Friday, 27 November 2009

Antique Spinning Wheel

I really have no space left now for anymore weaving or spinning equipment, and one or two spinning wheels (of 5) may have to go. But I think I'll be keeping this one:

This elegant wheel was advertised on ebay, and to my astonishment no-one else bid and I got it for the starting price, which had probably been set too high too attract general interest. Maybe also a rural location and need to collect put some people off, maybe people didn't buy because they didn't know what it was.

I've noticed that incomplete or ornamental wheels do not sell well. This was not advertised as incomplete, but nor was it described as working with bobbins, lazy kate, carders and other things spinners look for. It was not in working order. The bobbin sold with it was recently made, probably by someone who didn't know about spinning wheel bobbins, had warped and split and would not turn on the shaft.

Nevermind, I know where to find people who know about spinning wheels and will turn new bobbins. There are Joan and Clive at the Woodland Turnery in Wales, who bought the Timbertops spinning wheel business, and also do restoration work, and there is also Michael Williams of Sheffield. As Michael is nearer to me, we met up at a Peak District cafe and discussed the wheel and bobbins. He has a few other jobs to complete first (no wonder! have you seen the beautiful things in his catalogue? and Christmas coming up...) but when he has time he is going to make a prototype for me to test.

Here is a photo of the bonny little flyer on this wheel, I say little as the 7 hooks on each flyer arm (all perfect other than slight surface rust) are spaced over just 6.5 cm.

For comparison, my Ashford Traveller has 5 hooks in 8.5 cm, and my 2006 Timbertops Leicester has 8 hooks over 9.5 cm. This suggests my antique wheel was intended for spinning fine yarns, and the large 25" diameter drive wheel, and flyer whorl that gives 12 flyer turns to 1 turn of the wheel, suggest it is intended for wool (old flax wheels generally are much smaller diameter drive wheels, putting less twist in the yarn).

Searching around on the internet, and consulting the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers (several members of this Guild in various countries are spinning wheel experts) it turned out that this style of wheel was built in Norway and Sweden in the 1800s. There are various examples of the wood - which is a top quality (slow grown) pine - being painted in bright colours. This wheel, however, has only ever had a wax finish, and the colour maybe due to using a coloured wax or just to the dirt of ages.

Here are the near perfect flyer hooks:
This shows the funny little bobbin the wheel came with, such a bad fit I don't think it can have been a copy of an older bobbin, and the shaft had warped so it was unable to turn on the flyer.

this picture also shows the flyer whorl, although you will see this better in another photo further on. The flyer whorl is unusual, it has two grooves (that's not unusual) of identical diameter (very unusual, but not unique). My Online Guild friends had seen this on a few other wheels, some antique, all having a Scottish or Scandinavian heritage, all handbuilt.

We don't know why they are like this, but do know there is evidence that many wheel builders copied old designs without questioning why a thing was done a certain way. We also have heard from Liz Lovick, an expert on Shetland spinning (& knitting) and very knowledgeable about the wheels made in the Scottish isles, that some wheels made there run better with two separate drive bands, rather than a double looped double-drive band. Was this flyer design meant to be driven by two separate drive bands? The flyer whorls line up directly with the grooves on the drive wheel. If so, what about the bobbin, did it not have a drive band? Possibly not.

In Patricia Baines book "Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning" on page 80 there is a photo of a system for driving and braking the bobbin she calls "bobbin drag". This works the same as this system used on Ashford wheels and called Scotch Tension in modern parlence. The flyer is driven by the drive band from the drive wheel, but the bobbin turns with the flyer (not driven by drive band) but under control of a brake band that runs upwards to a thread tied between the maidens. In another variation, Patricia Baines says a stick was sometimes used between the maidens.

I looked closely at my wheel, and there is no sign of any bobbin brake like this being used, I expect my wheel has always been worked with a double drive band around the flyer whorl and the bobbin whorl, but the way the wheel is built may incorporate design used on older Scottish tension wheels.

Now for something different, this spinning wheel is in some respects plain (the spoke and leg turnings are not fancy) but has elegant details, such as the shaping on the treadle:

Below is the linkage between treadle and the footman (yes I am going to replace the tatty shoe lace! I will use leather.)

The tops of the maidens resemble finely turned chess pieces:

In this photo you see looking into the picture from the foreground to the back:
the top of footman,
which is hooked over a curved metal crank,
the upright supporting the wheel with a wooden edge pegged in place (removeable for oiling the bearing),
and the wheel hub and spokes.

