I have had a question about the scotch tension system on my spinning wheels for a while now. Because it is often mentioned in the same context as Irish tension, I always wondered if scotch tension had something to do with Scotland.
The fiber arts are full of terms and words that tack on cultural descriptors. While giving recognition to a group of people for their contribution to textiles is wonderful (eg. Icelandic sweaters), too often I’m learning that many of these cultural terms are inaccurate (eg. Navajo plying).
For this particular research project, I wanted to figure out where the term scotch tension came from and of course determine if it has anything to do with Scotland.
What is a Scotch Tension System?
My first clue that something was amiss had to do with the fact that all the antique Scottish spinning wheels I could find featured a double drive tension system. In contrast, scotch tension is a single drive system with the drive band connecting the drive wheel to a whorl that spins the flyer. This gives the fibers their twist. The scotch brake is placed over the bobbin to create drag. This drag is what allows the fibers to wind around the bobbin.
The spinning wheel in the picture above is my Vintage Ashford Traditional that I painted myself. You can see how I did it here!
Being unable to find an antique example of scotch tension on a Scottish spinning wheel doesn’t mean there never was one. It is actually very easy to convert a double drive wheel into a single drive, scotch tension system, so they may have existed. But if they did, they are now hard to find. I had a feeling that maybe there was a different meaning behind the term “scotch” that was different than the usage for “Scotch whisky.”
A Definition of Scotch
So I went to the dictionary where I found this…
scotch noun (3) Definition of scotch (Entry 6 of 7)
: a chock to prevent rolling or slipping
scotch verb (2) scotched; scotching; scotches Definition of scotch (Entry 7 of 7)
1: to block with a chock
And that is when it all made sense!
For a scotch tension to work on a spinning wheel, you must prevent the bobbin from turning at the same rate as the flier. You have to hinder or thwart it from rolling around as fast so the yarn will be able to fill the bobbin while you spin.
“Scotch tension” does not indicate that this tension system has something to do with Scotland. It is using a more archaic meaning of the word scotch to describe what the spinning wheel actually does.
So, do we capitalize scotch tension?
This means two things for me. First is that unless it starts the sentence, scotch tension should not be capitalized. And second, I need to figure out where Irish tension came from, because I have a feeling it might not have been Ireland.
If you want to know about the history of the Ashford Traditional spinning wheel’s iconic scotch tension system plus learn a few trouble shooting tips to help you spin better with your scotch tension wheel, you can watch this video!