As an avid knitter, and a new and aspiring spinner, I’ve been slowly acquiring the tools of my trade: yarn ball winder, niddy noddy, spinning wheel.
One essential item that had eluded my budget so far, however, was a swift. I have a friend with one that I can borrow whenever I need to, but that requires waiting until we can get together at a time and place that works for both of us. My eBay skills have proven lacking so far, too – I keep getting outbid at the last second.
Now, there are ways to work around this. There’s the classic, “Honey, would you hold this yarn for me so I can wind it?” move. That works until your husband starts remembering how sore his arms will get by the time you’re done. There’s holding the skein yourself over your knees, or your feet. Great until you need to answer the door or go to the bathroom! Then there’s the back of a chair – assuming you can find a chair that will somehow fit your skein.
I had an idea for a solution yesterday that seemed to come out of left field. Maybe I’ve been running a fever with the cold I’ve had all week. Maybe I was belatedly inspired by the Motorized Lego Yarn Winder I’d seen around blogland over a year ago. Whatever the reason, however, there was this notion, this answer bouncing around my head, to my swift-less existence. I even had the materials in the house to try it out Thursday.
Yup. Tinkertoys. Let’s not even get into why a childless couple has Tinkertoys in the house. (Okay, I’ll tell you – we may be childless, but Gryphon and I both personally appreciate toys, and have a specific fondness for building toys.)
Made from a Classic Jumbo Builder Set, the swift was quick and easy to put together. I don’t know how the size of the rods differs between the Jumbo Builder Set and the other Tinkertoy sets. I felt that the diameter of the rods in the Jumbo set worked well for the swift, though – they were sturdy enough to support the yarn without bending.
Here’s how I put mine together. I don’t know what all the parts are called, but it’s easy to look at my pictures and match them to what you have in your set.
I wanted a good, stable base, something that would prevent tipping, yet support a reasonable axle for the swift to turn on. I used four blue rods with end caps coming out of the edge of the connector, with a yellow rod sticking out of the center.
The three larger parts in that picture are pulleys and a spool, I think. Their point is to provide the spinning action, as well as to raise the height of the working arms up off the table. Tinkertoys don’t have ball bearings, and these parts were all designed to spin on a rod that’s inserted through their center hole.
I stacked the three on the yellow rod, and finished the top with an end cap. I made sure that a piece with four holes around the edge was at the top – this is where the arms of my swift will attach.
This is my arm assembly. The red rod is the upright peg that will hold the skein. The yellow rod with a connector on the end at the right will support the skein from beneath. The green rod on the left will fit into the top piece on the axle. If you look again at the picture of the fully assembled swift at the top of this post, you’ll see where that goes.
It’s really that simple, folks. And it gets even better – by varying the length of rods used on the arms, I can accommodate different sizes of skeins. I took measurements with the various colors in place – here were my findings, from shortest rod color to longest:
Yellow Rods: 26″ skein length
Blue Rods: 35″ skein length
Red Rods: 40″ skein length
Green Rods: 48″ skein length
Orange Rods: 68″ skein length
These are all based on placing the rod color specified where the green rod is shown in my photo of the arm assembly. Additional lengths can be made by combining two shorter rods together with yet another connector, and using them in place of a single color. For instance, by combining a blue and a yellow rod, I came up with a 57″ skein length. A little experimentation, and possibly even using two arms of one size, two of another, and the size possibilities are extensive.
Edited 3-7-07 to add: Telmah of Skyline Chilly reports that she wound a skein of Socks That Rock yarn with her Tinkertoy Swift. She combined three orange rods and one green one, and got a circumference of 63.5″, which was just perfect for the yarn. To keep the swift balance, she added an extra connector on the end of the green rod. If you want to see how it worked out, you can visit her post about it here. Thanks for the data, Telmah!
All well and good, you say. But does it work?
It held my 8 oz. skein of Cherry Tree Hill Merino Lace yarn (colorway “Martha’s Vineyard”, btw) quite well, with the green rods in place to hold a 48″ circumference.
The three spinning parts on the axle turned smoothly. If I use this regularly, I may consider lubricating them with a little graphite or something to reduce wear.
In very short order, that skein of yarn had been turned into this yummy yarn cake.
Best of all, storing this swift – as well as carrying it to knitting groups if I want – is going to be ridiculously easy. The whole thing breaks down into small parts that I can fit in a gallon-size zipper bag! Show me an umbrella swift that can do that!
Another great thing about using Tinkertoys, too – these are wooden parts that are intended for children to play with. As such, they are extremely smooth and well finished. Not a chance in the world that your yarn will catch on a rough spot!
Obviously, this wouldn’t be the right answer for someone who’s doing any large amount of yarn handling. But for the fiber artist who only occasionally needs the use of a swift, or who is on a budget, this could be a great solution. Especially if you already have them in the house for the kids, or can find them at a yard sale!
If you decide to give the Tinkertoy swift a try yourself, please post about it to your blog (if you have one), and leave me a comment or drop me an e-mail. I’d love to see how this works for others!