My Quebec wheel – Part 2

We are getting to know each other, and here is our first skein.

It’s over 300 metres long! This spinning wheel makes yarn faster than any other I’ve used.

It’s taken a bit of work to get to this stage. The first thing was something you may notice in that photo – borer! (You probably know it as woodworm if you’re in North America.) I’m pretty certain the bugs are all long dead but just to be sure, I squirted some stuff for killing them into all the holes, and I’m going to do it one more time to make sure.

The next job was the right kind of footman. The original footman would have been made from steel rod, but these days an easy solution to a missing one is to make it from a wire coathanger, and I took this option (or rather my helpful husband did, to my specifications). It’s roughly similar to what the wheel would once have had, and works fine.

Initially I had trouble with  the wheel tossing off the drive band. I discovered that the axle wasn’t perfectly horizontal, so that the wheel didn’t align perfectly with the whorl and bobbin grooves – always something to check when drive bands won’t stay on. I tried a piece of felt (I didn’t have any leather and we were in lockdown!) under the lower end but it didn’t help. Finally I managed to take the front wheel support post part way out and put it back on a slightly better angle, and all is well now.

Something else that will need attention is the bobbins. The ones I’m currently using are not original. When my friends bought the wheel, it had two bobbins, one of them badly broken. They didn’t know that it would originally have come with only two.

They sent one of them to Mike Keeves to be copied, but the new ones have a problem: they clatter. It’s is not Mike’s fault; he wasn’t sent the flyer to check the fit, which is always a very wise thing to do when getting bobbins made.

The original bobbin was old and battered, and he says “working from it I would have assumed the shaft size as being 8mm.” Later I sent him the flyer to check, and when he got to measure things he found that the sizes are all unusual.
“The flyer shaft diameter is 7.4mm or a shade under 5/16 inch and the thread is the same which does not match usual dies. So that accounts for the noise.”

We have a plan for fixing the clatter, and there is some other work needed. I’ll tell you another time how that goes.

Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying this wheel. It has taken a little while to get used to spinning at such speed, and now that I have, I’m finding I can slow down a bit when I want to and it hardly ever stops or runs backwards. It’s reliable, now that the axle alignment is sorted. And it comes from near Montreal where my mother was born and grew up, so although my family aren’t French-Canadian, I feel an affinity.

There are many signs of its origin in the workshop of Frédéric Bordua and his son Théodore. As we’ve seen, they were making these wheels in bulk, keeping the processes simple and economising on materials. I like the knots in the wood of the drive wheel.

If you look hard at this picture (you might need to click it to enlarge) you’ll see that the section at top left is actually pieced together from two different bits of wood.

In fact the drive wheel is made of some very light wood – I’ve seen it described as “fluffy.” You’d think this might make momentum hard to maintain, but I’m not finding that a problem. (It would have been very welcoming for those borers though!)

Below the wheel, you can see where the slab of wood from which the table was made must have been incomplete. And let’s look closely at one of the spokes:

It has been made from the very outside of a block of wood, and isn’t fully rounded – in fact you can see the original saw marks that were on the block.

Waste not, want not!

I’ve noticed something about the feet, too – two of them look as though they’ve had their toes amputated.

I’m holding up the right front (spinner’s-side) leg to show its flat bottom, and behind it you can see the back leg with the usual Bordua en pointe shape. And here is the left front foot, again showing the back foot behind.

I wondered if the two front legs had initially been made too long? A sideways-tilted drive wheel wouldn’t make for smooth spinning. It would have been a shame just to reject them, and shortening them at the top would have ruined the turnings. Then I noticed a little mark on the right front leg:

Two parallel lines, crossed by two pairs of parallel double lines. Could it mean “Cut some off”? My imagination got to work, and I could almost hear M. Bordua senior saying to his son/apprentice Théodore “Mon fils, you have made these legs too long. You must cut some off at the feet, and be very careful to get the angle right. See, I will mark this one to remind you.”

I’ve since heard of another of these wheels that has similar feet. It’s been pointed out that the wider surface would give more contact with a plain wooden floor, meaning the spinning wheel would be less likely to slide – a practical consideration that hadn’t occurred to me in a carpeted house. So I don’t insist that my fanciful little story is true, but I like it.

I owe heartfelt thanks to the people of the CPW Lovers forum on
Ravelry, whose knowledge is tremendous and generously shared.