Do you see on the wooden wedge, at the height the peg goes through, a single deep cut into the wood of the wedge and the upright. a marker like no. I seen on it's side? On the other side of the wheel there is a marker II, ensuring that if you take both wedges out you put them back on the side they were designed to fit.

This is a view from the other side of the wheel:

.. and here are wedge and peg II (see on the right hand side of the wedge for the marks):

... and the upright it fits into. Note also here the hardwood bearing under the wheel axle (my modern Timbertops wheels use a brass bearing under the axle and a leather wedge). If a bearing like this is kept well oiled it will last longer than sealed ball bearings used on many modern wheels, and run as smoothly. Regular oiling of moving parts is the secret of good spinning wheel care.

This next photo shows the double flyer-whorl clearly, but I took it to show the leather bearing for the flyer, the first I have seen on a spinning wheel that is wrapped around the shaft this way. The maiden holding this bearing is fixed in place (using a wooden peg, the same as most of the fixed joints in this wheel).

At the front maiden, the bearing leather is a different way around. Both leather bearings were very dry, but otherwise in very good condition.

Simple but attractive details on the top of the table and screw adjuster for the mother-of-all (on which the maidens holding the flyer sit):

That is to say attractive apart from the damage to the wood on the left. There are a few places where the wood has suffered recent damage. I hope to rub them down, stain and wax so they are less noticeable.

Whose spinning wheel did I say it was? Mine? Someone else has claimed an interest.

Phoebe, who lies things to sit under, especially if they are wooden and smell interesting.

After I took the first photo you saw of the wheel, I left my linen sampler hung over the back of the loom. A mistake on my part, but fun for cats. Annie, our little black cat spotted the possibilities and invited Pheobe to play. You can't see Annie, she's hiding from Phoebe and us but hitting the cloth every now and again, and Pheobe trys to find where she is.


p.s. those of you I haven't met in person can spot me trying out Diane Fisher's great wheel on her blog write up of the Black Sheep Spinner's first meeting. Diane, I definitely have no space for a great wheel now!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


My Mike Crompton Band Loom has a new tension block in place and I'm weaving a trial band, this is the new block -
It's longer, and a better fit in the width than the original -

With a warp on the loom and the tension wound up tight, there is minimal sideways twist now,

We are also testing a guide plate on the side of the block, to counteract the tendency it had to tip forwards under tension, if it works this will get replaced with a smarter piece of wood that will extend behind (as well as before) the peg.

I'm also testing out a new bobbin. This is based on a bobbin photographed in the Swedish book I mentioned before,"Weaving Bands" by Liv Trotzig and Astrid Axelsson. You can see a similar bobbin used in this video by skapaegna on YouTube. This prototype is made from a scrap piece of Sycamore wood, using a spoke shave. (We'd like a woodturning lathe, but have no where to put one at the moment!)

I was going down with a cold on Friday when I wound this warp, and although I tried to follow a warping diagram I managed to make it asymmetrical, the main error was that the pale strip on one side is a blue thread and on the other side lavender, I quite like the result.

Here's a couple more links for band weavers, Laverne on her backstrap loom has uses selvedge techniques that are useful for band weavers, see the videos in her Weavezine article, and Ruth McGregor has a video demonstrating much the same method on YouTube.


I've also been enjoying testing out the latest addition to my collection of spinning wheels. This is a trusty, dependable little Ashford Traveller of which I am the third owner. My first spinning wheel, an Ashford Traditional, went to a new owner a couple of years ago, and I have often recalled wistfully how easy it was to use for anything I wanted to spin, how easy to carry and what an honest, simple design.

This wheel is a few years old, but has seen little use and is in beautiful condition. I particularly wanted a single treadle wheel and they are no longer available new from Ashford. I love the way I can carry it about with one hand, and it is the only wheel I have had which fits beautifully in the boot of my small Fiat car - it lies down flat behind the seats and I don't have to dis-assemble it at all, although it needs wrapping up and tucking in snug with a bit of packaging for safe travel. As I found that the Majacraft Suzie Alpaca was no lighter nor easy to carry than the Timbertops wheels, I'm particularly pleased to have a Traveller.

The cotton tape dangling from the tension knob holds the original Ashford threading hook. I think it would look prettier hanging from a new inkle band, maybe orange and red threads to match the rich colouring of the varnished Beech. wood?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Inkle weaving news

I did eventually got a warp onto my Mike Crompton inkle loom. It's actually easier and quicker to warp up than the smaller Ashford inkle loom, because it's less fiddly. I can stand next to it and wind the warp as easily as using a warping board. I also found it comfortable to sit at for weaving, and light enough to move from one room to another depending where I want to work.

