Meet the Hilltopper

April 12, 2012

I placed my order for my Hilltopper spinning wheel shortly before Christmas, and I was thrilled to receive an email from Jim at the end of March telling me it was ready! On the following Saturday I made the 3+ hour drive to Ithaca to pick it up, and to visit with Jim and his wife Susan of Susan’s Spinning Bunny. Getting to spend time with the wheel and the man who made it was a fantastic opportunity, especially being somewhat new to double drive wheels.

On a single drive wheel, a braking system slows down either the flyer (Irish Tension) or the bobbin (Scotch tension) to allow the length of yarn to wind on. There’s no such braking system on a double drive set up. Both the flyer and the bobbin pulleys are driven at the same time, and it’s the difference in their size (the bobbin pulley is smaller than the flyer pulley) that causes the yarn to wind on.

Take up is increased or decreased by either increasing or decreasing the tension of the drive band on the flyer and the bobbin. For many double drive wheels, this means moving the entire maiden assembly either away from or closer to the drive wheel. Not so with the Hilltopper. The tension is controlled by a handy tension arm that can be adjusted without stopping, which is a feature that I think is just brilliant.

But wait, there’s more! In his “Big Book of Handspinning” Alden Amos gives a detailed explanation of differential rotational speed and lots of fun math. He explains some other methods of adjusting the take up on a double drive wheel by changing the ratio between the flyer and bobbin pulleys. In essence, the smaller the difference is between the two, the lighter the take up and the greater the difference in size, the stronger the take up. He also addresses slippage and how the drive band must slip on the bobbin pulley in order to allow twist to enter the yarn you draft out without yanking it out of your hands and winding it on.
Sound confusing? It can be which is why many people find double drive wheels somewhat finicky and shy away from them. Some spinners say they like double drive because the only adjustment needed is the drive band tension. But there really is much more to it than that. Typically, double drive wheels are great for spinning fine singles but of course, that also depends on the ability of the spinner.

After spending a couple of hours in the shop chatting with Jim and Susan and taking my new wheel on a test drive with some practice fiber that I’d brought with me, it was time to pack up, load my new Hilltopper into the truck and head for home.

I couldn’t resist coming home with some more fiber either. The BFL/silk blend in the “Twilight” colorway that I bought at the Southern Adirondack Fiber festival was lonely in my stash, so I was very glad to see that Susan had more of it on the shelves. The other is a lovely Falkland roving in a colorway called Clematis Vine.

Once I arrived home and got myself settled in, I took the remaining bobbins on a test drive with more of my practice fiber. It’s lovely wool that I’m also spinning on my Lendrum at the moment. What I spun on my Hilltopper became a gorgeous 1.5 oz, 60 yd sample.

Now I’m on to spinning the lovely Doctor Who inspired BFL that I received as a birthday present back in October.

Did I NEED another spinning wheel? I think so. I have been sort of in the market for a double drive wheel throughout most of last year. I’ve become quite serious about my passion for spinning and I felt that it was important to have experience with how each of the types of drive/tension systems function. It’s kind of like knowing how to operate a car, a motorbike, and an airplane. Each can get you where you want to go, but the journey is a different experience in each.

Not being one for the more traditionally styled wheels with all their ornate turnings, it was tough to find one that I liked. When I saw the Hilltopper and its unique look, it was love at first sight. The fact that it was spins so smooth and effortlessly AND is made by a local craftsman were both MAJOR pluses.
Besides, owning three wheels is practically nothing compared to some spinners. Someone on Ravelry in a discussion on one of the spinning groups mentioned having 15 wheels!

I think my dear spouse might draw the line before I can reach that level!
Enjoy your weekend everyone!

2 thoughts on “Meet the Hilltopper”

  1. Sounds like a beautiful wheel! The first ever double band tension wheel I ever used was the Clemes wheel we both enjoyed for a bit of time. Will you bring this wheel to the retreat? Please?


    1. I know I have brought it before, and I think it was the year I got it. I’ll try to bring it again this year. It has developed a minor issue that I need to have Jim diagnose and hopefully fix.


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