We've all been waiting ... when SpinOlution came out with the Mach 1 in 2008, they said there was a travel wheel in the planning stages. Well folks, it's here! It's The Bee! Or should I say, it's the bee's knees! The Paulies have delivered!
How do I describe this to you? My own personal goal was to stack it up to my primary workhorse wheel, the Majacraft Alpaca Wheel. But a more fair-minded comparison might be to the Journey Wheel, a travel wheel like the Bee. And, a comparison to its own big brother, the Mach 1, seems in order too.
First, let me give you the road test ... my Bee arrived very well packed in a foam-fitting (that's not a typo) box. It had a bobbin on the flyer already, so all I had to do was take it out of the box, lower the foot rest, lift the flyer arm, and everything was ready to go -- talk about easy.
Okay, so there was no leader on the bobbin. I quickly removed the bobbin by squeezing the flyer arms and pulling the orifice cross-piece off, then the bobbin (plz ignore the yarn on the bobbin in the picture -- I was so excited, I forgot to snap an empty one!). I tied a long loop of gold perle cotton -- it was on hand -- folded it in half and put it through one hole and back through another at the back of the bobbin, then looped it through itself to hitch it onto the bobbin. Woot! That stays on like a charm, no matter which way I spin.
(oh yeah ... click any picture for bigger, and see the whole set over on my flickr)
I had 4 ounces of singles, half spun each on Majacraft bobbins, ready for the Bee's arrival. So, I loaded them up on the on-board Kate for plying. That Kate is very well designed. Why do I say that? Because it puts the bobbins at an angle. That lets them brake themselves, so you don't get bobbin over-run when you are plying. Note ... Bees come with 3 bobbins, standard. I like 5, so I ordered 2 extra. I was really pleased to see the 3-bobbin on-board Kate :-)
Here you see my spinner's-eye view of the Bee during plying:
Now, when you start spinning on any wheel, you need to check the tension. The Bee uses a Scotch Tension system that may be unique to this wheel; I've not seen this style on other wheels, though it has some similarities to the Journey Wheel. It is unique in that it is the wheel's spindle (metal rod between the flyer arms) that the brake pushes on. The wheel's spindle does *not* rotate with the flyer as it does on most other wheels (also excepting the Journey Wheel). Instead, it rotates independently, spinning the bobbin as it does so.
As you can see in the photo just above and to the right (I hope!), the bobbin has a hex-shaped indentation to "key" it onto the wheel's spindle. The black knob at the back of the wheel is the scotch tension adjustment. As with any scotch tension, you can make large movements initially (full or half rotations) but to find the sweet spot, you make very minor adjustments of the knob -- quarter or even just a tiny fraction of the knob.
At the final just-can't-stuff-any-more-on stage, I weighed the full bobbin (empty it's 3.2 ounces) -- it had 2.7 ounces of DK-to-light-worsted (about 12-14 wraps per inch) 2-ply on it. As you can see, I was spinning until the yarn was rubbing up against the flyer arms, braking the bobbin so no more would wind on.
So, cool -- it plied like a champ. Yes, I used 35:1, its highest ratio for that! And I even built up a head of steam, treadling fairly quickly and plying zippity-zap! Get 'er done, that's my mantra for plying.
Once I'd done that, I took a break and took a look at the ratios and the treadling. You can change from the high-range (15:1 to 35:1) to the low-range (5:1 to 12:1) by changing the drive band in the front ... on the left we have the "high" setting, on the right we have the "low" setting:
I think you could also set it up in a mid range, but I haven't played with that yet.
On the low range, using the three flyer grooves, I get 5:1, 7.5:1, and 12:1 ratios (approximately). I also get a silky-smooth treadling, even lighter, if that is at all imagineable, than the Mach 1's treadling. Way smoother than the smoothest wheel I have ever treadled (and folks, I've also treadled a Watson Marie -- talk about smooth! I thought that was the end-all ... the Bee at least matches, and possibly outdoes it, in these lower ratios. Wowzer.)
So, as with the Mach 1, in the lowest three ratios, you can treadle with one foot. One toe, possibly. Not sure if a dippy bird would do it, but that's pretty extreme.
Switching it over to the high range is done by moving the lower drive band. I moved the band on the accelerator (right-most) wheel first, since it was going to a smaller diameter groove, and then on the drive (left-most) wheel, holding it in place with a finger as I rotated the drive wheel by hand to "walk" the band into that groove. (I'm open for advice, if you have a better way to move drive bands, holler! I do it this way on all my wheels.)