My new (old) wheel from Quebec – Part 1

I have been given a very special wheel, which, sadly, an old friend can no longer spin on. It’s a long way from home!

My friend and her husband found it in a local second-hand shop some years ago.

Such wheels are sometimes called Canadian Production Wheels (CPWs) – the ‘production’ part is because they are designed to produce a lot of yarn fast, but ‘Canadian’ is not strictly appropriate as they were made only in the French-speaking townships of the province of Quebec, from about 1875 to 1955. Plenty of other spinning wheels have been made in various parts of Canada over the years, but these are a special group.

So what makes them different? Here is the definition from the CPW Lovers group on Ravelry, from whose members I have learned pretty much everything I know about them.
A CPW has:
• Tilt tension (lots of nice big Canadian antique wheels exist, including some lovely ones made by makers who also made CPWs, but those with screw tension are not what we call CPWs)
• A large drive wheel (usually 29-30 inches, but there are tilt tension wheels with drive wheels ranging from about 26 to 32)
• Its origin in Quebec in about 1875-1955

Maybe you are looking at the photo above and thinking ‘But Mary’s wheel has a tension screw on the end of its table! How can it be tilt tension?’

Nope. That’s just a handle or something – in fact it’s not solid enough to be much use as a handle either. Why most makers added them, we don’t know, but they are handy for hanging the threading hook on.

The style of these wheels developed among the descendants of the first  French settlers, who farmed in what is now the province of Quebec. It was subsistence farming – most families ‘grew crops that satisfied their own household needs for food and clothing rather than grow crops to sell on the market’ (quoted from Wikipedia under ‘habitants’). There were few opportunities for other careers, but every family needed a spinning wheel. They spun to weave, not just for clothing but blankets, curtains and other household needs. That is why these wheels have generally only one bobbin – they didn’t ply their yarn.

More than 20 maker names are known, many of them with several family members involved. A look through the photo supplements to Fabricants de Rouet (see Sources, below) shows many variations in details of these wheels, particularly in the way their tilt-tension mechanisms are constructed. Most involve iron, and the commonest type is like mine – if you slightly loosen the little wing nut, it is easy to adjust the tension.

Others have various sorts of metal straps over the MOA, which may be cradled in a wooden fitting.

Then there are the ones with the MOA carried on a little post, the bottom end of which pivots in a slot in the narrowed end of the table. Once the wing nut is loosened (it’s out of sight in the photo below, on the other side of the wheel) the tension can be adjusted by rotating the MOA using the convenient handle. The wonderfully descriptive Ravelry jargon for these is ‘pinch-nose’ wheels. Here’s one:

I thank Lynne Broughton for this photograph of a wheel by Lucien Paradis

Now I can’t resist a digression – does something about the above wheel look familiar? Compare:

John L. Moore made these in Havelock North, New Zealand during World War 2.
See the way the MOA pivots on a narrowed end of the table? And there’s even a handle for adjustment.

There are huge differences too, of course – Moore’s wheel has a Picardy-style flyer, in front of the maidens not between them. It’s scotch tension, not double drive like the Quebec wheels. And the table-end is between the supports for the MOA, not the other way round. But one can’t help wondering whether the idea for the simple tension adjustment came from seeing a Quebec pinch-nose wheel, or perhaps a picture of one.

Iron was also often used for treadles of these wheels. Mine is typical

but other designs are known, and some makers used wooden treadles. One or two ventured as far as double treadles, and even occasionally an extra, accelerating wheel – years ago I was startled to see this outside an antique shop in Montreal.

So what do we know about my wheel? Well first of all, here’s the information that came from the dealer who sold it:
This spinning wheel has been in the … family for 180 years. It was brought out here by Mrs …, and it was her great-great grandmother’s. They are a French Canadian family, and the loom [presumably he means the wheel] was made on a wagon train traversing Canada. As can be seen the wheel has been made of old fashioned Colonial chairs etc”

There is one little bit of truth in that – it comes from a family with a French-Canadian surname and we can accept they brought it to New Zealand. But can you imagine making a spinning wheel on a covered wagon bouncing across the landscape? No, its origin is firmly in a family workshop in the province of Quebec. And not one tiny piece of it comes from a chair!

It’s smaller than a lot of Quebec production wheels, with a drive wheel diameter of only 67cm (26½ inches) – compare an Ashford Traditional’s wheel at 56cm (22″) . Many Quebec wheels have drive wheels up to 80cm (32 inches) – they are indeed designed for productivity.

