Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tool Talk - Schacht Company: Goko Swift

Not a book review, but a tool review this time - the Goko swift, made by Schacht in a traditional japanese design (and sold more or less only in the US).

I first found mention of this swift when looking for some better way to wind the very thin silk that Sabine dyed onto spools for storage and for sale. I have a normal, four-armed "umbrella" swift, but that just didn't work properly, even not when tuning it with an additional cardboard support strip for the silk to lie on. Unskeining these fine threads was not possible in a humane (and sensible) amount of time, and I was looking for alternatives. There was only one swift to be found on the Internet that was supposedly very well suited for fine, delicate threads - the Goko.

Now this swift is not the cheapest one to buy (around 130 USD), and shipping fees to Germany range between steep and outrageously expensive for such an item. But I was in luck - a travelling colleague brought one back to me, saving me the shipping costs. I unpacked and tested it yesterday, and here's what I think.

The swift consists of a wooden stand and a metal wheel with eight supports for the yarns, making it roundish instead of square as most swifts are. The wood part is quite solid, with a glossy varnish as finish, and marked with the Schacht company emblem. The two vertical support beams are slitted on top to take up the axle of the wheel.
The wheel, in contrast to the wood parts, does not have a good finish or solid feel. On my Goko, the "flanged core" was only half assembled, with one of the flanges off and quite bent. I do not know when or why this happened, due to the mode of shipping via "colleague-mail" meaning this went through several pairs of hands, but I had expected a more solid and better finished piece - the holes for the arms and the edges of the flange were not deburred, and I was not thrilled. Some gentle taps with a hammer soon took care of the bend in the second flange, and both the flange and the arms of the swift then were easy to install. However, the arms were not really perpendicular to the core, but instead seemed to be bent a little out of shape - making the whole wheel look slightly lopsided. I now had some doubts if buying the swift really had been a good move - so I proceeded to test it.

I took out a slightly mangled skein of very thin silk threads (why test with something easy, after all?) and put it on the swift. There was the next surprise in stock for me: The skein was too large, probably due to working with it on the previous swift, which might have lead to some stretching. I put it on anyway - since nothing can get caught in moving parts on that swift - and decided to give it a try.

And what shall I say? It worked beautifully. I unskeined the remaining silk with a few stops to untangle a bit, but compared to before, this was incredibly quick and easy. After all, I had stopped working with that skein before because it was almost impossible to unwind in a humane amount of time. The huge difference that the additional four arms of the swift and the wide support for the skein make is hard to describe and still make believable. The too-large skein, by the way, had quickly shrunk to Goko size without additional tangling. I tested it on a second silk skein, and it worked just as well again - so now I am convinced that for my uses, this swift was worth every penny. I had no yarn breakage due to sudden stops in spooling (with a spinning wheel set up for spooling with very light tension on the drive, so it slips with very little resistance), because both the wheel and the swift stopped at once whereas before, my wheel would stop but the swift would break the yarn.

That also is the upside of the very light quality of the metal parts: They are very light - so the actual working part of the swift seems to weigh almost nothing and turns very, very easily and with little resistance to abrupt stops (for example because there's a tangle in the skein). This swift really is very well suited for fine, fiddly yarns that are difficult to unskein. I haven't tested it with wool or other material yet, but I am quite sure it will work nicely as well.

So if you frequently wind yarns or threads that are on the thin and delicate side and give you trouble turning the corners of a normal umbrella swift, you might want to consider the Goko. It is not cheap, and it is not finished to craftspersons' delight in every last bit, but that does not take away from its functionality - and that, for fine threads, really is awesome. Proving again the old fact that good tools are important, and special tasks may need special tools to make success possible.

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