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Updates – always something new to find out

Here are some recent discoveries, and additions and corrections to web pages.

New wheels and information about wheels come to hand from time to time, and Shan or I will update the nzspinningwheelsinfo site accordingly. We also note the changes on the home page. If you go there and scroll down, you’ll come to a list headed Recently added to this site and you’ll see that we’ve made three additions lately, including an intriguing new mystery wheel. It’s worth checking that list occasionally.

One of the additions is better information about those ‘hybrid Nagy’ wheels that we see occasionally. Now we know I shouldn’t have called them that, and the theory about them I suggested a year ago in this blog was quite wrong. This one has a label! It’s called a Pioneer wheel, and it’s by Woodspin of Greytown. So it was a new model, most likely developed by Peter Gubb, late in the history of Nagy/Woodspin – probably as a more economical version. You can click on a picture to enlarge it.

If you are interested in Rappard wheels, you may have noticed that the page about the treadle carvings on (mostly) their horizontal wheels gets updated as more turn up. The most recent update was just three months ago.

The study of flyer-frame wheels should have included a mention of Ivan McGreevy’s little Fleur, which works on much the same principle as Madigan wheels.

Since writing about drive bands, I have discovered bakers twine! Of course each wheel has its own preference, but bakers twine works well for many, particularly for double drive and for wheels that like a fine band. If a scotch tension wheel has a thicker drive band, bakers twine may be the answer for the brake.

Reels of bakers twineWhat’s good about bakers twine? It’s not too slippery but slippery enough, it’s easy to work with, it comes in different colours, and above all it doesn’t stretch. I buy it in an 80 metre spool at Spotlight but I’ve seen smaller quantities advertised very reasonably by The Warehouse. (No doubt it’s just as available outside New Zealand.)

What do bakers use it for? I’ve no idea, and neither has Google.

If you use my book New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their makers please remember two things – first, there wasn’t room for the really rare wheels, whose makers made fewer than ten or twelve. And second, a book is fixed and can’t be altered. There’s a list here of some corrections and additional information, which I try to update when necessary.

Before you ask, no, I’m sorry, there is no possibility of a new edition. My printer is no longer in business and the cost would be prohibitive. However, it can be downloaded free of charge here.

Finally, here is a silent movie about the making of a spinning wheel in 1963, filmed in Rosenhagen, Northern Germany. The craftsman, Ernst Martin, is shown going through all the processes from rough wood to decorative turnings including captive rings, as well as the creation of the metal parts – mandrel/orifice, axle/crank – and see how he makes the hooks! It’s 52 minutes long and worth every second it takes to watch.

Like so many other fascinating things, the link was discovered by the wonderful people of the Working Wheels and Antique Wheels forums on Ravelry.

To quote Robert Louis Stevenson (in A Child’s Garden of Verses)
The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
(Actually I think I’m happier than the average king – just imagine all the responsibilities they have!)


Memories of a maker

I can’t remember now how I first heard of Ron Shearman, but somehow I learned that he made spinning wheels and lived in Marton, a small township about 185km (115 miles) northwest of Wellington. Naturally I looked up his telephone number and got in touch. He was keen to talk about his wheel-making, and happy for us to come up and see him. Eventually I ordered a wheel.

Ron and Sheila were welcoming and friendly, and we visited them several times. I learned that he had started his career as an apprentice chairmaker, then progressed to cabinetmaker. Later he became a teacher of woodwork, engineering and technical drawing at Rangitikei College in Marton. He was now retired and had problems with his heart.

He showed us his first wheel, made about 1970 from a pattern in Popular Mechanics magazine.

It was called the ‘Covered Wagon Wheel’ or “The Wheel that Won the West” and said to have been derived from a design developed in Scotland, but used in the colonisation of the western U.S.

A discussion among the wonderful people in the Antique Spinning Wheels group on Ravelry has established that there is no evidence for wheels of this type being taken along on the cramped, difficult journey across the US, and in fact it’s very unlikely. It made a good story, though.

I also learned that the pattern is in the Popular Mechanics issue of March 1966 p.177 and following. The construction details are interesting, but some other remarks make hilarious reading to modern spinners; spinning is apparently a lost art, and the writer finds it all rather quaint.

