I hesitate to call this a review, because that implies that I've passed judgement on this wheel, which I haven't. I just have mixed feelings about it. So I wanted to spin some bulkier yarns and some beaded yarns. I learned the hard way that add-ins and bulky yarn could get caught up in the orifice of my Ashford Traditional wheel, so for Christmas my awesome Granny gave me an Ashford Jumbo Flyer Kit which has a larger orifice and bobbins. Well, that didn't work either because my ancient Traditional drive wheel wouldn't line up right with the whorl on the brand new jumbo flyer. Which is a really convoluted and jargon-y way of saying, 'Mama needs a bulky wheel.'
So my hubby set a ridiculously high budget for me (knowing that I would never spend that much, because I'm cheap) and I started shopping around. I narrowed it down to the Ashford Country and the Babe Bulky Production with the help of this lovely video.
I have been drooling over her Ashford Country for months, but as pretty as those wheels are they only do thicker yarns and the cheapskate in me just rebels at the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a wheel that only does one kind of yarn. The Babe Bulky Production Wheel is supposed to do everything from bulky to lace weight, and it still uses the enormous bobbins like the Ashford Country. So I called the place where we got the Jumbo Flyer and returned it for some store credit toward the Babe Bulky Production.
I got the wheel even faster than I expected to and assembled it within half an hour despite the extraordinarily badly written instructions. By badly written I mean so littered with grammatical errors and misspellings that I seriously considered rewriting them and sending them back to the company for the benefit of future customers. In spite of these instructions, I have to say it was fairly easy to put together. But there are a couple of things that I didn't quite understand. If anyone out there in fiber-land knows what these are please let me know. First there are two holes on each side of the base that don't seem to have a definite purpose. They might be there to fix the diagonal uprights, but there was nothing about them in the instructions so I have no way of knowing. Second, the horizontal support for the bobbin/flyer assembly doesn't quite sit flush on the diagonal uprights. I've seen some folks online who put some padding in between, and that's a okay fix I guess. There was also nothing in the instructions about fixing the diagonal uprights to the base. This maybe a conscious decision so that it's easier to take apart for travel, but the holes on the base and the extra space at the top of seems to suggest that there is something missing from the assembly instructions relating to these parts. More on this in a bit.
With these questions aside though, it was pretty easy to put together and it works pretty well. Some people have criticized the Babe wheels for not being very pretty and made of PVC instead of wood, but I actually kind of like the way it looks, and that's maybe because I'm seeing what I can make with it instead of seeing the object itself. I also know that a lot of folks, as mentioned in the video will paint or otherwise decorate their Babes and that sounds like fun.
I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and have spun yarn from sock weight to bulky. I've also done some core spun and some beaded yarn. Here's a break down of my feelings on it.
Things I love:
- The large orifice (get your minds out of the gutter, it's a technical term): This wheel has a 3/4 inch orifice which makes spinning art yarns a dream. It's perfect for add-ins like beads and bits of fabric or little flowers. The only thing better would be a bypass-able orifice, but I'm not a fan of art yarn add-ins that are super huge, so I don't miss that.
- The treadling: I was a little concerned switching from a single treadle wheel to a double treadle wheel, but this is so easy to treadle, and easily adjustable. the treadles attach to the base with velcro straps that can be adjusted if they are set too tight.
- The enormous bobbin: I have yet to run out of space on these bobbins no matter how thick my yarn.
- It travels: The shape, easy assembly and light material mean that it travels well so when I take the kids down for a week at Granny's or to spin with friends, it can go with me without too much trouble. A Saxony style wheel like my traditional is a pain to move.
- The little velcro leader grabber: Not sure what the proper name is but each bobbin has a little velcro circle on it that you can easily use to attach your leader without having to tie a knot or anything. It's a small feature, but really good thinking on their part.
- The velcro patch by the orifice: Another little bit of velcro sits right below the orifice to hold your yarn if you have to stop while you're spinning. As a mom it's rare that I get to sit down and spin a hank without stopping, so this comes in very handy.
- The green-ness of it all: Very few of the parts for this wheel are specifically manufactured for a spinning wheel. with the exception of wooden flyer and the treadle assembly, everything else is re-purposed. The body is PVC, the wheel is a wheelchair wheel, the bobbins are wire spools. I love the idea that there are very few trees being cut down or factories with specialized equipment being run to create this. Most of these things are being made anyway. This is also how Babe's Fiber Garden can keep the cost of their wheels so much lower than most wheel makers.
Things I hate:
- The lazy Kate: The lazy kate for this wheel consists of two dowels inserted into holes on the diagonal uprights. They don't turn very easily because of the larger heavier bobbins. This makes for difficult plying and lots of broken singles. I love the sort of zen feeling I get plying on my Ashford with the yarn just sliding through my fingers and twisting, not so with the Babe.
- The peg that connects the bobbin to the whorl: Most of Babe's wheels seem to be bobbin led as opposed to the flyer led Ashford. This means that the whorl being turned by the drive band connects directly to the bobbin instead of to the flyer. The Babe wheel uses a wooden peg sticking out from the plastic whorl to fit into a hole in near the center of the bobbin. This is fine as long as it stays connected, but I have found that as your bobbin gets more full it tends to pull away and the whorl and bobbin can become disconnected leaving you treadling away to no effect. Also the peg is glued into a hole on the whorl, and after a couple of weeks of use, mine came unglued and the peg came out altogether. It's easy enough to fix by putting the peg back in and re-gluing it with some epoxy, but it's something that I don't think a couple of weeks of use (and that's not every day) should cause to happen. If this is a "production" whee, then it ought to be able to stand up to more use than that.
- The diagonal cut on the flyer support: The orifice at the end of the flyer rests in a slot on the front piece of PVC which is cut at a diagonal. This is fine, but if you get a little too relaxed with where your hand is you can find your yarn rubbing up against this cut and it's sharp enough that if your yarn is thin it might actually cut some fibers. This can be fixed by sanding, but again should I have to be the one doing that?
- The unattached diagonal uprights: As I mentioned before the diagonal upright supports on this wheel don't attach to the base or the flyer support, at least there wasn't anything in the instructions about attaching them. The result is, the support rests on the uprights and they rest on the base. I have found though, that after a lot of treadling and vibration these uprights can move and make even fall out of place or move too close to the wheel and rub the drive wheel. I really wish the instructions had some explanation of how these are supposed to be fixed or tips on how to keep them in place.
I said I didn't want to call this a review because I haven't passed judgement on the wheel. There are things I love and things I hate. Most of the things I hate are fixable, and I'm a DIY kinda gal, so they're not big deals. But I did notice when I was researching which wheel to buy that there weren't a lot of informative reviews. So, here's the information that I would have liked to have known. I still think I would have bought this wheel over the Ashford Country, but I hope I can offer some info for folks like me that want to make a more informed decision.