My wheel belongs to a group that was mysterious for some years. They had no labels. Identical wheels turned up, then triplets, then quadruplets… finally as more and more came to light they became known as tuplets. They look similar in many ways to wheels made by members of the Bordua (or Borduas) family in and around St Hyacinthe, southeast of Montreal, where several other spinning wheel makers were also based. Foty points out that there was a foundry there, which would have been convenient for obtaining the metal parts (see Sources, below). Frédéric Bordua began making spinning wheels in the mid 1870s and continued into the 20th century. His son Théodore worked with him and eventually took over the business. Their wheels, however, were normally marked with their name, and are bigger than the tuplets.

Finally a few tuplets were seen with a label, but not a maker’s – it was the label of a big Montreal department store called Dupuis Frères (Dupuis Brothers). Advertisements in the store’s mail-order catalogue proved interesting – here is one from 1945-6:

The text of the picture means
Spinning wheel of solid construction and one of the most durable. This spinning wheel is made in Quebec, entirely of hardwood except for the rim, which is of selected pine. DIameter of the wheel 30 inches. Spin your wool or your hemp; weave your local materials. (I’m intrigued by the mention of hemp!)

And then this article was found, from a local paper in 1954, when Théodore Borduas was 61 years old. The photograph shows him with an earlier, more elaborate wheel and a skeiner. In the background are simpler wheels like mine!

Translated, it says
For lack of customers, the Borduas will no longer make spinning wheels
By Arthur Prévost

They have been making spinning wheels in St-Hyacinthe for eighty years. At the present time, the last family artisan enterprise which specialises in the construction is assembling the last items, so that in a few weeks the picturesque industry will soon become part of history.

It is at St-Joseph, just outside St-Hyacinthe on the Drummondville Road, that the likeable craftsman Monsieur Borduas has his workshop as well as a grocery in which his wife and daughter work.

“Back in the day, when years were good, I used to make six to seven hundred wheels a year with my father Frédéric Borduas” he told our reporter. In 1920, he continued with legitimate pride, “we even reached the total of a thousand.”

It was in fact their biggest year, with half of their production sold to their regular customers in the province, and the other [half] sold at big department stores. At that time, the locally made spinning wheel found such ready demand that it was thought good to list them in the mail order catalogue.

M. Borduas senior devoted forty-eight years of his life to this industry, while his son counts thirty-two years in it – not counting, the latter tells us, “the years when we worked together.”

The elements of a spinning wheel are divided into three main parts: the wheel, obviously, the head or spinning part (fuseau, which more often means a spindle) and finally the base with its treadle. Then there follow various secondary parts. To make the wheel of the spinning wheel M. Borduas junior uses four pieces of wood which he fits together, smooths and finally turns on a lathe.

At the very beginning of the family enterprise, the motor force which drove the lathe was provided by a horse. Before electrification, a windmill was substituted for “the most noble friend of man” in this important function, and that went on for many years. When there was no wind? “Well, my goodness,” replied M. Borduas, “my father got to work to finish the pieces which he had to machine by hand.”

If one takes into account that the Borduas, father and son, made on average 650 spinning wheels a year, one must conclude that in all their career, 52,000 of these domestic instruments, which are today just so many souvenirs, came out of their workshop.

The photo caption reads M. Borduas, last in his family industry from which came fifty thousand spinning wheels, shows here an early model with skeiner.

So I have one of many wheels made by Frédéric or Théodore Borduas, between about 1880 and 1954. What is it like? How is it to spin on? I’ll write about that next time.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Most of what is known about these wheels is thanks to a group of wonderful researchers who contribute to the CPW Lovers forum on Ravelry. One of them has written an invaluable reference:
Caroline Foty, Fabricants de Rouet  – (1st edition 2011; photo supplement 2nd edition 2014; 3rd edition 2018). Available as a download through the Ravelry group.

Solving a spinning wheel puzzle

In mid-March (which feels like an aeon ago) I went to a Spin-in run by Gear Woolshed Fibrecrafts based north of Wellington. It was good to talk with many lovely people I hadn’t seen for ages. One said ‘Please have a look at my wheel!’ – not an invitation I ever refuse.

When I first met Marian Scott-Rowe some years ago she was a weaver, but she has now also taken up spinning. Her wheel was found by her sister-in-law in a Wellington charity shop, and they both thought it might be a very early Nagy. You can see why – the overall feel and shape reminds one of Nagy’s uprights.

However, on looking closer I had doubts. Here’s an early Nagy, which has a cardboard label with the Kilbirnie address of Nagy’s first workshop:

It has a similar veneer drive wheel and similar legs but many other details are so different! Compare treadle, spokes, the shaping and finishing of hub and uprights – and Nagy was never known to make a flyer like this, or to tip his maidens with round knobs:

Is there a mark on the mystery wheel, you’ll be wondering. Well, just a faint pencil one that is probably the number 2.

So perhaps it was the second wheel of this style made – by whom?

Back at home I pondered for a while, and remembered the story of how Istvan Nagy first got started in 1969. He went to Miss Stace in Eastbourne for advice, and she put him in touch with John Beauchamp for expert help. Beauchamp was an experienced wheelmaker and spinner, and believed that only someone with spinning experience could make a really good spinning wheel. He would help, provided Nagy first learned to spin!

The story goes that Nagy grumbled about this, but went off and practised and eventually came back with an acceptable skein of yarn. Then Beauchamp gave him the help and advice he needed.

So I searched in my files of Beauchamp wheels, and look what I found:

The cheery lady is almost certainly John Beauchamp’s mother, and if this isn’t Marian’s wheel it’s one just like it! Here is a back view of Marian’s to compare.

I don’t think I can improve on an account Lyndsay Fenwick and I wrote ten years ago of the family background –
‘Spinning was a tradition in the Beauchamp family – Heather Nicholson describes the enterprise set up by Commander R.R. Beauchamp during the 1930s depression, which provided employment spinning wool and weaving tweeds. In the early 1960s his son John, at that time a Lieutenant in the Royal NZ Navy … took up spinning and began to make spinning wheels. Like many wheel makers in and around Wellington, he benefited from the advice and constructive criticism of Aileen Stace in Eastbourne.’

John’s first wheels were simple and functional, and he made use of knobs and dowels from hardware stores. The photo below shows a group of his early wheels, some unfinished. You’ll notice the knobs!

His later wheels were much more finely detailed. The one below dates from 1981.

Marian’s wheel looks to have been made in the time between. It’s still plain and has a tendency to knobs, but the spokes and maidens are nicely turned. It’s tempting to suggest it was the kind of wheel Beauchamp was making around 1970, and that Nagy was influenced by the overall style though changing many details.

John Beauchamp spent his last years in Lower Hutt. He was a delightful man, though a little forgetful by then. He still liked working with his hands, and was happy to repair one of his wheels.

Photo from a flyer for Woburn Apartments, Masonic Villages Ltd

Marian has got her wheel spinning very nicely, and I’m sure if its maker could see her enjoying it now he’d be delighted.

I thank Marian for letting me photograph and write about her wheel, and Lyndsay Fenwick who was the source of much of my information and photographs of early Beauchamp wheels.

Mary Knox, New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their Makers (2010) p.87, also available as a PDF at
Heather Nicholson, The Loving Stitch (Auckland University Press 1998) pp 110-111

A special post from lockdown

I thought perhaps some of you who are stuck like us in isolation/lockdown might like an extra post.

Here are a couple of videos with my spinning wheels. My cousin Sue and her husband Eric visited late last year, making the long trip from their home in Montreal, Canada. We had a wonderful time together, and Eric took a couple of videos of me holding forth (as I love to do) about wheels. Their son Colin has now put them on Vimeo, and here they are.


I’m not absolutely sure these embedded videos will show up if you are using a mobile or tablet. Here are the bare links, just in case:

Those of you in other countries may be interested in how things are going in New Zealand. We are in the third week of a strict “stage 4” lockdown, and it seems to be having an effect, with numbers of new cases now steadily dropping. The aim is to eliminate COVID-19. Here are today’s stats:

and here is the curve (as of yesterday) that we are trying so hard to flatten to zero:

There is a cartoon in our local paper this morning by Jim Hubbard that I like. I won’t violate his copyright by posting a shot of it, but it shows a little kiwi with a ladder approaching an enormous grey step labelled level 4 lockdown. Further smaller steps are labelled levels 3, 2 and 1. After that the steps become cheerful yellow, are labelled common sense, and lead up eventually to a yellow door marked exit. Yes, we are in this for the long haul.

It’s hard, particularly for people with children and limited resources. However, there is hope that after another ten days it may be possible to drop to stage 3. Our borders will still be closed to visitors, but some businesses may re-open cautiously, schools may begin to re-open, and some people can move around a bit more. Not us, though – over-70s and the immune-compromised will still have to stay at home.

So we’ll still be keeping in touch with family and friends by email and Zoom, and getting our supplies delivered weekly by the local supermarket, for quite a while yet. Our only outings will continue to be a short walk along the road admiring all the teddy bears and other toys in windows. Here is our window –

The spinners and weavers guild I belong to is trying to do its bit by keeping up communication with members, via newsletters  and frequent posts on our blog. Feel free to take a look at

I’ll end with admiration for the job our prime minister is doing. Jacinda Ardern has pulled together a good team of experts, and she listens to them and acts decisively. She is a superb communicator with a human touch that is so important: witness her reassuring children last week that the Easter Bunny is classed as an “essential worker”. Silly, yes, but a touch of fun much needed at this time.

I hope you too are finding touches of joy amongst the worry and sadness.

A remarkable woman and her spinning wheels

Post revised on 22 March

This picture, apparently taken around 1930, caught my eye when I was looking for something else.

Collection: PAColl-0614-1: Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper, Alexander Turnbull Library

Of course I wanted to find out more about this lady and the spinning wheel on which she is demonstrating so elegantly. Anna Elizabeth Jerome Spencer (1872-1955) was known to her friends as Bessie but among the Women’s Institutes (a movement she founded) she was Miss Jerome Spencer. Spinning and weaving were a large part of her life. I hope she will forgive us if we call her Bessie.

Brought up in Napier, she taught at Napier Girls’ High School, becoming principal in 1901. Her interests were many: she loved all things rural, but also studied (gaining her BA extramurally from Canterbury College in 1895) and read widely. With an interest in religions, she joined the Havelock Work, a movement which promoted cultural interests and also esoteric spiritual beliefs. Interestingly, two makers of spinning wheels had involvement with Havelock Work, Chapman-Taylor who laid down the foundations of their house and temple Whare Ra, and John L. Moore who lived in Havelock North for much of his life. Bessie very likely knew both of them.

In fact Moore mentions her in a 1932 letter to her lifelong friend Amy Hutchinson, whose name New Zealand readers may know from her little book Plant Dyeing. My copy is typically old and well-used.

Bessie retired from teaching in 1909 and devoted herself to running an orchard and apiary and other country affairs, living for some years with Amy and her husband at their home at Rissington (inland from Napier). From 1914 she was involved in war work, and organised sewing meetings, but in 1916 she went to England where she nursed injured soldiers at Lonsdale House Hospital in London.

On the back of this photo she has written ‘Some patients and their work’ and named several of the men, as well as ‘Fluffy, a dear little friend now dead’ (can you spot Fluffy?). Bessie herself is at the right of the back row on the steps.

In England, she came to know about the Women’s Institute there and its involvement in crafts. Back in New Zealand after the war, she spent time spinning and weaving with Amy at Rissington. In January 1921 they called a meeting and the Rissington Women’s Institute was formed. The two pictures below were probably taken in that year, perhaps at a gathering of members of the new institute.

Her little spinning wheel in these photos is very simple, made without the use of a lathe except presumably for the bobbin which unfortunately we can’t see. Enlarge the photo by clicking it and you may agree that the flyer assembly looks a bit odd, but clearly it works.

It’s pared down to essentials like the (more elegant) wheels later made by Harold Martin, and has a similar drive wheel except that this one has no thickening of the rim so probably (unlike Martin’s) was originally made for a sewing machine.

In late 1926 the New Zealand Herald reported a talk in which Bessie said there were now twelve institutes in Hawkes Bay, two in Wellington, one at Henderson and one at Swanson. ‘The members’ fee was 2s a year … A yearly programme … comprised lectures, demonstrations and exhibits of handcraft ..’

Here she is in the same year, spinning in the Women’s Institutes display at the Dunedin Industrial Exhibition surrounded by handcrafted items including skeins draped over a loom.

She is using a different wheel this time, a little upright which is equally unidentifiable. We’ll look at it again in a minute. She’s working rather close to the orifice, and doesn’t look as relaxed as in the 1921 photographs above. Behind her is the big walking wheel we saw earlier.

We can be fairly sure that she made her outfit herself. When she gave a talk, she regularly mentioned that she had spun and woven her own outfit. The social column in the Auckland Star (17 June 1929) reported on her clothes during a visit to the city:

‘While in Auckland she was delightfully attired in a hand-spun and woven woollen coat, made in the latest style. It was dyed a beautiful golden brown, with dye made from the tufted lichen, which grows on old posts and on old trees in the bush. This supplied a delicate shade of the new rich coffee brown, and is absolutely fadeless.

‘It was banded, at the bottom and on collar and cuffs, with Naples blue, dyed with indigo dye, and scarlet and cyclamen patterns of a delicate shade—one made with cochineal and the other from madder—all dyes used being vegetable, which do not fade like the chemical dyes. Her skirt was also hand-spun and woven in light beige, with pattern of darker brown, all being made from the different shades to be found in the natural wool of a light brown sheep’s fleece.’

This is clearly not the same outfit as the one she’s wearing in the first photo above, and probably not the one in the Dunedin Exhibition picture (the fringe would surely have been mentioned).

Though the institutes kept her very busy, she still found time for a great deal of spinning and weaving. There are a couple of photos of her weaving.

In this photo and another (with thanks to Shan Wong for her comments on looms, not my field at all) she is using ‘a four shaft counter-balance loom, quite similar to a Kentish loom with overhang beater.’ She is wearing a different outfit from the ones we’ve seen, no doubt also handmade.

Next we see the ‘loom room’ in the Hutchinson home at Rissington. Even I can see that this loom is not quite the same:

Its style is ‘Scandinavian barn loom, which in the old days, 4 shafts were basically sufficient. This one might be a replica/modern build.’

There’s also a little spinning wheel, which is almost certainly the same one as in the Dunedin exhibition photo above, and also in this one taken at Rissington in the 1930s.

She’s spinning long draw, with carders conveniently beside the deckchair. This time she (and the cat) look quite relaxed. But let’s look more closely at that spinning wheel – here is an enlarged detail from the 1926 exhibition photo:

Although the outlines have become a bit fuzzy, we can see that it’s set up in flyer lead/scotch tension. The bobbin brake stretches down from a cord that runs between the maidens, passing along the groove in the bobbin with its lower end secured to the mother-of-all. This was a not uncommon way of setting up scotch tension in the UK in earlier times, and the wheel might have come with her from England when she returned after the war.

When we see it a few years later (if it really is the same one, and they are very alike), in the loom room and spinning in the sun with the cat, it’s set up differently. It’s still scotch tension in the spinning photo and probably in the loom room photo but has no visible cord across the maidens, so the brake by now was probably fixed to the MOA at both ends.

Did this little wheel actually belong to Bessie, or to Amy Hutchinson? In a November 1978 article in The Web, Pamela Simcox writes she was given the wheel by Amy, and I believe the photo below confirms that it’s the same one. Of course it’s possible that Amy had inherited it from Bessie, who died in 1955. Or that it was one of the many things in their lives that Amy and Bessie shared.

Photo credited to the Hawkes Bay Herald-Tribune, from The Web, November 1978

As for the wheel on the right, it was evidently Bessie’s, and she gave it to Pamela Simcox during her lifetime. It’s a Schofield – see
They were made in large numbers in the 1930s and 40s, for use in schools and technical institutes. Their wood was very light and few have survived to the present. (I thank Carol Wingate for sending me the article and photograph from The Web.)

Bessie’s energy is astounding. Here is a drastically shortened account from the Bay of Plenty Times (26 December 1932) of a visit she made there in 1932, as Dominion President of the Women’s Institute. Arriving at Opotiki on Monday, she formed a new Institute at Otara. On Tuesday she went to Taneatua for two meetings. On Wednesday there was a School of Instruction for officers and organisers at Whakatane and on Thursday the Council Meeting of the Bay of Plenty Federation. In the evening, she met the committee of the Te Puke Institute.

On Friday morning her first stop was at Hairini where a new Institute was formed and ‘she addressed the meeting fully’. Next at Omokoroa she spoke to the members of the Institute there. ‘The aims and ideals of the movement were the subject of the address, and many points were explained.’ Moving on, she gave an address to the to the Whakamarama Institute. At 6pm she returned to Tauranga, and at 7pm met the members of the newly formed Gate Pa Institute.

On Saturday morning a School of Instruction was held in Tauranga, where ‘commencing at 10 am Miss Spencer held the attention of her audience for two hours.’ At 12.45 she spoke again, and after a digression for a ceremonial visit from the Mayor, she concluded this lecture just before 2pm. Later she gave a ‘delightful address’ on Institute work to about a hundred members from around the area. After a unanimous vote of confidence in her as President, the audience rose to sing ‘For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ That evening she met more local members. Next morning, she met members of the newly formed Institute at The Mount, before leaving for Hamilton.

Just thinking about all that, I feel I need a lie down!

In 1937 she received an OBE for her work. By the 1940s she is slowing down just a little but we see her still in demand as a guest speaker at meetings.

Returning to our very first picture, it may have been taken at a display of handcrafts by the Women’s Institutes in Wellington in 1932. The Auckland Star (26 November) tells us that Miss Jerome Spencer gave an exhibition of hand spinning on an Irish wheel. Could this be it?

Collection: PAColl-0614-1: Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper, Alexander Turnbull Library

It probably is. The little Ulster Museum book illustrates a similar wheel from the Aran Islands (p.27), and Baines (p.61) has a c.1905 photograph of an Irish spinner using one. Let’s take a closer look at the business end (what we can see of it).

In front are one maiden and part of the flyer of a little upright wheel (not the one we looked at earlier, the maiden tips are different – thanks Shan for this correction). You’ll notice the cord across the maidens, stretching from the tip of the front maiden and vanishing out of shot. Just visible to the left is the brake, attached to this cord and running down to the bobbin whorl.

Behind that, we can see a board slanting up from the table of the great wheel and what looks like plaited straw securing the spindle to it. Both the Ulster Museum wheel and the one in Baines’ picture have such a board, to which the spindle is (or was originally) secured with straw. The straw on Bessie’s wheel looks exactly like that in Baines’ photo. So yes, this is what used to be called in Ireland a ‘long wheel’.

We’ve seen that she owned, or at any rate used, at least five different different wheels during her life.  In 1921 she had a very home-made looking wheel. In 1926 we see her using a little upright with the bobbin brake attached to a cord across the maidens, and in the 1930s she was spinning at Rissington on an upright that may be the same one with a change to the bobbin brake. This one may have actually belonged to Amy Hutchinson. Then there are the big Irish wheel, and the little one in front of it, in the 1932 demonstration. And finally we learn that she also had a Schofield wheel.

It would be good to know where these wheels are now, particularly the big Irish one. I wonder how Bessie came by it, and whether it is still lurking in an attic or barn somewhere!

All the photographs except those otherwise captioned are from the Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi –
Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, London 1977 – various newspaper articles
Pamela Simcox, ‘Wheels of interest’, The Web November 1978
Ulster Museum, Spinning Wheels (The John Horner Collection) reprinted March 1969.
Susan Upton. ‘Spencer, Anna Elizabeth Jerome’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,

Something old, something new

Here’s the new thing first because it’s more fun. Some members of the guild I belong to recently participated in an exhibition at the local art gallery, and their creations were (I think you’ll agree) extraordinary.
Our vice-president Janet has written about them, in an often touching, sometimes amusing, and always interesting way, with plenty of pictures. Do take a look at her post at

The old thing is the original New Zealand Spinning Wheels website, the one that ended in dot info. When we replaced it with a WordPress site, I kept it going for a while as a pointer to the new site, but when the next account came up for payment, I cancelled it. Very quickly the address was snapped up by a gambling organisation! So a spinner going to it now gets quite a surprise …

Shan and I have tried hard to make sure that all links everywhere to the old site are updated with the new address, but we’ve inevitably missed a few. So if you see that out-of-date .info link anywhere, please could you either ask the owner of the site to change it to
or get in touch with me and I’ll ask them?

That’s all for now. Normal transmission, with spinning wheels (not the roulette kind), will resume about the 20th of the month.

Some early Majacraft memories and memorabilia

— now with a supplement from a letter written by John Arlott

I thank Glynis Poad, who has very kindly shared her knowledge of the company’s history.
*Click on an illustration to see it bigger*

It’s interesting to compare two leaflets from the early days of Majacraft production. The enterprise was started by John Arlott in the 1980s, and the first leaflet reflects that era. It bears only the names Moshie and John Arlott so it must before their son Tim (after whom the Tiny Tim was named) was participating an the company.