The photo in my previous post about this loom did not show this hand tray in the loom's frame.

While winding the warp, I found it more convenient to hang my scissors from the front of the loom tray. I think I should weave a band for them to hang from as my next project!

The next photo shows my current favourite band weaving tools. For weaving a narrow band I used a Schacht 10" stick shuttle, and my favourite cake knife as a beater. I know many weavers use the shuttle to beat, but I prefer a separate shuttle. I'm not sure why this works better for me, possibly because I use both hands equally and I know not everyone does, partly because I use the beater to open a sticky shed and this is easier if it doesn't have thread wound around it.

When I came to weave a wider band I found that the cake knife was too small, so I used the cardboard bobbin (a cut down boat shuttle bobbin that I can wind on my mechanical bobbin winder) and used the Schacht shuttle as beater.

After the first warp, I made the small addition to my loom of a drawing pin in the end of the first peg. I can catch the thread behind when I start to wind a warp loop, and as the pin is angled it sits securely and I can pick it up when the loop is complete to tie a knot. I don't use continuous warps because I found that the warp waste is increased when a loop that doesn't pass through the heddles becomes one that does.

This photo shows part of the tension device - a peg set into a block that winds along a nylon screw (you can see the screw on the right of this picture).
The knob for adjusting the tension is under the tray.

I like the fine adjustment that is possible with this device, however, I have woven two bands now and unfortunately found a problem. The block that the tension peg sits in is loose in it's channel and also 1mm narrower at one end than the other. With the high warp tension needed for inkle weaving, the force on the peg pulls the block sideways, so the peg is then at an angle which means the outer threads are looser than those near the frame. When I wove my second band (approx 2" wide) this was more noticeable than on the narrow band, and so for a temporary fix I used a plastic plant label to wedge in the gap (left side of the block), and a rubber band on the end of the peg to stop the warp loops slipping off when I slackened the tension to wind on.

Fortunately we happen to have a suitable piece of mahogony wood that can be used to make a better fitting block for the peg. It will be longer and have guides to keep it straight in the frame, so this loom is in the workshop for now.

Here is the warp plan for the first band off the loom, and the band itself shown below Once again, I was using linen and linen mix yarns from GTM Sales.

I was interested to discover that I get about 20-25 cm loom waste, which is actually the same as on my Ashford loom. This is how close I can get to the heddles at the end of the warp, I estimate that's 10cmmore than if I used continuous warp threads.

To finish the ends of a narrow band I stitched the weft back through the last couple of rows of weaving.

I have found that the ends of the wider band need a bit more attention, such as over stitching the end or tying knots to make tassles in the warp ends.

The band below was one I wove before on the Ashford loom, but as I wanted to weave another band with a similar design, and I hadn't made an acurate warp diagram, I had to go back to it, count the threads and draw the pattern out. I need to be more systematic about my inkle bands and keep good records if I want to repeat things!

Based on that, here's the plan for the second band off the Mike Crompton loom:

I'm really pleased witht he way the pattern worked. The same evening it came off the loom this band went into service as a dressing gown belt.

Having discovered that I really enjoy weaving narrow bands, and with the challenge of my new Henning Loom, I decided it was time I joined The Braid Society. I was able to go along to their A.G.M. in Manchester a couple of weeks ago to attend the afternoon talk and deliver my membership application in person. It's an international society and the list of members has various people whose names I know as experts who have written books.

Their biennial exhibition was on at the same venue as the A.G.M. and I saw some stunning pieces of work, I'm not sure if I am more inspired or challenged by them, but one thing is certain, I need to keep practicing and get my edges neater. I do want to improve my basic band weaving skills before I start using the Henning Band Loom for fancy patterned work.

My Braid Society membership pack arrived in yesterday's post, and I wore my new badge all day long! I'm enjoying reading the newsletter, Strands magazine, and bundle of information about the society and it's members. They have an online discussion list enabling all the international members to participate, so maybe I'll learn some tips for improving my edges.

Yes the floor loom is sitting by neglected, I'm having to do exercises to strengthen my feet and ankles before I warp up again, but weaving a few bands and indulging in weaving books are keeping me amused. I'll tell you about the books another day, there's a small library on the floor around my sofa and I have plenty of thoughts for book reviews.