Some hybrid spinning wheels

This is what you may get if you cross a Sleeping Beauty wheel  and a Pipy saxony.

Just as some orchardists cross varieties of (for example) apples to produce new ones, so a few wheel makers have crossed varieties of spinning wheel to create something new. The most prolific hybridiser in New Zealand has been Ray Chisholm, who took over both Pipy and Sleeping Beauty. The offspring above has retained the characteristic Sleeping Beauty maidens and the tilting mother-of-all, but look at the metal flyer bearing with its hook to keep the flyer in place, so typical of Pipy.

The drive wheel has spokes that are more Pipy than Sleeping Beauty, but two grooves round the side of the rim; the table is somewhat shaped but the legs and treadle are pretty much Sleeping Beauty. (I’m tempted to ramble on about dominant genes, but that would be taking the metaphor much too far.)

Chisholm didn’t stop at the saxonies, either – he clearly loved to experiment. This appears to be a late Thumbelina by Sleeping Beauty, right?

But look at those flyer bearings! Metal, with a hook. Here is another, with its flyer bearings on the other side of the maidens, and its owner remarks that its bobbins too are very different from Thumbelina’s; they are much longer and have a metal core like Pipy bobbins. The tilting mother-of-all is not found on late Thumbelinas either.

Not content with those crosses, Chisholm actually also combined elements of Thumbelina with the Sleeping Beauty economy model, Serena.


That’s a Serena. This isn’t:
The most obvious Thumbelina element is the maidens, but there’s more to it than that. Other examples of these have been seen, and an owner has done some measurements: for instance the length of a late Thumbelina table is 260mm, of a Serena, 270mm, and of a hybrid, 360mm! So these hybrids are not just made of collections of spare parts (the sort of thing some call a Frankenwheel). Clearly they are specially made wheels, by a maker who liked to try new ideas.

Then there are the Nagy hybrids, and they are rather mysterious.

From the mother-of-all up, you’d swear it was a Nagy. The legs are identical to those of the later Woodspin Nagys made by Peter Cottier (that’s one on the left below), and the split table and the treadle and treadle bar are like those on the special lower-orifice Nagys also made by Cottier (on the right, below).

But what about that drive wheel? I’ve only ever seen drive wheels like it, with the six cutouts, shiny finish and almost moulded appearance, on Koala wheels made by Graeme Dawes in Perth, Australia around the 1980s. Here are a Koala (front and detail views) and the smaller Koala Cub (front and side).
Unlike any Nagy ever made, they are Picardy-style wheels with the flyer in front of the maidens. But the composite drive wheels are at first sight very similar to those of our hybrid Nagys. There’s one big difference, though – the Koala drive wheels have two grooves, of different circumferences, so a wide range of ratios is available.

How might we explain the similarities and differences? First of all, it’s known that Dawes commissioned parts for his Koalas from other craftsmen, and he assembled them. Secondly, local knowledge tells us that not long after Peter Gubb took over Woodspin from Peter Cottier in 1983, he died in an accident, and his father endeavoured to keep the business going but was soon reduced to selling off the remaining parts.

So perhaps these hybrid Nagys were made by someone who picked up some Nagy parts, and obtained a few drive wheels (possibly from whoever made the Koala wheels for Graeme Dawes) and put them together skillfully to create a new wheel style. We don’t know where this person got the parts – Australia, New Zealand, the US? There can’t have been many made; I’ve only heard of three, including one in the US and one in Canada.

Another wheel has been seen in Australia that has Nagy flyer assembly and drive wheel, but the rest of it looks almost (but not quite) like an Ashford Traditional. Have you seen any other types of hybrid wheel? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Quite different of course are wheels that have had missing or broken parts replaced. My little Wilson wheel now has not only a flyer by Mike Keeves, but a also replacement strut that keeps it stable when spinning, changes that are part of its special history.

It’s proving a very relaxing wheel to spin on. The new strut with its round profile doesn’t look like the original, in fact it looks rather odd, but it’s very strong. It was once a trapeze bar which my daughter used, and I like to think that it would never have let her down. I don’t have a video of her using one of those, but here she is flying with a very different apparatus:

Do you have a wheel with a history that future spinners might like to know about? I have written the Wilson wheel’s identification and history under the treadle – an idea I recommend if you have a rare or interesting wheel.

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2 thoughts on “Some hybrid spinning wheels

  1. Linda Eder

    I am the lucky owner of the Koala wheel in Canada. Sadly the Koala drive wheel has split in two and cannot be repaired. I have it tucked away and maybe one day someone can make me a new one.

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    Reply
    1. maryinnz Post author

      Oh, that’s a pity about your drive wheel. Did the break reveal that it was made of some sort of composite board?
      Yes, I remember corresponding with you, and am of course grateful for your photos!

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      Reply

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