There are three models of wheel and none of them have individual names. We can recognise Tiny Tim in the ‘folding wheel’ at lower left, but the ‘double pedal wheel’ wheel above it doesn’t match any Majacraft I’ve seen. It must be Arlott’s very early double treadle wheel, which developed into Suzie. Then there is a double table (Norwegian-style) wheel; Glynis writes ‘John was a keen advocate for Norwegian wheels which he made at the beginning and the end of his time making spinning wheels.’

In the later leaflet which must date from the early 1990s, we find Suzie and Tiny Tim, named (below). Kristen and Tim Arlott’s names appear along with Moshie and John’s, and Glynis tells me they took over after John retired which would have been soon after this.

Suzie (named for the Arlotts’ daughter) can fold, and there are other differences. Tiny Tim, which seems to have been the first folding Majacraft, looks just like the one I once owned. It was very portable and convenient, but I disliked the restricted feeling around my foot on the treadle.

Other changes can be seen in this leaflet too:
Polly has now appeared, and is clearly intended as a simple, sturdy economy model. Pollyanna, with true double treadles, hasn’t quite arrived yet. The early leaflet showed an electric spinner but now Majacraft are selling one made by Seiko of Japan. And there’s a new addition – a drum carder.

The ‘Norwegian wheel’ is still featured, and we are told ‘This is the Majacraft standard bearer.’ Yet I have never seen one, to my knowledge. Have you?
The chair is still here, and looks a little different from the one in the first leaflet. There’s also a very small (but eight-shaft!) loom.

The skeiner has been improved and other accessories added:

You might like to compare the price lists:

Most items haven’t changed enormously. Exceptions are the electric spinner (understandable as it was now being imported), the chair (why?) and the ‘Norwegian wheel’ which Glynis says probably took too much time to make. Soon Tim dropped it in favour of the Saxonie. However, in later life John returned to making them. He also made grandfather clocks!

We see already in these leaflets many of the features Majacraft owners know and love: the delta orifice; the sealed ball bearing joints that never need oiling, in fact shouldn’t be oiled; the good range of ratios; the single movable flyer hook; and above all the double treadles. John Arlott didn’t invent double treadles, of course, but he introduced them in New Zealand.

Glynis and Owen Poad purchased the business in 1996, and new developments continue.

Current Majacraft products can be found here and complete PDFs of both leaflets are here

Supplement 22 February:
To my embarrassment I have only just found, in my several shelf-metres of books, magazines and files about spinning wheels, a letter from John Arlott. It’s undated but would have been sent in late 2009. He writes:

… I was a Registered Professional Engineer and came into this market place because it was becoming known that I had retired, had some “fancy” machinery and a bent to help others less fortunate than myself, spinners and weavers with what I may call mechanical problems …

So, first wheel for a lady with one hand and one hook about 85 or 86 (probably a date not the lady’s age) first electric wheels for ladies confined to bed … and first wheels to a group in Japan in 1987.

These introductions provided me with an opportunity to establish some basic parameters, simplicity is the vital ingredient for spinners, for manufacturers, for cost.

1. Flyer shaft to be overhung, one end in bearings and the other available for bobbin changing and all adjustments without removal. (He is describing what we sometimes call a Picardy-style flyer.)

2. Single adjustable flyer hook, reduce the rotating hardware and the things upon which to snag your fibre.

3. Delta no fuss orifice, no threading hook, takes any fibre, thread with thumb and finger.

4. Ball bearings, cheap, quiet, near enough frictionless, no messy plastic or leather and oil of grease and sloppy fit.

5. Double pedal, sit straight instead of on one cheek easy on the back and easy on the backside.

The first wheels were vertical and did not fold, folding is a bit of a luxury and not so important as some spinners seem to think.

Polly and Pollyanna followed the soundly based Suzie (named after my youngest daughter) and the heavy green wheel pleased the U.S.A. customers who spin cotton and viscose.

I demonstrated these products from Savannah GA to Prince George BC and all points in between, it was a great experience …  At times we averaged 48 wheels [sold] a week and you can see I think that we started at the bottom in 1986 and made every effort to listen to the client and improve …

I reckon that it is possible to incorporate a mobile phone, flashing lights, digital readouts, texting whatever that may be and ruin an absorbing hobby.