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!


Life Looms Large said...

That's great that you brought home another wheel, and with such an interesting history.

I remember when I bought my first loom, I thought "I'm not going to be one of those people who collects looms." I thought I knew myself!!


MurmuringWheel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MurmuringWheel said...

I don't believe you! There is always space......

Thanks for the link.

You have a lovely looking wheel there, hope you have it working order soon.

Sorry, don't know what happened to the first comment.

Helen said...

It is a lovely looking wheel and I have found the discussion about it on the Online Guild really interesting too. I know what a temptation a great wheel is -I love them and have long been tempted. You could always move out into a shed!

Janet said...

You could think about starting a spinning wheel museum.

Alison said...

Lovely. I enjoyed the discussion on the OLG forum, and it's great to see more detail here. what a beautiful wheel, with such thoughtful details! Love I and II especially. And the photo of you on the great wheel, too!

ladyoftheloom said...

What a lovely wheel. I have been haunting ebay recently, just looking I say to myself.

Meg in Nelson said...

It's an elegant piece, Dot. I'd say, keep this one, too.

thriftwizard said...

I have a very similar wheel, with the leather bearings much the same, but the two grooves in the whorl are very slightly different in diameter - not by much, though. The person I bought it from (a re-enactor who wanted it to remain in use) said it had been dated to the early 19th century by the style details (or lack of them!) & the type of wood used. Mine does have an original bobbin but just the one. Spins beautiful laceweight, effortlessly.

Leigh said...

What a lovely wheel! A work of art really and so fortunate to have found a home with you. I appreciate all the close-ups, very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Ron Antoine of Oregon is also an excellent source. I have seen him make bobbins for wheels that were even more beautiful then the originals and they worked just as well. -Catherine

Barbara Blundell said...

Hi Dorothy,
Thanks for most fascinating post Looks like an interesting project Hope you are soon able to get everything fixed and in working order
You look quite at home with the Big Wheel !

Rascal said...

Hee hee hee. That's what draperies are made for, kitty play! And I must say that your spinning wheel looks much better with a Cat sitting next to it.

deborahbee said...

I found your wheel photos fascinating.My old wheel is very similar. i am preparing a post which I have takn photos of the wheel parts to compare with yours. It should be ready for post tomorrow.

ra said...

Beautiful wheel there Dot, lovely detailing on it. Good photo's too. Hope you get it going soon and enjoy spinning on it.

Artis-Anne said...

Oh I did see it on E-Bay as I love old wheels but sadly no room in our small cottage. I am so glsd to see it has gone to a good home and whata beauty it is. I hope you will soon be spinning on it :)

Elizabeth said...

I found your site while looking for looking for pictures to try to identify a wheel I bought just last week- and it is exactly the same. Only mine has been painted blue with some red accents. I am in Seattle, and bought it from a non-spinner who inherited it from her Aunt who lived in Virginia and said that it was a "Shaker" wheel. However, I cannot find any Shaker wheels like it and suspected it may be Scandinavian. It is the same as yours even down to the "one" and "two" grooves on blocks and pegs holding the larger wheel axle in place. It came with three original bobbins and works like a charm after some cleaning a oiling. I wasn't able to find any info on this wheel on the historical site you mentioned, would you mind sharing anything more about it's origin? I can send you pictures too- Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

I have one of these in my living room from my great or maybe even great-great Norwegian grandmother. I'm assuming it's from the 1800s, as it looks almost exactly like that in the photos.

My question is: the initials on the front of it say "OR"; does anyone know what that could stand for, or which company could have made this or...?

Thanks a lot,
my email is

Anonymous said...

I have an old piece of equipment that perhaps was used to make thread, floss or yarn. Can you help me identify it?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your "Dryad Handicrafts" wheel.

Dorothy said...

Dear anonymous,
this is not one of the spinning wheels that Dyrad imported and put their badge on. I am not yet sure whether it is one of the wheels of same design from same source imported by Frank Herring & Sons - need to check this out with David Herrring.

The Dryad wheels were all fitted with metal plates bearing the Dryad name, this not only has no plate, it also has no marks of the sort that would have been made to fit the plate.

Willington Weaver said...

Hi Dot
I've got a similar wheel, apparently build at the turn of the 20 century (this is know, because it was sold off when our local collage amalgamated with the University and had bee brought new when the college opened). I also know someone who has one too, but her's has less notches on the end and is believed to be younger. This person thought that when each new wheel was build it had an additional notch.

The only other place I've seen one is in one of Patricia Baines books.


Web Marketing Maven print LESS..REACH more. said...

I just brought home a wheel much like this and stumbled upon your blog while searching for info on replacing the leathers. Do you think you ight be able to help me connect with the whorl/flyer/bobbin maker?

Thank you

Dorothy said...

Sent by email but also posting here for the benefit of others:

Congratulations on your new spinning wheel. Where in the world are you? If you are in the UK there are several spinning wheel repairs listed on this web page, including Mike Williams.

If you are in the USA as you use of English suggests then if you sign up to Ravelry and join the Antique Spinning Wheels group they have a page listing spinning wheel repairers.

Darren Griffiths said...

hi gys i am in south africa and busy restoring a spinning wheel almost exactly the same as the pics only thing missing is the piece from the wheel to the foot pedal if possible could some one measure one and send me a pic and measurments so ican make one my email add is thanks ladies look forward to ur response

Sue Scheller said...

Hi I have an almost identical wheel that came from an adult ed collegewhere I used to teach spinning & weaving ..Mine is a dryad that I had sympathetically repaired by a guy who researched the history etc and even managed to get in touch with someone who had worked with them..even down to using 'fish glue' for the joints..She's in great condition although I must say although she spins well I don't really use her much as I tend to prefer my Kromski Sonata if you'd like happy to share photos.i will have a look but I don't think there are any idetifiing marks...