The Ashford traditional is great to learn on. I always say No-one wrote the rule book on Spinning and I don’t like being dogmatic, but generally I start new spinners off on Ashford Traditionals. Recently had lady who wanted a double treadle ‘Because my brain’s wired up for two feet’! You have to laugh – and accommodate! Apart from being simple to operate with a large accessible wheel, low ratio and simple scotch tension, they are highly robust and relatively cheap to buy. I have eight of them – which are mostly old and out on loan most of the time. These good natured wheels are constantly in and out of all sorts of cars, wedged between child seats, legs in the air with their wheels in the foot well, laid flat out over wellies, buckets, and cat baskets, and thankfully sometimes sedately strapped in with seat belts like a venerable great aunt. They tolerate endless abuse and I always have spare parts in stock so never have to worry. I haven’t met a wheel I can’t mend yet – but it’s seldom one of mine that gets damaged.
For beginners I love the uncomplicated spring and fishing line scotch tension – it’s so easy you can nearly set it by sight – you can see the spring engage – if it looks in the least bit stretched there’s too much tension and that will make life difficult for new spinners – particularly for long draw which is how I start them all off. The least tension the better – pupils get tense enough without the wheels joining in! I hate to see spinners all hunched up apparently having a Tug-Of-War with a wheel. Spinning should be relaxing and therapeutic. New wheels have two springs on the scotch tension, the one on the left comes into play when spinning Z (or clockwise from where the pupil is sitting) so that is the one to watch when setting up. The right hand spring, which is nearest the adjuster knob comes into play when plying; this is the later addition, old wheels don’t have this spring. The mechanics are simple; the fishing line creates drag as it goes over the bobbin, hence it is better to put the thin end of the bobbin into the flyer first, and let the wider end maximise drag as it makes more contact along the groove.
Most of my wheels have flexi-drive bands but if pupils have string drive bands then they need an inch of play on them for easy treadling i.e. if you press on the string it will move up or down for about an inch before resisting. If the drive band is too tight it makes treading hard, hence the wheel will stop too at every given opportunity which, is frustrating. I like pupils to adopt a very slow and regular treading speed because ‘Beginners make twist faster than they can use it’. And the accessible large wheel is easy to set off in the correct direction – just think of stroking it – you can’t stroke it S because the drive band gets in the way.
The other great thing about a wheel is the more you use it the better it goes. My Ashford Trads all certainly go! Sometimes pupils get so attached to the wheel they learn on they want to buy that particular one. I want pupils to have the wheel that suits them and get the pleasure from spinning that I get, so am happy to sell them on. When I supply my new ones from my studio you don’t get flat packs from me – I assemble wheels at no extra charge for my pupils – assembly is easy but if I’ve done it myself I know it won’t come back to haunt me. Sadly I can’t do this for the online purchases. I still spin on my first wheel – an Ashford traditional of course – it is over 30 years old and I wouldn’t part with it for anything – but the other seven are £200 each and I will stand by them.