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Your Drive Band

drive band

A couple of days ago I posted a photo of an old drive band on the floor and just mentioned that I was changing the drive band on my spinning wheel. I was surprised at how many people were interested in that drive band. There were plenty of questions. So I thought that I might as well do a post all about drive bands and what I do about them.

Over the years, I have tried lots and lots of cotton for drive bands. I’ve tried hemp too but it never was my favorite though others love it. I don’t like a lot of take up when I spin and in double drive hemp seems to me to have a bit more drag than cotton.

Most of my wheels have several drive bands always attached to them. When they aren’t in use they just kind of hang there in a loose knot around the wheel upright.

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Those are some dusty treadles. I guess I’ll wipe them off when I get done with this post.

Anyway, the reason I have several drive bands is for different whorl sizes and also for different yarns. Thinner drive bands are better for spinning fine yarns and thicker drive bands are better for thicker yarns. This holds true no matter if you are spinning in double drive or Scotch Tension.

We talk a lot about drive bands and break bands in my class called Spinning for Lace – or Spinning Fine Yarns or whatever I’m calling it now. The reason this is such a conversation is because when you buy a spinning wheel it comes with the drive band/break band made from a material and thickness that the manufacturer/wheel builder thinks works best for the widest range of yarns. So, really, those bits of string work best right in the middle range of yarns. If, however, you want to spin a really thick yarn or a very fine yarn then some experimenting might be in order.

The drive bands I’m talking about here are what have worked well for me and my purposes and also have made lots of my spinning students smile. I’m not saying that they are the absolute best for every single wheel out there.

So, I have three yarns that are my go-tos. The first is one that I have been recommending for ages is carpenter’s chalk line. It’s not actually cotton, it’s rayon. I’ve used it for so long because it’s cheap and it works. I generally get it at the hardware store for around $2.00. One hundred feet (30 meters) is enough for at least 5 drive bands for my 30 inch Schacht ReevesIrwin-StraitLinereg--Replacement-Lines-GG471-ba

That’s what it looks like if you are interested in trying it.

I have used it for all of the yarns that I spin, but I will tell you that I rarely spin any yarn that ends up being thicker than light worsted weight and those are usually a 3 ply yarn so the singles look pretty thin while I am spinning them.


Since I have taken up crocheting a little I have noticed that size 3 crochet thread (pictured above) looks to be about the same thickness as this chalk line and has a bit more twist. The chalk line stretches plenty over the life of the drive band and so I am now wondering if the crochet cotton might be a better choice. I know it will be a tad more slippery because it is mercerized but that may make it easier to get the lighter take up I like.  On  the other hand, it might be a little more difficult to get everything spinning. I don’t really know. I have big plans to try it out on my 30″ wheel and my Matchless and see what happens. If it works then I will be able to choose from lots of colors! I’ll get back to you.

seine twine

My other go to drive band material (pictured above) is called Seine Twine (pronounced sane). It historically is for fishing nets from what I can tell. weavers love it because it is very strong and makes great warp for rug weaving. I have 2 sizes that I like. Size 9 and size 12. The size 12 is finer at 1260 yards per pound and the size 9 at 750 yards per pound. I generally buy mine from Jane Stafford but other shops carry it too.  The yarn from Jane comes in one pound cones which might be a little much for you. You could always get together and split it with your spinny friends.

I almost always choose the finer one but like to keep the heavier size around just in case.  You can see the tight twist. It really works well and has a bit of grip. It is a bit stretchy but that’s what happens with cotton and it isn’t as stretchy as the chalk line.

I love the seine twine on my Matchless but the 30 inch doesn’t like it for all spinning. It depends on what yarn I am spinning whether I choose it. Mostly because for finer yarns I am looking for more slippage and this doesn’t necessarily give me the lightest take up I want for those very fine to gossamer size yarns.

Some people have asked me about butcher’s string. I don’t like it. It’s too thick. If you want to try it then go ahead. it’s a cheap thing to try and working with different drive bands might help you get even more familiar with your wheel.

