Soon I will begin carding/spinning classes using the instructor's equipment, and will be learning with wool. Eventually, my goal is to spin Alpaca with my own equipment. I see that different wheels have different ratios, such as 4:1 through 12:1, etc. For alpaca, what ratios are used, therefore determining which wheel to buy?
A: Which wheel is a very complicated question, since there are many factors like -- ease of use, style of design, availability, price, etc. to keep in mind when choosing a wheel?
Here are two flyers with a wide variety of speeds. The very large whorl is a very slow 2:1 and the tiny whorl is a fast 18:1. The larger the whorl the slower it is and the smaller the whorl the faster it is. The actual ratio is a mathmetical comparison to the size of the drive wheel.
However, the ratio question is a good place to start. Most modern wheels being offered at this time have at least 2 to 4 different ratios which will give the spinner a range of speeds. You should find a wheel that offers a slow speed ratio between 5 and 7:1, a medium speed would be between 9 and 12:1 and a fast speed is usually over 14:1.
Here are the reasons I would look for all 3 speed ranges:
When you are first learning to spin and when you are learning to spin a new fiber or a new hand technique, it is good to have the slow speed. Most thick yarns and many novelty yarns are easier to spin on a slow speed. The slow speed gives your hands plenty of time to keep up with your treadling.
The medium speed is suitable for most of the sweater weight knitting yarns that you might want to spin. Usually it is a great all purpose speed.
The fast speed is great when you are spinning a fine lace weight yarn or have gotten so comfortable with a particular fiber or preparation that you can just cruise while you spin. Many people like to ply on their faster speed. If you are going into production you may need an even faster speed, today there are wheels made with 40:1 or higher ratios.
As far as the best speed for spinning Alpaca, it will probably be in the medium range, once you are comfortable with the slippery feel of the fibers.
There is also the question of which drive system is best for you. This question is very subjective, your experience may depend on your teacher's comfort with different drive systems and your own nature. Each system has it's own quirks and limitations and exciting possibilities. Each system has it's very strong supporters. A good spinner can spin any fiber on any system. I feel it is best to learn to spin on any one wheel and then after you are comfortable spinning try out the different drive systems. I think it is confusing to try too many wheels when you are still having trouble making the wheel go all the way around or being frustrated with the drafting.
There are 4 basic spinning wheel drive systems:
A double drive wheel has a drive band that turns both the flyer and the bobbin at the same time. The bobbin is always turning just a bit faster and pulls the yarn in slowly. Traditionally this was a fine yarn spinning wheel. Many antique wheels used for spinning flax into thread are double drive wheels. Schacht, Ashford and many of the Rick Reeves wheels are double drive wheels that have been created with multiple speed and take-up options. There is only one adjustment knob, but choosing the correct combination of flyer whorl and bobbin whorl determines the take-up of the yarn.
A flyer lead, scotch brake wheel has a single drive band that leads or turns the flyer around. The bobbin lags behind as the scotch brake gently slows it down, this causes the yarn to wind on. Ashford, Majacraft, Lendrum are the major makers of these wheels. This wheel requires two adjustments knobs, one for the brake band and one for the drive band, unless it is a stretch band. Some people see this as a versatile wheel for many sizes of yarns. It happens to be the drive system that I prefer.
A bobbin lead wheel often has a stretchy drive band that turns the bobbin while the flyer hangs behind, causing the yarn to wind on. This is often considered the best for creating a thick yarn since it has a very snappy draw on. However, the yarn must be strong enough to pull the flyer around. The newer models have lightened up the flyer so that this wheel can also be very versatile. The Louet, the Kiwi Ashford, and the Babe are good examples of this wheel.
A spindle driven wheel is the fourth major drive system. This wheel does not have a flyer, only a spindle that is turned by a wheel. The spinning is all done off the point of the spindle and then wound on in a separate action. The large antique walking wheels and the small Indian charkas are all spindle driven wheels. The Rio Grande is a modern treadled spindle point wheel.
Have fun as you learn to spin and then look around at the available wheels in your area. If you can get to a conference of some type after you learn to spin, it is fun to sit and try as many as you can before you choose to buy.