes.

vintage ashford traditional spinning wheel
My first spinning wheel – a vintage 1970’s model Ashford traditional wheel.

This was my very first “real wheel” when I was ready to graduate from the drop spindle and really makes a great starter wheel for new spinners.

Many spinners I’ve talked to who have this wheel *still* spin on it regularly, even when they have many other spinning wheels as part of the “flock”, including myself!

The Ashford Traditional is a Saxony style spinning wheel, so if you have a spinning wheel that looks similar in style or shape, even if it’s not an Ashford wheel, most likely all of the parts are the same.

If you have a castle-style wheel or modern wheel, you will note most of the parts are essentially the same, you just may find them in a different place!

Parts of a Spinning Wheel

anatomy of a spinning wheel parts

Let’s start by going over the main parts of a spinning wheel. You can see each of these labeled in the diagram above.

Drive Wheel:

The drive wheel is the BIG wheel you see on the left of the image above. It is sometimes also called the flywheel. This wheel is connected to the footman, which is what causes it to spin when you step on the treadle.

Drive Band:

The drive band is the thin white line you see above which connects the drive wheel to the flyer. When you spin the drive wheel, the drive band causes the flyer to also spin.

You can use a simple piece of cotton yarn as a drive band. Some modern wheels use rubber and stretchable vinyl bands.

The diagram spinning wheel example above shows my wheel setup in single drive.

If a spinning wheel is set up with double drive tension, the drive band is wrapped around the drive wheel and flyer twice, with placement in different grooves on the flyer or bobbin depending on the wheel style.

ashford drive band tension knob

Drive Band Adjustment Knob:

On the spinning wheel shown above, this is a knob located on the front of the Mother-of-All. This knob is used to adjust the tension of the drive band between the wheel and the maidens and flyer.

Mother of All:

The Mother of All is the part of the spinning wheel that holds the maidens, flyer, bobbin, and tension controls. It is usually nothing more than a simple bar, but it is an important part that holds everything!

In some wheels, the mother of all can be removed with the maidens, flyers, and everything still intact. This is helpful when you are troubleshooting problems or making repairs.

Maiden Bars

The maidens are the two vertical bars that are typically seen on top of the mother-of-all. Maiden bars usually have some sort of hardware that supports the flyer.

On the spinning wheel shown here, the maiden bar holds the flyer in place. The hardware on the maiden bars can typically be easily switched to accommodate for larger flyer and bobbin sizes.

Flyer:

spinning wheel flyer parts

The flyer is the U-shaped part that has a rod for holding bobbins and spins as the drive wheel spins.

There are three main types of flyers: an orifice flyer, delta flyer, and quill spindle. Quill spindles are more commonly found on older antique spinning wheels.

Orifice Hole / Delta Hook

The orifice hole is where the yarn enters to be spun onto the bobbins when the flyer spins.

The spinning wheel shown here has a 1/2″ orifice hole, suitable for spinning fine and medium weight yarns. If you want to spin chunky yarns, you would likely want to have an orifice size of 3/4″ – 1″ size.

Some spinning wheel flyers use a hook instead of a hole for guiding the yarn up into the bobbins. These are typically called Delta flyers.

Bobbin:

The bobbin looks like a spool and goes on the flyer. When you spin yarn, it will be pulled through the orifice or hook of the flyer and wrapped around the bobbin.

Most spinners tie a leader yarn to the bobbin when they begin spinning wool. The leader yarn is tied to the bobbin, threaded through the flyer hooks and then the orifice. As the wheel spins, twist builds up on the leader yarn and begins pulling in the wool or other fibers.

While technically you only need one bobbin, most spinners like to have at least three bobbins in their arsenal. This makes it easier to ply your yarn singles together, especially if you have a lazy kate!


Scotch Tension Brake Band:

If your wheel is setup for scotch tension, you will notice you have a brake band and adjustment knob on your wheel.

On the spinning wheel parts diagram shown above, the brake band is a vinyl band which wraps around the end of the bobbin and attaches to a spring on the other side. The adjustment knob can be used to change the tension on the band.

Treadle:

single treadle spinning wheel example

The treadle is what you put your foot on to move the wheel. Some wheels have two treadle pedals. Modern wheels may also sometimes have a braking system to stop the drive wheel from turning.

Footman:

The footman is a bar that connects between the treadle and the drive wheel so that when you treadle the wheel spins.


How a Spinning Wheel Works

Now that we understand all of the different parts of a spinning wheel, it’s helpful to know how they all work together!

To make yarn, the main important thing is you need to add twist to the fibers. Adding twist is what makes the fibers strong.

When you sit down at a spinning wheel, the first thing to do is to start with your leader yarn on the bobbin. You will guide the leader yarn through the flyer hooks and through the orifice hole.

Once you have your fibers ready to spin, you will use your foot to pedal the treadle. The treadle will move up and down which causes the attached footman to move up and down.

As the footman moves up and down, the drive wheel will turn. The drive band which is connected around the drive wheel will then cause the flyer to turn.

The flyer turning causes twist to build up on the leader yarn, and this twist will move down to the fibers you want to spin.

As you draft the fibers and the twist enters, you will have yarn! The yarn then is pulled in through the orifice hole and flyer hooks to wind onto the bobbin.

If the yarn is pulled through too quickly, you may need to adjust your tension. You can adjust tension through your drive band or your brake band if you are using a Scotch tension wheel.


I know when I first got the spinning wheel you see above I was VERY overwhelmed by everything. I had no idea what any of the knobs did, let alone the names for the different parts.

If you have a local group of spinners near you, it can be very helpful to learn the basics of your wheel and how it works by sitting down next to someone side by side. This can make it much less intimidating to learn the basics!

I hope this introduction to the basic spinning wheel parts and the anatomy of a spinning wheel is helpful for you! And of course, if you have any questions feel free to ask them below.

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