Do spinners and cosmologists have something in common?

It seems that perhaps they do.

If spinners twist yarn in one direction, clockwise or anticlockwise, we find it is twisted in the same direction if we come at it from the other end. Experienced spinners know that if you spin your yarn clockwise (giving it what we call a Z twist) and then wind it onto a storage bobbin, the new outer end will also show a Z twist, and it can be plied anticlockwise (S twist) without just adding more twist and making corkscrews. Can you see that both ends of the yarn on this storage bobbin twist the same way, like the downstroke of a Z?

The photo should enlarge if clicked on, but in case that doesn’t work for you, here is a closeup of the ends showing their twist better.

But don’t panic; we have worked hard to tell the story at a simple level that I can understand. And believe me, my level of physics understanding is very low indeed.

After many years working for a research department, my husband retired – not, as he puts it, from doing physics, just from being paid for it. Now he can spend his time researching anything that interests him, such as the characteristics of matter and energy.

He says that a fundamental particle of matter is a bit like our twisting yarn. It rotates in a constant direction, clockwise or anticlockwise, as it moves through space and time. The movement combined with the rotation can be represented as a twist, or in the language of physics, a helix.

Like spun yarn, a helix is seen to rotate in the same direction, no matter which end it is viewed from. If it’s rotating clockwise the helix is called right-handed (just as you normally start your drive wheel turning to the right) and if it’s rotating anticlockwise it’s called left-handed (the direction we normally ply).

The constant direction of rotation, seen as the helix rotates away from you (no matter which end you’re looking from) is called its intrinsic chirality, or handedness.

But there’s a subtlety that becomes important for cosmology.

Fundamental particles come in different types – protons, electrons and so on – and each type has an opposite number called an antiparticle. A particle and its antiparticle are exactly the same in most ways, but if a particle and its antiparticle meet they destroy each other, usually leaving behind nothing but some electromagnetic radiation.

Physicists generally think of an antiparticle as an equivalent to its particle but moving backwards (from our point of view) in time. And books and articles often say that the antiparticle’s chirality is opposite to that of its equivalent particle.

If you look at a left-handed helix (or some plyed yarn) and imagine you are a particle travelling away from you through time, you will find yourself going around anticlockwise. Try following the path of the blue-green wool –

But now imagine your particle self walking backwards from the far end, along the same way you went – it will feel as though you are going around clockwise.

Now try again from the far end – this time, turn yourself around and come back frontwards and it will be just as it is with the plyed yarn. From either end, you are going anticlockwise.

The authors of those books and articles are not thinking about the motion from the point of view of the antiparticle, which is travelling through time in the opposite direction from them. Their future is its past. They are seeing it coming towards them from their future as though they were walking backwards with it. So what they feel they see is a right-handed helix. But the right-handedness is not intrinsic to the antiparticle.

Trying to explain this clearly, Fred was experimenting with lengths of wire that had been wound around a cylinder. He discovered that if he did two the same, both clockwise for example, they could mesh nicely together. But one clockwise and one anticlockwise could not mesh or work together in any way. This is something I gather will be relevant as he continues developing the topic.

Right now, he just wants to make it clear that equivalent particles of matter and antimatter have the same handedness, whether you see them coming or going. He devised a diagram, with a helix at its heart, and asked me to create it with Photoshop Elements. “Not a chance” I said, “spirals are much too hard. But wait – I think I have just the thing!”

A rummage in my Spinning Wheel First Aid Kit produced a spring, which I had been given for possible use on a scotch brake but which was a little larger than the usual one. It could be stretched as needed.

A rummage in a cupboard produced an old wire coat hanger. Fred got to work and combined them, adjusting the stretch of the spring to what he wanted. Now it was held still for photographing.

The spring was right-handed, but he wanted a left-handed, anticlockwise helix, because that is the direction particles rotate in our world. Flipping the picture achieved this (flipping the spring, of course, didn’t) and then the ends were cropped.

After hours of painstaking editing, we finally ended up with the picture below which was exactly what he wanted. Don’t be puzzled by “Z or S” at the far end of the helix – to physicists Z and S mean quite different things from what they do to a spinner.

After all the help Fred has given me over the years, with things like basic woodworking and the math to get knitting patterns to come out the right size, I am happy that my skills could help him.

