Knitty: little purls of wisdom
Schacht Spindle Company

Care and Feeding of Drive Bands

Once your drive band is frayed or stretched out, it’s a good idea to put on a new one. By that time, you’ll probably notice that you need to put more and more tension on the band to control the take-up. A number of today’s single-drive wheels come with stretchy, synthetic drive bands (Louet wheels and the Schacht Ladybug come to mind); if that’s the case for your wheel, you can buy replacements directly from the manufacturer if necessary. I’ve found that synthetic bands last so long that they are pretty much maintenance-free and very rarely need to be replaced. Those of us who use cotton drive bands, however, need to contend with replacement on a regular basis, often every few weeks or months, depending on how often you spin.

What should you use for a drive band? Most wheel manufacturers sell the same cord originally supplied with the wheel if you want to go that route. But these days postage costs make this option pricier than it needs to be, so feel free to go on a search for something available locally—or in your stash. I’ve tried various knitting yarns as well as butcher’s twine from the hardware store. What works best will depend in part on your wheel, as well as on your individual taste. I prefer 100 percent cotton yarn or string because I find that it isn’t too stretchy and wears well.

A single-drive set-up usually takes a slightly thicker drive band than a double-drive does. You can try sport, DK, or worsted-weight cotton knitting yarns. For double-drive wheels, sport or fingering-weight yarns work well. You can use the groove in your bobbin as a guide for the thickness. I use a multiply fingering-weight 100 percent cotton knitting yarn for my double-drive wheels and worsted-weight “dish cloth” cotton yarn for my single-drive great wheel.

Before you measure and cut your new drive band, put on the bobbin and whorl you use most often and adjust the tension to its neutral point (for example, on my Schacht, I turn the tension knob on the top until the flyer is parallel to the mother-of-all; on my Saxony-style wheel, I adjust the tension knob on the side of the table so that the mother-of-all moves halfway toward the drive wheel). The drive band will stretch with use, so you want to start off making it a bit smaller to give it room to grow. For a single-drive wheel, you’ll run the drive band from the whorl pulley, around the drive wheel, and back again. For a double drive wheel, you’ll go around the drive wheel twice, with one end around the flyer whorl and the other around the bobbin.

To spin with a Z-twist, you’re supposed to have a double-drive band cross on the bottom of the drive wheel, below the whorl...

and for S-twist it should cross on the top, but I only came across this bit of information after I had already been spinning for many years. I admit that I don’t alter the position of the cross when I change my twist direction. I put the band on for a Z-twist and leave it that way when I ply with an S-twist.

To splice or not to splice? For a long time, that was not even a question for me. I always spliced my drive bands. But then I read that Rita Buchanan doesn’t bother to splice the drive band for her Schacht Matchless; I knotted my next drive band and never looked back. (As a spinner, I’m not afraid to be a sheep when I’ve got a highly qualified shepherd!) I tie a simple square (reef) knot, and I’ve never had any issues with it. Sometimes I put a drop of fray-check liquid (available at fabric stores) on the knot to keep it from untying itself when I trim the ends. Bobbie Irwin, author of The Spinner’s Companion, also recommends a fisherman’s knot.

My antique great wheel demands a spliced band, as does my double-drive Saxony-style wheel. You might need to splice if you are using a thicker drive band because the knot may cause the drive band to pop off. Try a knot, and see if you can save yourself some time. If it doesn’t work, you can always splice.

To splice a drive band, you’ll need to measure your cord first: hold it in place, pull it a bit firmly so it won’t be too slack when you’re finished, and mark where the two ends overlap.

Give yourself an extra inch or so on both ends and cut. Have a sewing needle threaded and nearby (I’m using black thread in these photos so you can see the splice). Now unply about two inches from each end, trim half the plies from each end...

...and finger-twist the two ends together to form a continuous strand.

Using your sewing needle and thread, knot your thread around the yarn, and take a few stitches through all layers of yarn to secure the sewing thread; move from one end of the splice to the other, wrapping the sewing thread tightly over the join and occasionally going through all layers. End by taking a few more stitches through all layers and knotting the sewing thread.

Trim any stray ends of yarn or thread.

The old rule of thumb that I heard when I learned to spin was that you can rub a single-drive band with beeswax for more traction, but that a double-drive band should stay naked. Alden Amos offers a band-dressing recipe in his Big Book of Handspinning. Personally, I’ve never bothered dressing a drive band, but I always advocate experimentation. See what works for you.

You’ll probably notice a big difference when you put on a new drive band: you should find that your take-up is more responsive to small tension changes. If you find it hard to treadle or the take-up is too strong, you might need to loosen the tension more than usual until the drive band stretches out a bit. If that doesn’t correct the problem, try making a slightly larger drive band. In addition to replacing your drive band when it is worn, you’ll want to change it if you are making a dramatic change in your whorl size—so if you normally use a medium whorl to spin for a two-ply worsted weight yarn, and you begin a new bobbin of laceweight with your smallest whorl, a fresh new drive band will really allow you to adjust your tension and take-up more precisely.

Lee Juvan learned to spin on a walking wheel when she was twelve in a summer workshop at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. She bought her own wheel in 1990, and she’s been at it since then. Lee is the designer of several patterns published in Knitty, including Shroom and Brighton.

You can see more of her work on Ravelry and in Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain.