The Knit Knack's Blog

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From their heart: The Ramer spinning wheel collection

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Last Thursday, after a big detour of the Mapquest misdirection kind, I arrived in one piece at the Ramers’ home for my appointment.  It was a fantastic visit starting with the warm greeting from Rev. Barbara Anne at her front door to me, the previously lost spinner.

The well-lit room contained the most spinning wheels that I have ever seen much less beautiful antique spinning wheels.  My friend was spot-on when she confirmed for me that the Ramer collection still had flax wheels!

William McDonald antique saxony Canadian spinning wheel Alvin Ramer collection

Wheel number thirteen

Having walked the room and gathered my thoughts, she was the first wheel that I took down to sit at.  Wheel number thirteen was included in the collection catalogue, and the note under, ‘Spinning Comments,’ rang true:

This is a smooth spinning wheel.

When I later mentioned this to Barbara Anne, she laughed saying, “Those are the words straight from my mouth!”  I am lucky to have this wheel, and a copy of her 3 pages from the collection’s catalogue.  The note under ‘Distinguishing Features‘ also landed squarely in my brain.  It says, in order of the image captions:

Treadle of William McDonald antique Canadian saxony spinning wheel Alvin Ramer collection

“The footpiece is fastened to the treadle with wooden pegs.”

In taking this photo, I noticed the etched star motif on the back support of the treadle.  It looks like simple lines from a penknife, and the rest of the wheel is elegantly turned and constructed.   The feel of the broad, worn treadle is fantastic underfoot.

Drive wheel of antique Nova Scotia saxony spinning wheel maker William McDonald Alvin Ramer collection

“The Wheel sections are fastened together with wooden pegs.”

The drive wheel is 20 ¼” in diameter with 14 spokes in 4 rim segments.  It has one wide rim groove and spins true.  The heft of this hardwood drive wheel is exactly what I was hoping for in a flax wheel.  In comparison, my P. Cadorette CPW has a 29 ½” wheel diameter.

Table, audience-view antique Nova Scotia saxony spinning wheel maker William McDonald Ramer collection

“There is a decorative bead around two sides and rear of the table. The front of the table is bevelled.”

Provenance in short form for wheel number thirteen

We know from her makers mark that she was made by a Scottish settler in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in the 1820s – 1830s.

Makers mark William McDonald antique saxony Nova Scotia spinning wheel

Makers mark: W. M.Dld. (McDonald)

The presumed maker is William McDonald as identified in the catalogue sheets by Keith MacGillivary.  In searching, I discovered that Mr. Ramer’s Nova Scotia wheels were featured in the July 2004 issue of Spinning Wheel Sleuth magazine.  I would love a copy of this issue!  The sheet simply says that it was purchased in August 2001 from Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia.

Flyer detail antique saxony Nova Scotia spinning wheel maker William McDonald

Pie-crust orifice fluting

One frustration in spinning flax on my small Eastern European flax wheel has been its large orifice.  This wheel controls the fine single, and I was thrilled to see the fluting on the inside of the orifice.

That screw-tension double drive wheels were even being made by several wheelwrights in Nova Scotia in this period is remarkable.  The report, “Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels in Perspective:  an Analytical Approach”  says that the 1759 expulsion of the Acadians from Atlantic Canada, “curtailed most of the early spinning traditions of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia…” (p. 265).

Ontario was not producing any wheels of this type at the time (ibid, p. 275).  This wheel must have stayed in Nova Scotia until the turn of this century.  Now nearing 200 years of age she is restored, oiled, and in another immigrant spinner’s home.

Antique saxony Nova Scotia spinning wheel spinner's view William McDonald maker Alvin Ramer collection

Beautiful twin maidens!

Click reel for the new weaver in me

Around the time of helping me select this working click reel from the collection, Barbara Anne answered my deep thanks for the sale being open for us spinners.  It was a moment of being alone in the collection, and she met my eyes saying simply, “It is what we wanted.  We had offers to buy the collection whole.  It is our heart. ”

 

Blue painted antique wood click reel yarn winder weasel

Pop! goes the weasel!

The vertical reel stood out among her peers from across the room.  It is all 1 piece with a handle for winding the yarn.  The wound skein is removed by bending the knee of the one jointed windmill arm.

Painted blue wood antique click reel winding yarn gear detail

Inner workings

Behind her pretty front blue skirt is the also-painted wood gear and worm mechanism.  Once the metal pin on the small lower gear rotates fully, it slaps a long piece of thin wood & pop!  I jump every time.

Chip carved edging of table on antique blue painted wood click reel yarn winding weasel

Pretty as a pie-crust, chip carved reel table

As if this is not enough excitement for one humble tool, her tripod platform has even pie-crust chip carving and a front bead.  Also overflowing with excitement was me last week!

Best cakes from lovely cousins!

Coded candles  

The sale has been precipitated by family issues for the Ramers.  I was very happy to meet Alvin, Barbara Anne, and their friend, Rosemary.  It is a big transition but Barbara Anne asked me to let spinners know that Alvin wants to resume his wheel repair work as soon as possible.

My hopes for the awesome circa 1820s Atlantic Canada wheel are simple – I want to spin flax.

Antique Pennsylvania line flax dressed on a distaff

A flaxen future perhaps

These are more than tools for that goal though.  They come in my 5th year as a spinner, my 1st year as a weaver, and shortly after becoming Canadian.  I am honoured to have such well restored artifacts to work with, and the good wishes of an expert flax spinner, Rev. Barbara Anne Ramer.

Bloodgood Japanese maple sapling crown

Also setting down roots

Well, friends, 5 years makes a habit and that is my new answer for, “How many spinning wheels do you have now?”

Author: iriegemini

Lara is originally from Jamaica, living in the Greater Toronto Area with N, and a cat, Melvin. She knits, spins, weaves, and is a chatterbox on all of the above. Lara's journey began as a young girl with her Grandmother's cross-stitch embroidery stash & blessing.

4 thoughts on “From their heart: The Ramer spinning wheel collection

  1. I have a spinning wheel that is old. It has bent square head nails on the twin flyers. It also has twin maidens.
    It is missing the wood crank that goes from the treadle to the wheel. I want to restore it, but I have no idea how it would work.
    I would like to send you a photo of it and maybe you can tell me more about it and what else it might be missing. I have never seen a twin wheel before.

    • Congratulations on your wheel! The name of the crank is ‘conrod,’ sometimes referred to as a footman & replacing that is an easy fix. The Antique Spinning Wheels group on Ravelry is a great place to ask about restoring & using your wheel. They also have an up-to-date list of Wheel Restorers who take consultations in the US & Canada. Reed Needles is who I would recommend.

  2. My great grandad is William McDonald. (My mums grandad) I was told of his great talent but only now for some reason have I investigated his name. I am shocked and so proud of what I have found. My great grandad was a very talented man. My uncle has a chair that William carved. It’s amazing to say the least. My nana Kathleen Marshall passed away a few years back. It was her that told me of his talent. He lived with her and her children (my mum) when her husband passed after the war from cancer. I didn’t realise how special he was. I would love to have one of his creations to pass on to my daughter when I go. Just to have a family air loom would be so treasured. Please keep my details on the off chance you have no need for it anymore. Thank you for looking after it with great pride. I loved reading your blog.

    • Thank you so much for contacting, and sharing your family’s history! I am very glad that you enjoyed reading the posts on our blog, and seeing that one of your great granddad’s wheels is keeping a spinner’s hands very happy! I would love to hear more of the history about your family’s wheelwrights & textile work if your searches reveal more.

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