If you would like to find out more about his work, his blog is here
and this is the post with the spring picture (which is in the second of the PDFs linked at the end)


Charles Tyler and double drive

Charlie Tyler lived in the hills overlooking the Hutt Valley, in a leafy suburb called Korokoro. He began making wheels in 1964, and from then on he was constantly experimenting and never wanting to make two wheels exactly the same. I’ve been told that if his experiment didn’t work and the wheel wouldn’t spin, he would sometimes throw it across the room. He did have eight basic shapes (note 1 below) of which he made variations.

A number of Tylers have turned up lately, and I’ve also been going through my files of photos. Most of his wheels seem to have been intended only for use with double drive, in which the yarn winds onto the bobbin because the flyer and the bobbin rotate at different speeds. This depends mostly on the grooves on bobbin and flyer whorl being different sizes.

A few Tyler wheels have fittings for scotch tension that look original, but it’s become very clear that double drive was one of the aspects of wheel-making that he experimented with – and also that no-one had ever told him that “reverse double drive” with the bobbin groove bigger in diameter than the whorl groove, is “inoperable”! (Eric Corran’s description, see note 2 below)

Among my many photos of Tyler wheels, only sixteen clearly show the setup of whorl and bobbin. A lot of photographs have been sent to me – a big thankyou to everyone who has helped in that way – and I haven’t seen the wheels in person. Even with my own photos, early in my spinning wheel investigations I didn’t realise how important a good photo of a flyer assembly might prove to be.

Tyler wrote underneath each wheel his name, where he lived, the year the wheel was made, and her name. (I don’t usually anthropomorphise wheels, but with their female names and individuality it’s irresistible with these.) The writing, in pen and ink, ballpoint, marker, or even pencil, has often become illegible, so for some wheels we can’t tell the name or the date.

Here are the eight with standard double drive – smaller bobbin groove, larger whorl groove. Some are set up with scotch tension, but you can (in some cases only just) see that the bobbin groove is smaller so double drive would be an option. Most of the photos should enlarge if clicked.

Priscilla 1966

No name visible


Ariana 1970

Emilia 1970

Cordelia 1971


Dot 1970

The ratio between flyer whorl and bobbin grooves varies but I think all of those could probably spin in normal double drive. The only picture I can find that shows the diameters almost the same is Edwina.


Edwina has scotch tension, which may be original. In any case it would generally be the simplest way to make such a wheel spinnable. The other way would be to have a wood-turner reduce the diameter of the grooves on the bobbins.

There are seven wheels whose photos show the bobbin groove clearly larger than the flyer whorl groove. As we saw back in January 2020 this “reverse double drive” can sometimes work moderately well, as long as the difference between the dimensions is quite large.

Linda would probably be happier in scotch tension, for which there is provision (the peg on the bar atop the maidens).

Linda 1973

The next wheel has an eye hook on the table below the flyer, no doubt for a scotch brake. We don’t know whether it was original.


Carmela, below, appears to be intended for double drive but there’s no yarn on the bobbin so we can’t tell if it worked.

Carmela 1969

I was able to spin a little on Gretel but it wasn’t easy or comfortable.


If I were trying to spin double drive on the next wheel, I’d move the drive band to the smaller whorl groove to get a bigger differential – it might work quite well.

No name visible

I didn’t get to spin on Trixy, but it’s clearly possible, and perhaps very satisfactory. Note the wide difference in diameter between the whorl and bobbin grooves.

Trixy 1968

The final wheel has no writing underneath – possibly at some time it has been cleaned off. The new owner was told it was “Norwegian” but this must have been because of the shape being known as “Norwegian style” – rather a misleading description. It seems better to call wheels like this “double table” describing the way there is a little secondary table raised above the main one, carrying the mother-of-all and flyer assembly. Admittedly the style probably originated in Norway, but such wheels have also been made in many other countries, including New Zealand.

No marks visible

Anyway, she is clearly a Tyler, belonging to the same group as Cordelia and Petunia. Someone has made yarn on her, at least two bobbins worth, though the double drive setup is the “wrong” way round.

I had been asked to check out this one. First I changed the drive band (which was very, very tight – it had probably shrunk over time). There is a reasonable difference between the two grooves that the drive band passes over. I didn’t measure the ratio, unfortunately.

No marks visible, detail

She isn’t seriously difficult to spin on, but there is a disconcerting little moment when you first let the yarn wind on – it doesn’t start to take up straight away but actually seems to spit a tiny bit back at you. Then things start working and the yarn is drawn in and wound on the bobbin. This is similar to what Lorraine Cross, Shan Wong and I noticed in our 1920 experiments with reverse double drive.

We theorised that perhaps with this setup the flyer takes longer than the bobbin to get up to speed. This might be because the flyer has more weight to overcome, more air resistance, more friction from bearings and from yarn passing over the hooks. Also the drive band has less contact with the smaller flyer whorl so may slip. All this could cause the flyer to be left behind by the bobbin, so a little yarn is unwound from the bobbin until the flyer gets going and the wind-on begins. Lorraine found that when she started her wheel using the treadle(s) and simultaneously flicked the flyer arm to get it started, the problem didn’t arise.

So why did Tyler make some wheels with standard double drive and some with the reverse?  The dates, where they are known, tell us that he did this throughout his wheel-making career, so it wasn’t that he switched at some point from one setup to the other. Just one of many spinning wheel mysteries!

If you’re acquiring a double drive wheel, it would be worth checking that the groove on the bobbin is appreciably smaller than the groove on the flyer whorl. How much smaller is appreciably? This varies according to the type of spinning and your preference, but most agree that the bobbin groove shouldn’t be more than 80% of the diameter of the flyer whorl groove. If you want a stronger draw-in (such as for spinning thicker yarn with less twist) the bobbin groove might be as small as 65%.

If you have a double drive wheel where there’s no difference or it’s the “wrong” way round, and if it doesn’t work well for you, the easiest answer may be conversion to scotch tension.


(1) For more about Tyler’s styles, see New Zealand spinning wheels and their makers pages 115-116. This can also be found on the internet at

(2) Eric Corran Understanding the Spinning Wheel (self published Australia 1997)







Not quite a spinning wheel, but close

This post has three authors, Charlie Wong, Shan Wong (they are not related) and myself. It took all of us, and a great many emails as we all live in different places, to solve the puzzle.
The photos (except the second to last) should enlarge if clicked on.

It began when Charlie was asked by a friend to help with the accumulated collection of a lady who was no longer able to spin or weave. He emailed me about this mystery object (which she had apparently never used) remarking ‘It stands about 500mm high, would stand on a table top for use and be a talking point if nothing else.’

He rotated the “bobbin” shaft 90° and it was beginning to look as though it might wind yarn.

He noted ‘When the “bobbin” shaft is rotated the said 90 degrees, it is canted to the flyer, or the flyer is canted with regard to the shaft. When the flyer is rotated, fibre thread (fed through a hole on the flyer arm) is wound from one end of the bobbin shaft to the other through the cant (asymmetry).’

I couldn’t see any way a bobbin could be fitted but suggested it might be a pirn winder, for winding yarn onto the spool that would be fitted into a shuttle for weaving. But how would you put that on the machine?

Charlie worked on possible drive bands. (He apologises for only having the red stuff to hand but it does show up well.) ‘After much angst and racking of brain’ he came up with this:

Of course I then asked him please could he try winding some yarn with it, finding out whether any twist was inserted (it didn’t look as though there would be much). I also contacted Shan, who is a very good spinning wheel detective, and she agreed that it was some sort of winder, perhaps a cone winder.

After experimenting, Charlie sent us some more photos:

You’ll notice that he’s also polished it up and it looks very elegant.

Next he tried feeding in some string. The top two photos are with an x twist in the band (the band on the right in the photo above), and the lower two are with it untwisted.

He commented ‘With twisted band, flyer and shaft are rotating in the same direction so winding on in this mode is partly counter-productive. In any case, the “feed rate” is non-linear due to the canted flyer. So the feed would speed up and slow down and the tension would vary accordingly. Very messy and uncontrollable.

‘With the band not twisted, the shaft and flyer rotate in opposition and this leads to faster rate of winding on.

