Over the weekend, I rented a Majacraft Little Gem from Yarn Expressions. Although in my internet research I dismissed this wheel as being too funny-looking, it's actually a very cool little wheel. It's not nearly as funny-looking in real life, and it folds up real small into its own nice bag. (I haven't actually tried this yet.)
I thought I remembered reading that people found it unstable, but I haven't so far, and it has an good range of ratios, from 4.5 to 12.7. At first, I found that the treadling action lacked smoothness--there's one point in the rotation where it's like the wheel pauses for a split second. But when I treadled a little faster, this stopped being noticeable, so there's a decent chance it's me, not the wheel.
I did have a very frustrating first evening with this wheel, and I have tried others that were much easier to use, so it wasn't just that I'm a clueless newbie spinner. By the end of the evening, it was kind of late, I was getting grumpy about having to go to work the next day, and then I started plying. Spinning singles had been going...fair to middlin'. I was pretty unhappy with how the yarn was coming out, but I was able to keep a smooth rhythm for at least a few minutes at a time. Plying, on the other hand, was a total disaster. This wheel comes with an untensioned lazy kate, which was not interacting well at all with my overtwisted singles--I kept ending up with a pigtail spaghetti mess on the floor. Plus, every time I stopped treadling, I'd have a hard time getting it started again and end up with the yarn tangled up in the butterfly clip that this wheel has instead of cup hooks. (So far, I vote for cup hooks.) On top of that, the cat started batting everything. I finally gave up for the night and locked the wheel, kate, and fiber in the guest room. (Protection from cat, or punishing the wheel with a time-out? Both.)
Honestly, I was so frustrated, I was considering returning the wheel before my first week's rental was even up, but I do have a tendency to lose my dexterity when I get tired, so I instructed myself to give it another chance on another day. Sure enough, Monday night I tried again, and I finished plying the rest of that yarn without too much difficulty. I think I had been feeding the yarn through the butterfly clip wrong somehow--I only had the yarn tangle on it once or twice that night instead of every two minutes. Also, I did my plying in the guest room with the door shut, so no "help" from the cat. It was still a big mess, but much better. I had some really good music going, too, which I think helped me keep my rhythm better. After that, I spun some new singles, and they were coming out a lot better. Let me tell you, as I was spinning the first night's yarn, I thought it was a complete disaster, although looking at the finished yarn, it's actually not that bad.
So I spun with great tunes, and everything was going smoothly, and I was getting pretty happy. I considered whether I should leave it on a happy note and put off plying until the next day, but I decided to go ahead and do it right away. Well, good music, no cat, tamer yarn, and proper butterfly clip use makes a big difference. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I had the inspiration to lean something against the bobbins on the lazy kate so they'd have a little resistance and not just spew spaghetti twist all over the carpet while I was trying to ply. Some acrylic afghan squares I made a million years ago did the trick nicely. Everything was much smoother, and I got some reasonable yarn without wanting to throw a temper tantrum.
I still want to work on getting everything more even as far as thickness and twist, but it definitely feels like I'm starting to get the hang of this. I'm thinking a trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is in order. I want my own wheel (and I want it now)!