Bobbins are very vulnerable to damage, to the problems of old age, and to complete disappearance.
They come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, not to mention that vital diameter of the hole through the middle. Here are all the different kinds of bobbin that I currently have (I don’t have the wheels that go with all of them!) –
From longest to shortest, starting on the left, they are – Fleur, Nagy (see the lovely gleam of the kauri wood?), Shearman, Bordua from Québec, Gib Wilson, Sleeping Beauty, Hamilton, unknown, Norwegian Husfliden, and finally two unknowns.
They have a wide range of shapes and sizes. What you can’t see in this photo is the different diameters of their holes, which have to fit perfectly on a flyer shaft (a.k.a. mandrel). Of the two on the ends, for example, the Fleur has a hole diameter of 9.6mm (3 eighths of an inch), and the one at far right has a hole diameter of 6.3mm (a quarter of an inch). Very few of them would fit the flyers of any of the others, though the little oddity on the right works nicely, by a lucky coincidence, on my Husfliden. You can see that I’ve had to put several felt washers on the flyer first to stop the bobbin end binding against the curve of the flyer arms.
So it’s depressing when a new spinner asks “I bought this spinning wheel, but it doesn’t have any bobbins – where can I get them?” If it’s an Ashford, of course, or some other current wheel, all should be well, but otherwise we most likely have to give bad news. A wheel with no bobbins at all is quite a problem.
You may be able to identify a New Zealand made wheel at
or if it could be Australian made, try
If the maker is or was prolific, bobbins just might turn up on second-hand websites. Some spinning groups keep odd bobbins in the hope that they will find a use, and they sometimes appear on second-hand tables at events.
If all else fails, and if everything else is there and working (as far as you can tell without a bobbin to test), it may be worth getting bobbins made. There are lists of experts who can do this here if you’re in North America, and here in the U.K. Or your local spinning group will very likely know a good local wheel-fixer. The results are more likely to be good if the craftsperson has the parts the bobbin has to fit: the flyer and whorl – more about this later.
Then there’s 3D printing. A company called Akerworks makes bobbins for a number of wheels – the current list is here.
Or if you know someone with a 3D printer, a search here for ‘spinning wheel bobbin’ reveals several customisable patterns.
But what if you have only one bobbin? Oh dear – isn’t that a terrible problem? I don’t find it so bad – in fact a favourite wheel, my lovely Hamilton, only has the one and I’ve never bothered having more made. This is what I do:
I can wind off easily using either my Gib Wilson wheel as here, or my Fleur. They are “Picardy style wheels” – that means the flyer shaft sticks out in front of the maidens instead of sitting between them, and you put the bobbin onto the shaft and then screw the rest of the flyer onto the shaft’s end.
The idea seems to have originated in the Picardy region of France, hence the name. Other New Zealand wheels, old and new, that use this system include Harold Martin, Hal Atkinson, John Moore, Dunnachie, Patrick Jennings, Peacock, Grace, Majacraft.
Ashford tried it briefly in 1942:
Getting bobbins made for a Picardy style wheel with the whorl and flyer shaft fixed in place? You may be able to remove the whole spinning head including them and send that. Otherwise, send the flyer and accurate measurements of the diameter and length of the flyer shaft that the bobbin has to fit.
To get back to the topic – what I do is lift the drive band (and scotch brake if it’s that kind of wheel) on the wheel I’ve been spinning on out of the grooves, so the bobbin runs free. On the Wilson or the Fleur, I unscrew the flyer and remove the brake band from the bobbin groove. I jam a bobbin (any that will go) firmly on its shaft with a bit of paper/wool/card/whatever as a shim to keep it unmoving, and fasten the yarn end to this recipient bobbin. Then I just treadle, guiding the wind-on evenly back and forth along the bobbin with a finger. Soon the original bobbin is ready for more spinning.
Of course not everyone has a Picardy style wheel. A quill attachment on a wheel should work, or a large charkha. I’ve also heard of people using an electric drill and bit to hold the recipient bobbin. No doubt there are other ways of avoiding tedious hand winding.
Maybe your wheel has a bobbin or several, but they don’t seem to work. Recently I saw a bobbin that had suddenly started to bind against the whorl, and just wouldn’t spin around. It turned out that the end of the bobbin had worked a bit loose (so the bobbin had become longer) – quickly fixed by the owner with some glue.
What if the bobbin(s) won’t go on the flyer shaft? Or can be pushed on but the fit is so tight the bobbin won’t turn freely? The first thing is to inspect the metal flyer shaft – has it become rough or rusted? Keeping it shiny-smooth is important; I generally use steel wool with a few drops of WD40 or oil (be sure to wipe the shaft clean afterwards and oil it again).
But if the shaft is OK, maybe the hole through the bobbin is too tight, either made that way or shrunk or warped very slightly, or just dirty. Clean it (a thin torn strip of material with a bit of oil added, poked through, generally works) and test it again. If all is still not well, you can use a small round file, or my favourite high-tech tool – a knitting needle with a small piece of sandpaper wrapped around it – to enlarge the hole slightly. It’s important to stop and check the fit often; the last thing you want is to make the hole too big and have a rattling bobbin. When it’s right, again clean it inside.
Bobbins made of wood (as opposed to ply or a wood composite or plastic) can often break an end along the grain of the wood. We see plenty that have been glued back together, more or less expertly.
The third one seems to have been chewed by a long-ago dog. Not only is it beyond repair, it has also been misleading.
It’s one of two originals that came with my Québec wheel; the other is in fairly good shape. When the previous owners acquired the wheel, they thought there should be more bobbins so they got an expert craftsman to make some. They sent him the dog-chewed bobbin to copy, and he did the best he could to get measurements from it. But he couldn’t accurately measure the hole’s diameter – I tried and got different diameters (by a critical 2mm) at each end – and is such bad shape that he clearly took the safest option, the largest diameter. This is what he was dealing with:
So the hole was too big in the new bobbins and they clattered dreadfully. He has since put extra bushings in a couple of them for me (fitting them to the flyer) and I’m very grateful for their silence.
There’s a vital lesson for us here, which is worth repeating. If you are getting bobbins made to fit a wheel, it’s important that if at all possible the craftsperson has the parts the bobbin has to fit: the flyer and whorl. A bobbin to copy is good if possible, but less vital.