‘All in all, I can’t see what the proper use of the contraption is. It doesn’t wind on well – must be treated gingerly otherwise the band will pop off. The shaft is hexagonal cross-section and about 9mm across its faces – quite a large diameter on to which to slip a bobbin….

‘It could be that a part is missing or that it’s meant to be used in conjunction with something else.’ He couldn’t detect any twisting or untwisting going on.

Then came the breakthrough – I don’t know how Shan found this on Youtube but she did, commenting ‘I think there’s an assembly mistake in Charlie’s Gadget!’

Sure enough, it shows a very similar machine – but with the flyer and the ‘shaft’ swapped over, so that the flyer is driven by the two big wheels and the shaft is driven by the little pulleys. It definitely can wind yarn, and it has a name – more on that shortly.

Charlie tried something a little different – he swapped the whole top parts of the two pillars, so that the flyer is driven by the lower large wheel and the shaft and its wheel are fixed on the other side, driven by the little pulleys.

‘Success!’ he wrote.
After some difficulties fitting new drive bands, he reported that the winder worked as expected.

And as you can see, it made a pretty good ball of string and should work equally well for yarn, though for some reason when he tried to wind a large ball of crochet cotton, he initially had problems. You may have noticed more ways his machine differs from Linda’s: one is that he can’t use two separate bands on the handle side (on the right in the photo above). This is because the two little pulleys in the middle are not connected together: they are idler pulleys and don’t actually drive anything, they just guide the drive band. He found it worked much better winding anticlockwise, which could be achieved by crossing that drive band.

‘The feeding tension of the yarn becomes a little critical’ he remarks. ‘Not enough and the yarn has a mind of its own, too much and it doesn’t go where it should … Got there and one could do it better next time.’

So we now know what the gadget is for, and even what it’s called – Linda Martin in the Youtube video identifies it as a nostepinne, for winding yarn into tidy balls. In a second video, which Shan also located, she shows how a hand-held nostepinne works and then her machine doing the same job, though (dare I say it) not quite as well as Charlie’s.

Nostepinnes are not much used in New Zealand. They are said to have originated in Norway, and there are other variants of the name: nystpinne, nostepinde, and nøstepinde. Here, most of us still either wind our balls of yarn on our hands (as our mothers taught us) or have modern ball winders like this one.

But Charlie’s is much more picturesque, and it turns out it can do a fine job. His wife, a skilled crocheter, is delighted with the balls it makes.



Northern European wheels yet again, and a message

The Northern European was the first style developed by John Rappard. It wasn’t his first wheel – the very first was this one, made for his wife Maria:

Apparently he copied an antique wheel. When I saw it, it was set up in scotch tension, with the bobbin brake running all the way down to a peg in the end of the table. This is not ideal: if you adjust the drive band tension, the bobbin brake (scotch brake) tension will also change. That could be quite annoying!

It looks as though it could spin perfectly well in double drive (there appears to be a suitable ratio between the bobbin and flyer whorl grooves) and the antique he was copying very likely had only double drive.

Some of the earlier Northern Europeans have a similar problem. There is usually a little eye hook on the mother-of-all collar which the brake tension cord can pass through, but it’s actually anchored and adjusted by what looks like the tension screw!

However, it turns out that the peg that looks like the drive band tension screw actually isn’t, it’s simply a peg. Here (on a 1974 wheel, with an extra little peg that is probably the threading hook) you can see what’s happening underneath:

Altering the drive band tension under there wouldn’t be much fun, and because moving the m-o-a in relation to the table would also affect the brake tension, you’d have to adjust that too. Here’s another example:

Of course there is no problem in double drive. But a lot of New Zealand spinners prefer scotch tension, and later Northern European wheels are more friendly to that setup. By 1983, the date on the one in the next picture, lessons have been learned.

Now, in the end of the table, the large knob is a genuine wooden tension screw (you can even just see the top of the retaining pin to prevent it screwing right out) and the little peg is a threading hook. On the mother-of-all are an eye hook and a little adjustable peg for braking the bobbin. The wheel is comfortable in scotch tension and double drive.

A message to followers and readers

This will be the last post here for a little while. I plan to put the blog aside for three months, not for any dramatic reason but in order to make more progress with my other website. That one is stories from family history – you are welcome to take a look, at

If all goes well, I’ll be back here about the 20th of February. Meanwhile, I’ll still try to answer any questions about spinning wheels that are sent to me.

Thank you for your interest, and best wishes to all – stay safe!

Reinventing a wheel

We have a guest post this month! An inherited wheel was giving Wendy Gibbs trouble, so she made some alterations. Sometimes we purists may disapprove of combining parts from different makers, but Wendy has made no permanent changes. It could easily be restored to how it was – and meanwhile, she enjoys her versatile spinner.

Let me tell you the history of my main ‘workhorse’ spinning wheel since the later 1980’s. It’s an Eclipse, made by the Nees Furniture Factory in Dunedin in the 1970’s. The original was a bobbin-led wheel with a single ratio, like the one in the photo below. Since then it has been heavily modified!

It was originally bought for my mother to learn to spin on, when the family pet lamb (a Suffolk x) turned into a well-fleeced pet sheep, but I don’t think Mum ever did very much on it. The wheel would have been meticulously assembled, as my father was an engineering technician at Lincoln College (as it was called then) and was a real perfectionist. Everything on the wheel is still tight and true some 35-odd years later.

I ‘borrowed’ it in the mid to late-80’s after a friend had persuaded me to take a spinning course to make up the numbers, so it could go ahead. I took to spinning like a duck to water (I was using a treadle-powered Singer sewing machine at the time and that meant that I already had the useful skill of doing one thing with my feet, while doing a different thing with my hands), but it almost didn’t happen.
The tutor for the class had obviously never come across a bobbin-led wheel before and spent most of the first session insisting that my wheel was ‘put together wrong’! I looked at all the other wheels in the class (including several of Mike Keeves’ ‘Grace’ wheels; this was held in the Wakefield school) and crept off feeling very inadequate indeed.

Over the next week I disassembled the top section of the wheel, got as many books on spinning out of the library as I could find, talked to my father on the phone about how he had put it together and spent the rest of the week trying to reassemble it as a scotch tension wheel. Dad posted me the assembly instructions, which I took along to the class to prove that, ‘no, it was supposed to look like that’! In doing all this I learned a lot about how and why a spinning wheel actually functions, which has stood me in good stead with other spinning and wheels ever since.

As I did more spinning I also got Dad to make me some extra bobbins, some to the original design and some with a smaller end (I’d realised the need for a faster ratio by then). 
I didn’t much like the original mother-of-all as the back maiden had a closed hole for the flyer shaft and had to be rotated sideways to change bobbins, and this tended to slip and rub on the flyer shaft when actually spinning.

I was visiting Ashburton for something a few years later, visited the Ashford shop, and bought an Ashford mother-of-all, and a flyer with a screw-on 3-speed whorl (which I think may have been designed for the original ‘Kiwi’ wheel). To my surprise the m.o.a. aligned perfectly on the Eclipse head using the original screw holes!

And the original Eclipse flyer fitted the Ashford m-o-a with only a few mm extra ‘play’.

So now I had the choice of 5 ratios (though only from 4.5:1 to 9.5:1), and either scotch tension or bobbin-led spinning depending on which flyer I used. I later bought a bulky flyer as well, great for spinning singles for weaving.

I still use the bobbin-led setup over half the time. I can do long draw and fingering weight yarn very happily with that setup with no more tugging or difficulty than the scotch tension setup. I think it relies on using exactly the right weight of fishing line for the flyer brake band.

How do I decide which setup to use? I think it’s a combination of the type of fibre, the end product that I’m after, and how I’m feeling on the day! I do like to use the bobbin-lead for plying, but that’s more because that bobbin is larger to fit more on. Perhaps surprisingly, I also prefer the bobbin-lead to spin down-type wools. I think I get a springier end product. But mostly I think it’s an intuitive thing that has just come from practice and familiarity with the wheel.

I really like the wide treadle. I do tend to use only one foot at a time but it’s easy to swap from left to right on a regular basis.

It’s now a very versatile wheel – I can switch between scotch tension and bobbin-lead in less than a minute, and at a pinch have used it as a double drive, though the drive wheel is a bit too narrow to get up any speed without the band jumping off.

Sometimes these obscure brands of wheel can be surprising!

A mysterious ‘factory wheel’

We so often see spinning wheels we cannot identify, and it’s very frustrating! It would be wonderful if someone could shed some light on the origin of this one.

It now resides in the US, but it was given to the owner’s mother between 1962 and 1969 when the family were living in New Zealand. It was already quite old by then. She spun on it for the next 35 years, and her daughter would dearly love to know more about its history.

It’s always been called ‘the factory wheel’ – a convincing description, since many of the parts it’s made of would have come from a factory, and it could well have been put together by some ingenious craftsman who worked in a factory and was familiar with the various bits and how they worked. The bobbin is the only wooden part of the mechanism; the rest is all metal.

In this spinner’s-eye view you can see the oiling point above the orifice, and the little knob to the right.

Turning the knob allows the brass ‘gate’ to be lifted so that the flyer and bobbin can be removed.

You’ll have noticed that there are no hooks to move the thread along to fill the bobbin evenly. Instead, it’s the bobbin that moves along. This is an idea that several makers have come up with over the years. I can just imagine each of them looking at the hooks on a flyer, with a spinner fiddling to move the yarn from one to the next, and thinking ‘There has got to be a better way!’

For example, in the late 1700s John Antis in England devised a mechanism that automatically moved the bobbin along during spinning, and there are examples known by Doughty of York and John Planta of Fulneck near Leeds.

The picture shows the elaborate cam mechanism of a Planta wheel. (For more on these exquisite wheels see Patricia Baines Spinning Wheels Spinners and Spinning pages 164-170.)

Had our maker perhaps seen or heard of such a device, or did he invent it from scratch? We’ll never know. In any case, he didn’t aim at anything so fancy. He clearly wanted a sturdy, practical wheel that would make plenty of yarn without fuss. So he devised two metal bars. The larger one, underneath, is fixed to the table.

The thinner bar that rests on it has a T-shaped piece at the end away from the spinner, which carries the bobbin brake for the scotch tension.

The top bar can be slid along by hand, and the bobbin can be moved along with it. In the picture below, it’s being operated from the back end but it can easily be reached from the spinner’s position.

I wonder whether originally the bobbin would have been pulled along by the bar, so that there was no need to touch the bobbin at all.

At the spinner’s end is a little knob with two ‘ears’ above and a cog wheel below, which adjusts the bobbin brake.

It’s held in place by a ratchet (whose handle sticks out to the right in the photo above) which would hold the cogs in place and prevent the tension brake coming loose.

There’s another little puzzle: an interesting cutout in one crosspiece at the base of the table. The likely explanation is that the treadle was initially set up differently and this was somehow part of its attachment, but we haven’t been able to figure out exactly how it would have worked.

We have no date for this wheel, except that it was made well before the 1960s. A lot about it makes me think of the ingenuity so many makers showed in responding to the demands of wartime. Women and school children were constantly encouraged to knit for the troops, but yarn was very scarce. Many husbands and others came to the rescue, using the knowledge and materials they had, and created various more or less unconventional devices to meet the need.

The ingenuity of this one’s engineering reminds me of the World War 1 friction drive wheel described here, though the way it actually works is totally different. In any case, my best guess for a date is World War 1 or 2.

What a spinning wheel has to do (twist yarn and wind it onto a bobbin) is pretty simple, but the many different ways makers have found to achieve this keep me utterly fascinated.

My thanks are owed to Megan Thomas (Maypole Weavers) for telling me about the wheel and for her excellent photos.

A Weighty Matter

Here is a Hamilton wheel. But it’s not quite like any others we’ve seen – can you spot the differences?

Photo credit: Andrew Currie

Sadly, the tip of the front maiden is broken off: only cosmetic, unless some spinner ever wants to add a bar across the maidens to secure one end of a scotch tension brake.

Second, it has twelve spokes. The norm for these is fourteen. But wheel-makers do make changes to their designs as time goes by. I’d guess this is a late development, since it’s two fewer spokes to make and twelve would be easier to space around the wheel than fourteen (though precise spacing doesn’t seem to have been a major concern for the Hamilton maker).

Third, what are those two bumps on the inner edge of the wheel rim? A closer look:

Photo credit: Andrew Currie

Someone has added pyramid sinkers, used (normally) for fishing.

When tied or slid onto a fishing line, pointy end down, they hold the bait in place on sandy or muddy bottoms or for surf fishing.