Treadling at the higher range is a heavier task -- you are pushing a much more concentrated area on the accelerator wheel with that small diameter pulley. I found it treadled just about the same as my Majacraft Alpaca Wheel with its accelerator head in place -- a different drive head from the one that comes with the wheel, to give your Majacraft higher ratios.
I was very pleased with the results of the plying at 35:1, though, so I'm not at all disappointed by the treadle's seemingly heavier "weight" at that high range.
I'll also report that in the high range, you do need to treadle with both feet -- with one foot I wasn't able to keep it going easily (I could, but didn't enjoy it).
That lead me to pull out a fiber I've been saving for a while -- MOOI by Louet. This is Bison, Cashmere, and Bamboo. Shiny, soft, and ultra-fine. Bison has a supremely short staple length, Cashmere pretty much does too; in this blend, the Bamboo was left with a fairly decent staple, not cut up into bison-staple-length pieces. My little yarn sample is a laceweight 2-ply, which I planned to mimic. It had 4.5 twists per inch in the 2-ply, so I knew I'd want about 9 twists per inch in the single; and super-fine, I'd guess 40 wraps per inch -- but I was just doing visual comparisons rather than writing down numbers.
So, I started over with an empty bobbin, and proceeded to spin clockwise, still at 35:1, with my MOOI fiber blend (natural colors). As with all laceweight, I adjusted the draw-in to as low as it would go but still draw in, and then I threaded the yarn back-and-forth across the flyer arms to reduce the drag on the yarn in my hands even further.
That worked very well, as it always does. I was pleased to note that the flyer pegs on the Bee kept the yarn above the core of the bobbin, so it wasn't actually rubbing on the stored yarn, as it does on my other wheels. That is a big plus :-)
I was happily long-drawing and drafting out a foot or more of thread at a time, getting twist into it, and feeding it onto the bobbin, until bedtime last night. I think I did about 1/2 ounce of the 2 ounces I have, which I've split to spin onto two bobbins and ply onto a third. Aaaah, lace spinning.
I also set the ratios down to the low range, at the high end, to experience spinning this fiber with the silky-soft treadling available there. That was pretty dreamy despite me treadling like the Tasmanian devil after a quad espresso to get all the twist into that super-fine single as fast as I could long-draw it (grin).
I will experiment with the second bobbin, I think, by trying another lace-spinning technique -- start with a half-full bobbin (half-full of _anything_, even pipe insulation will do it). That also decreases the pull of the yarn from your hand, though it is likely to raise the "level" of the surface above the pegs. I will be able to compare which is more effective, lacing the pegs as I did above, or using a thicker core.
A question that comes up about wheels, which I haven't mentioned yet, is how loud they are, or what sort of noise they have. The Bee qualifies as a TV wheel in my house -- that means it's quiet enough to spin in front of the television. At the smallest flyer groove, the drive band makes a whirring noise that goes away when it is in the larger grooves; the flyer itself has a very light noise. Where the footman meets the drive wheel, there is a light tick of the bearing against the guide in the footman; yours may not have this tick, actually. I have not tried the Mach 1 solution to this, which is to paint the side walls of the footman's groove with fingernail polish, nor have I asked the Pauly's if they recommend this -- so please check before you try this.
All-in-all, I'm quite pleased with the Bee; in thinking about it in comparison to the Majacraft and the Journey Wheel, I think it stacks up well against those two wheels. And it is different enough from the Mach 1 that they both have their place in the spinning universe.
Now, if this all makes you want a Bee -- yes, I do sell them. I'd welcome your custom! I ship overseas, and I am happy to provide layaway. SpinOlution has a vendor in most states, so if you want to try-it-and-buy-it, find one local to you, or attending a show in your area. These should be readily available at most of the SpinOlution retailers by April, 2009.
Oh and those comparisons ... stay tuned :-) but now I need to go and spin the rest of that MOOI ...
The technical specifications for the Bee are available here or here.
Don't want to take my word for it? Pre-testing of the Bee has a thread on the Ravelry SpinOlution group, and an as-they-arrive thread has started up as well. We're all having fun with our Bees :-) go and check it out!
22 Mar 09 update: I've uploaded a short video of plying on the Bee using the built-in Kate, to help the left-sided plyers out there see how this spinner plies with the Bee's right-side Kate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUw-Yre_L5Y
posted 11 March 2009 at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/