The Knit Knack's Blog

Better living through fibre

Antique spinning wheels – in praise of the sub-herd

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A trio of restored antique wheels lives with us.

Antique flax saxony spinning wheels acquired in Canada

Flax wheels wave to the blog

Each has these features:  sloping-bench, three-legged, double-drive, screw-tensioned, treadled, flax loving.  They share the overall Saxony spinning wheel structure, and they work.  Apart from all coming to me right here in Ontario they have little else in common!

From late 19th-century Eastern Europe, Chela

Since my February 2012 post about this “not child’s play” painted wheel, several spinners have contacted me with their own strikingly similar examples.

Irieknit handspun linen yarn vintage Pennsylvania flax on antique spinning wheel

Last spun: linen yarn from vintage Pennsylvania flax

This is the finished combined 307 yards from two fingers of the vintage Pennsylvania line flax that I have from an eBay purchase.  It was wet-spun on Chela, and wet-plied on my Spinolution Mach 2 wheel at 10:1.

Bobbin and flyer on antique Eastern European flax spinning wheel

This wheel is useful, and has a beautifully gentle action for fine spinning.  She does need help for a safer peg system.

Although the back of the bobbin is badly chipped this does not affect the function.  Not every break needs major repair.  The pegs have held fairly well but do need attention.  Each flyer hole is a different size but it will be a minor repair for a wheelwright.

From early 19th-century Nova Scotia, signed Wm McDonald

The largest in the trio, this signed flax wheel is a rare one that is just beautifully made.

Restored antique Nova Scotia flax spinning wheel by William McDonald

Repaired & in good form, William McDonald wheel

Alvin Ramer quietly gave me better flyer hooks while he fixed the treadle at the end of October, 2014.  It is now restored to working condition.

Irieknit handspun silk buffalo cashmere yarn on antique McDonald Nova Scotia spinning wheel

Last spun; silk/buffalo/white cashmere blend

The celebratory lap was to seize my 50% silk; 25% buffalo; 25% cashmere batts from Sericin Silkworks, and give her a spin.  Record-breaking sustained cold this February was definitely a factor in the indulgence!

Irieknit handspun silk buffalo cashmere blend yarn on antique William McDonald flax spinning wheel

Fast but oh so soft spin!

Two batts weighed a total 2 oz/ 56g.  I tore strips, and with not another thought made the 189 yards of semi-woolen yarn.

The wheel passed my test for plying the yarn on her second ratio, so she is simply an all-round good example.  I am so happy to have this wheel!

The new Kid from the Ramers, Linley

This is the Oops!  In my defense, she came with 3 Ramer bobbins + a (partial) Ramer oak distaff.

Antique compact saxony style flax spinning wheel

Wheel no. 15, Ramer spinning wheel collection

I am still puzzling over this wheel – is she a low-Irish wheel as the Ramers suspect or is she a North American example?  Any tips will be appreciated, dear readers!

Antique saxony-style spinning wheel table with depression

Depression in the wheel’s table

To my (untrained & enthusiastic) eye, the depression in her table looks original .  Barbara Ann Ramer suggests that it would hold a water dish, perhaps tin.

For my spinning, the water will be kept away from the compact table but it is a good spot to park all manner of things!

Irieknit handspun yarn from silk caps on antique saxony spinning wheel

The inaugural spin, silk caps

The singles for this 618 yards were spun from 24 g of silk caps on my new antique saxony wheel.  I used my Watson Martha wheel in double drive to for plying.

Rear view of antique flax spinning wheel with water dish depression

Audience-side of Linley the flax wheel

When the previously strong take-up stopped on a dime, I discovered that the old flyer whorl (darker wood) was threaded.

Older posts in Ravelry fora gave solutions to hold friction, and I went in search of plumber’s tape.  I needed a combination with painter’s tape but it seems to be holding now.

Rear axle and drive wheel for antique saxony spinning wheel

Added concerns

A large but seemingly stable crack in the back wheel support is also of concern.  The wheel sits level on a leather bearing but its axle seems worn.  I am not sure if this will need additional professional work but have decided to ask for an assessment.

The spinning on these wheels has been a delight.  My hope is to keep them working as tools in my spinning practice, and to get back to the flax.

Space does not allow me to have a large collection but the trio makes an awesome sub-herd!

edit, December 4, 2015: Wheelwright, Reed Needles, notes that the treadle on this unsigned oak flax wheel, Linley, is cedar.  It points to Canadian & not Irish origins for this wheel.  See my update post of today for more!

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.

5 thoughts on “Antique spinning wheels – in praise of the sub-herd

  1. My bet is on low Irish

  2. Holy crap, those are beautiful!

  3. I hope to get my family slanty wheel repaired some day.

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