In a wonderful example of how an initially dubious tradition can be further corrupted, Dorothy Lumb in Yarnmaker 1 August 2010 p.13 described an almost identical wheel (no doubt from the same pattern) being made in Britain’s Peak District, which was there believed to be a replica of an old Romany design that could be strapped to the side of a gypsy caravan!

Ron’s version is made of mahogany, and apparently works but is a bit stiff.

Another of his early wheels looks very Norwegian.

He told us how in the 1970s he saw a wheel where he was staying in Balestrand north of Bergen. Interested, he took careful measurements, and made one like it from heart kauri when he came home. It’s the only wheel I’ve seen of his with an internal crank.

In 1982 he made a simplified, sturdier Norwegian-style wheel, which found its way to Canada where it is much loved. The treadle shape is one we see in many Norwegian wheels but usually much smaller and lighter.

He experimented with other different styles, and at this time seems to have treated each wheel as a completely new project. Shan has two, for example, which have a lot in common but to her frustration their bobbins cannot be swapped. Here is one of them.

This is the wheel, in case you were wondering, that she was spinning on in last month’s post. She likes it, except for two things: the handle of the threading hook sticks out from the end of the mother-of-all so that she bumps her left knee against it,

and secondly, it looks as though it should also be able to spin in double drive. But she fears that when she puts a double drive band on it, which she’d like to do, it won’t work well. Why is this? The grooves on the two pulleys, flyer and whorl, are almost the same size. The reason why this is a problem will have to wait for a future discussion.

Like all his wheels that we know about, it has a beautifully cut wood screw and  thread for adjusting tension, and another for the piece (loose on the table in this photo) that screws up from underneath to keep the MOA from sliding. The wood used is macrocarpa, one of Ron’s favourites; elm was another.

It was in the 1990s that he began to work with expert spinner Gloria Eatwell, and created a wheel to her demanding requirements which became the first of a series. There were two models, the Westminster like Gloria’s and the Regent which doesn’t have the extra finials between the spokes. Both have an extra tension control for fine tuning, which I have to admit I rarely bother to use on mine. There is more about these wheels here.

In the course of several visits, we learned that Ron had built their house, and indeed it was something to be proud of. Because of his heart trouble, he had added a lift – yes, he designed and constructed that himself too. He gave us a ride upstairs in it to see his study, which looked out over their lovely garden.

We also saw his workshop, which (to my regret) he had tidied up specially because we were coming. There was still plenty to see – here he is with a few of his impressive and mysterious machines. He was well equipped for working both wood and metal.

This was sitting in a corner awaiting final touches – and my wheel was well under way.

It wasn’t long before I was happily spinning on it.

There’s one more special thing to show you. Where we were living at the time, there was an ornamental cherry tree which after an earlier extension to the house was in a very bad position. So my husband took it out and we asked whether Ron would like the trunk. He gave careful instructions about how it should be dried, and in due course we took it to him. Then in March 2016 Ron died, at the age of 92, and we thought no more about the cherry tree until we received a little parcel from Sheila with a note saying Ron had wanted us to have the four little bowls he’d made from our tree.

Each one is a little different – like so many of his wheels! They are a wonderful memento of a man who couldn’t stop making things.

There is more about Ron Shearman’s wheels here:

New Zealand Spinning Wheels site – moved!

For a year or two I’ve been thinking about the site, and realising that it was time for some succession planning.

The code it’s written in would probably be sneered at by an 8-year-old. My knowledge of html was basic in the extreme when I wrote it fifteen years ago, and now it’s out of date as well because html has moved on and I haven’t.

Yes, the site works OK now, but for how much longer?

Even more important, I’m not immortal. I’ll be 80 next birthday, and the existence of the old site depended on a small monthly automatic payment from my bank account. We know what happens to bank accounts when someone dies: they are frozen, and payments stop. The old website would stop too.

So it has become a free WordPress site, which can stay put indefinitely.

And it has a new administrator. I’d like to introduce Shan.

 What’s that wheel? – I’ll tell you next month!

As you can see, she is another spinning wheel enthusiast. The two of us have been working hard for some weeks, setting up the new site. And talking about wheels, of course.

