When You Want More Bobbins, Make Quills

A quill is simply a tube. It can be made of paper, cardboard, or wood. First, I’ll tell you how to make a paper quill, and then I’ll explain the important things to know about winding them to reduce backlash and prevent the weft from spilling over the ends and tangling. This post is taken from my book, Weaving & Drafting Your Own Cloth where there is extensive information on shuttles.

I use ordinary binder paper and start by folding it into quarters. The folding lets me cut the paper for 4 quills at once for some small shuttles I have. The length of the quills is important. They should never be so long that they almost fill the shuttle cavity. Make them no more than 2/3 of the length of the cavity, so they will unreel smoothly and not get hung up on the ends of the cavity and jerk the thread. The size of the paper oval at its mid-section is the length the quill will be. Your paper ovals don’t have to be perfectly shaped.

Starting with one of the short ends, begin winding it up on the winder’s spindle, as tight as you can, to start the tube.

Just before the paper is completely wound into a tube, take the end of the weft thread and tuck it into the paper as the last few rounds are made then, continue winding tightly so the yarn holds the quill’s tube shape. For good selvedges and to reduce backlash, the way you shape the weft yarn on the quill is crucial. Read on.

First, don’t make lumps on either end as you may have seen recommended. The lumps cause the quill to spin too fast, and we know sudden changes in speed of the bobbin causes backlash.

Instead, wind the layers flat. Make each layer shorter than the previous one. The first or bottom layer should only extend to within ½” of the ends of the quill to keep the yarn from falling off at the edges.

The final layers will be short and, in the middle, making a cigar or football shape. While winding the layers, crisscross diagonally each successive layer by moving the hand holding the yarn back and forth across the quill. Keep the spirals compact—like a slinky that is very slightly stretched. The secret: wind under very firm tension. Tight quills and bobbins unreel smoothly when they are as full as possible. The criss-crossing helps, too.

Remember never to wind yarn closer to the ends of the quill than ½”. If you do, you can be assured the yarn will slip off the ends and make huge tangles.

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