These two weights have been shortened a little at the pointy end – perhaps so they didn’t add quite so much weight – and are fastened to the wheel with nails. Hammering in nails there could be a perilous business. Probably the drive wheel was removed (easy to do with Hamiltons) and the rim rested securely on something.

So what are fishing weights doing on a spinning wheel? They are adding extra weight to to make it stop in the starting position ready for the next treadle, and to help the spinner get “over the hump” when the treadle is rising and the drive wheel is losing momentum. As beginner spinners I’m sure we all battled with that – the wheel slowing and running backwards before it’s time to press down again on the treadle.

These “balance weights” have to be precisely placed –

Photo credit: Andrew Currie

Here the treadle is at its lowest point, and the weights would be in just the right position to counter the weight of the treadle and make sure the wheel has enough speed left to keep going all the way round. They should also make the wheel stop with the treadle in the right position for starting again, without the spinner having to use their hand, though that hasn’t happened here.

(An aside – I’ve never understood why some expert spinners consider it so naughty to start your wheel with a little push of the hand on a spoke.)

A number of makers have used balance weights. Back in the 1930s Harold Martin had the foundry that was making his iron drive wheels add a considerable bulge so the treadle is ready to start the downstroke.

And here is my Fleur

You can see that the thinly disguised weights have brought the treadle to a good starting position for spinning. How does this affect plying, which is in the other direction, we wonder? There is no problem with the Fleur, because it has a heel-toe treadle, which overhangs so I can push down with my heel for the upstroke.

These particular weights have another purpose too. Three more add weight around the rest of the circumference of the drive wheel. They are there to increase the inertia of the wheel so it keeps going for longer once it starts rotating. Such extra weight is particularly useful when the drive wheel is very small. Does any reader happen to know whether Beulah wheels like the one below have weights under those neatly spaced lumps of wood? And if so, whether they are the same all around or are they altering the balance of the wheel? This one has certainly stopped at the ideal starting point.Philip Poore used balance weights in his Pipy and Wendy wheels. Shan Wong who has a Pipy saxony tells me that she does have to give the drive wheel a tiny flick with her hand to start plying anticlockwise, or sometimes she does it by starting clockwise and then quickly reversing. Once started she notices no difference in ease of spinning between the two directions. Pipy wheels don’t have a heel-toe treadle; it wouldn’t work anyway, because the footman is a piece of string so pushing it upwards wouldn’t do anything to the drive wheel. However, Poore’s Wendy upright has a rigid wooden footman and a heel-toe treadle so starting anticlockwise with one’s heel should be possible.

Photo credit: Georgene Wray

Here the weights are at the bottom and the crank is is just the right position to start the wheel turning clockwise when the treadle is pressed. Pressing first with the heel should start it anti-clockwise.

Balance weights are very much disapproved of by some expert makers. Eric Corran writes
“… weights are inserted into one segment of the rim to offset the weight of the treadle, by always bringing the crank web to rest in the two-o’clock position. This enables the spinner to start treadling without touching the driving wheel.

“Although this at first appears to be a convenient operational feature, unbalancing anything that revolves, especially a driving (fly) wheel, is not good engineering practice. It can result in very uneven running at quite moderate speeds. The weights in one segment of the driving wheel counterbalance the weight of the treadle only when the system is at rest. Because of the increasing centrifugal force, the imbalance of the wheel becomes worse as the treadling speed increases.” (Understanding the Spinning Wheel p.78)

Mike Keeves calls them “unbalance weights”. You will never find them in a Grace wheel.

I have only once felt a real need of more weight in a drive wheel. It was an A-line by Easycraft, like this one –

The drive wheel was so light that the weight of the footman and treadle made it quite difficult to keep it spinning, and a new spinner would find it most discouraging. So before letting it go on sale by our guild, I made a weighted strip of fabric which could be wound around a spoke and secured with velcro. It didn’t look elegant but it really helped, and it could be moved to the opposite spoke for plying. Someone tried it and (unfortunately before I got around to taking a photo) went off happily with it under her arm.

I thank Andrew Currie for telling me about his interesting Hamilton wheel and for his photos, and Shan Wong for helpful spinning wheel conversations.