Husfliden wheels from Norway to New Zealand

Please click on the photos to see them properly!

In the early 1960s interest in handcrafts, including spinning, was increasing in New Zealand as in many other countries. Craftsmen were beginning to respond, and soon there were spinning wheels available from makers like Pipy, Beauchamp, Nagy and Tyler.

But the indomitable Aileen Stace of the Eastbourne Spinners, while approving and encouraging (and when necessary criticising) these new wheels, wanted something special for her spinners.

I don’t know who had told her about the wheels sold by Husfliden (“Homecrafts” in Norwegian), in Bergen, but she wrote to the company about obtaining some. The reply, dated 29 June 1960, is still in the records now held by the Eastbourne Historical Society.

I apologise for the poor photo of a worse photocopy of a damaged original, but much of it is legible if you enlarge it. And I don’t know whether the letter addresses her as Mrs Mary Stace in error (Mary was her middle name) or whether the correspondence was actually carried out by another family member.

She ordered some wheels, and I remember seeing them a year or two later in her studio. They stood tall, pale and slender among the more sturdy New Zealand-made wheels. As a beginner I was not qualified to spin on them!

There was soon a second shipment, which included some for members of the group who had asked for a wheel to be included in the order. We don’t know how many in all came here, but there are still some around. Most have lost the little touches of bright paint around maidens and other turning, but if in good condition they still spin smoothly, fast and fine. 

They have a rather unusual style of crank to turn the wheel, generally called an internal crank. The footman/conrod stands between the drive wheel and the wheel post, which means it has to pass through a hole in the table. The top end connects with in a bend in the axle, which rotates to turn the drive wheel. This system has been used on some treadle sewing machines too, so when we occasionally find it in New Zealand-made wheels we can probably assume it is derived from the sewing machine design rather than from these Husfliden wheels (see also New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their Makers ch.6, 120-122 on cranks in spinning wheels and sewing machines).

When you alter the tension, the mother-of-all slides on little runners or rails of wire: if they are straight and undamaged the adjustment is smooth and simple. You can see them in the picture at right, if you enlarge it with a click.

A few years ago I was privileged to work on one whose wires had somehow become bent, so that the tension wouldn’t move. First the little tapered retaining peg had to be knocked out (from underneath) – this is a tiny but important part of a screw-tension horizontal wheel, as it forces the tension screw to turn in place and move the mother-of-all, rather than unscrewing and falling out. You can just see it if you enlarge the photo below, a bit like a tiny matchstick, on the carpet between a maiden and the tension screw.

Then it was possible to dismantle the whole setup. I straightened the runners, and rubbed candle wax on the wooden threads of the tension screw (oil should never be applied to wooden moving parts as it may make them swell). When everything was reassembled the tension could be properly adjusted – a very satisfying result.

But these beauties were not the only Husfliden wheels to come to New Zealand. After Fred and I were married, we lived in London while I completed my PhD at University College and he worked at Imperial College. They sent him to Bergen for a conference in mid-1965, so I tagged along. (Bergen is fascinating!) One day we were strolling down a street, and I glanced across and saw “Husfliden” over a shop opposite. It was just as well there was no traffic at that moment!

In the shop they had two different styles of spinning wheel. One was the highly polished aristocrat familiar from Miss Stace’s studio. As a poor student I couldn’t afford that one. The other was a more modest production, and the wood was unvarnished, but its lines were simple and clean and appealed to me. The shop assistant explained that Husfliden didn’t manufacture their own wheels. The different styles were made in different villages, mostly by farmers during the long cold winter; the expensive one came from somewhere near Bergen if I remember rightly, and the smaller from near Trondheim, further north. I could just afford one of those, and I’d always hoped to spin again when I could. So they shipped it to New Zealand, partly disassembled and totally protected in a splendid purpose-built wooden crate. It waited in my mother’s garage till my return the following year and emerged undamaged ready to be put together.

I slightly wish now that I hadn’t stained it darker, but kept the lovely blond colour of the wood. However, this was what I liked at the time. It’s a lovely wheel to use, smooth and consistent, with ratios of 10:1 and 11.5:1. The first wheel I owned, it brings back precious memories and I love it dearly.

It can’t have been the first of its kind to reach New Zealand. At least one must have arrived earlier, because in 1963 Ken Bartlett of Christchurch started making wheels clearly based on the design. At left is a 1972 example, in front of my Husfliden. Apart from small differences in a few of the turnings, and a different position for the bobbin-holders, you’d be hard put to tell the difference.

Later, Bartlett began to make a few changes, probably to suit New Zealand spinners. The treadle gets wider, with room for two feet, and by 1979 the bobbin storage is back beneath the upper table. Things in general look a little bit sturdier. And there’s another interesting change – the mother-of-all now slides on wire runners! By then he must have seen one of the other type of Husfliden, probably one of Miss Stace’s imports, and liked the idea. (You are right about this photo, the drive band isn’t properly in place!)

So how do you recognise a Husfliden wheel, given that they sold at least two different styles and possibly more that we haven’t seen and that there have been copies? “Made in Norway” stamped underneath is no help; many vintage Norwegian wheels have this. But all the Husfliden wheels I’ve seen have a little button that says Husfliden Bergen Norway. It may be under the table like mine, or on the top, but it will be there somewhere. Here is mine at about its actual size (bigger if you enlarge it).

There is still a Husfliden shop in Bergen, at the same address as in 1960, Vaagsallemenning 3. They offer knitting yarn and loom accessories, but sadly no spinning wheels.

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