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!

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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.


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