So there are my materials. Stay tuned  for next week’s post because the next one will be about how I tie the bands on and how I decide to change drive bands.

16 Responses so far.

  1. Lorette says:

    Thanks for posting this. I might try the rayon chalk line instead of the cotton band I’m using now. I’ve sort of hit a wall with how fine I can spin, this might help.

  2. SallyT says:

    The burning question for me is deciding when to change the drive band. I’m still pretty new to this game. I can anticipate the answer will be “it depends.”

    Maybe I’m just looking for an answer to the question, “how do I know if my driveband is worn out?”

  3. Dianna says:

    So timely. I just had 2 beginning spinners in this morning and we ended up replacing both of their drive bands and it made a huge difference to both wheels. We take the drive band for granted sometimes.

  4. Maria says:

    Thank you for sharing this information . I have not tried it yet. But like you I love lace. All kinds of lace. Now I am working on Irish Lace. I am knitting lace, Getting the perfect yarn for lace has been a challenge. My dream is to knit a lace shaw tat I can pass through a ring.
    If I can spin Finer lace then I do now, I would be very happy.
    Any additional info you could pass on would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Jennier says:

    I’ve was wrestling with the drive band on my Reeves 30″ Saxony and then read your post. Thank you Beth. I broke out some very fine crochet cotton, made myself a very light drive band, and I’m happily spinning fine yarn. Speaking of which, any thoughts about following up your book with a video class?

  6. Verena says:

    My question is how tight do I tie my drive band and what is best knot to join it.

    • Beth says:

      Less tension is always better when tying. With Scotch Tension you only need enough tension to make everything move. With double drive, everything needs to move and there should be a tiny bit of take up – which actually naturally happens if everything is moving and there is a difference in diameter between your Flyer and Bobbin whorls.
      I generally tie my bands using a surgeon’s knot.

  7. Eve Starr says:

    Thank you a zillion times over! Super informative. Keep it coming, because what’s obvious to you may be a revelation to new spinners.

  8. Johanna McDonald says:

    Thanks. I have an Ashford Traditional, and this one is truly tradional as its quite old. I am new to spinning and have wondered about the knot on the driveband as it does a small bump as it goes around. I think because it’s really old, it might be slipping too. I inherited the wheel from a client. It had belonged to het mother in law who passed away years ago. So it’s old but I don’t know how old.

    • Beth says:

      Try a thinner string if you don’t like the bump. Also, as far as slipping goes, a string that grips more will help. Sometimes just a new band will help with slippage.

  9. Marcia Bull says:

    I have an old great wheel that spins well, but the drive band stops running through. I will try some of your suggestions, but in the meantime any other thoughts?

  10. Tatiana says:

    Thanks, this is great information. If I may ask, why is a thick drive band better for thick yarns and a fine better for fine yarns? Does it have something to do with take up?

    I ask because I am a new spinner and have been having a bit of a problem. It seems like no matter what I do, I get WAY too much twist in my yarn. If I adjust the brake band to slow down the bobbin and get less twist (using much more tension than the manufacturer seems to recommend on my Ashford Traditional, with the springs quite extended), the yarn goes in way too fast.

    I’m not sure what to do. Would a different kind of drive band make a difference?

    • Beth says:

      I’m so sorry! I forgot to answer you.
      If you are spinning in Scotch Tension, the drive band will have some affect on your spinning but not as much as it does if you have a double drive wheel.
      I hope by now you have figured out your tension probles but they seem to be problems that every new spinner has. My best advice for you is to spin next to someone who already knows how and get them to help. Spinning can be a bugger to learn just by words and by your self.
      The second advice is to let the yarn go. Don;t expect your wheel to take it from you. Give it to the wheel. You are in control, not the wheel. And turn down the tension.
      I’m not sure where you live but I’m sure there are spinners or a guild near you.

  11. James Duxbury says:

    I am trying to find the string known in the cotton mills as Jinny bant ?
    Was used to drive the spindles on a spinning Jenny .can anyone help?
    Thank you .

  12. James Duxbury says:

    Please E mail a reply .

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