We hope that the different look won’t be too much of a shock –

and that you will still be able to find the information you want. A few minor updates have been made to the content but basically it’s the same. Here it is:

I have truly loved the friendly contacts with other spinners that the old site has brought me, and enjoyed finding out about wheels from all the generous people who have sent information and photos. I’m sure Shan will feel the same.

It will be a joint effort for the first little while, and there is also some new material that we want to add very soon. Here’s a teaser.


If you have any problems or comments, you can contact Shan through the new website or me through this blog, which will continue.

Note – it seems this may be happening just in time. I have been trying to turn all the pages of the old site into a shell with just links to the new one, but the links won’t link. I am baffled. Please just use the links above, or copy-and-paste from the main page of the old site.

More intriguing Rappard wheels!

Two months ago we saw an unusual Rappard Northern European, though now it’s clear that I shouldn’t have called it ‘unique’. Now, after some discussion on Ravelry and some checking back through my files, there are six Northern Europeans with a slashed-arrow mark! Here is the earliest one, of the normal type, dated (by carving in straight lines with some sort of chisel) to (19)68!

That is remarkably early, considering that Maria Rappard told me that their commercial production of spinning wheels began around 1970.

The next is the wheel with the finials, dated 1973.

The one with 16 spokes is dated 1977.

And another three of the normal Northern European style with the slashed arrow mark have come to light (so far) dated 1974, 1978 and 1981.

I nearly weep when I remember Maria showing me this first wheel John ever made, and that I never thought to ask her if I might look underneath. There is no design on the treadle.

I’m now wondering whether there are actually any Northern Europeans without the arrow … If you have one, please could you turn it over and see what mark (if any) is underneath? And let me know what you find?

And then, in one of those wonderful pieces of sheer coincidence that seem to happen so often with spinning wheels, there was a post in Ravelry from the puzzled owner of this:

She’d been gifted the wheel and told it came from ‘that place in Ashburton’ but realised it didn’t look like an Ashford Peggy. Was it a Peggy at all, she wondered?

I was excited. For years I’d been wondering about the photo in this little flyer someone gave me. You can click on it to enlarge.

No date is shown and the shop whose stamp is on the bottom is long gone. Was the wrong photo printed in the leaflet? Or had there once been a Little Peggy like this? Now it seemed that there had.

I asked the owner please to look for any markings under her wheel. This was the reply:

The slashed arrow and initials, on a Peggy! And look at the year – 1969! Since then she has kindly sent more photos of her wheel. Here is a comparison with a Peggy (on the right) from the early 1970s –

Among the differences from the ‘normal’ Little Peggies that we know and love are (starting at the bottom):
the fancy ankles,
the slightly more angular treadle,
the straight, stick-like spokes,
the unusually shaped segments of the drive wheel (visible in the first photo of the wheel, above; this continued for another two or three years),
the less curvy main support posts,
the straighter mother-of-all with its flat ends,
and above all the maidens, which lack the graceful curves that we are used to seeing in all Rappard wheels.

Actually we can catch a tantalising glimpse of maidens like these on a little photograph Maria gave me of the very first Northern European, which was no longer in her possession –

So I am imagining that after making the first one or two Little Peggies, John took a photo to be used in a leaflet. And that about that time Maria, who never hesitated to speak her mind, told him in no uncertain terms how the turnings could be improved on the Northern Europeans. She also pointed out how Little Peggy should be redesigned to be more attractive. But the new leaflets were being printed by then and were sent out with the old picture. (That’s just a story I made up, but I don’t think anyone who knew them would find it implausible.)

There’s still the question of why John used the slashed arrow for his mark. Sagittarius, as we saw, doesn’t fit. Apparently an arrow with slashes is used to indicate an unsuccessful reaction in organic chemistry, but he wouldn’t have wanted an implication of failure!

The arrow is still a mystery.

A huge thankyou to everyone who has sent me pictures or taken part in the discussion of these fascinating wheels!

A puzzle

First impression – Mike sent me this photo which he titled ‘What’

We were baffled at first. ‘We’ was Mike Keeves and myself, and the puzzle was a very odd ‘spinning wheel’ that put twist in and then took it out again. It was a fascinating challenge. The device turned out to be an unusual sort of Japanese silk reel, which would have been used for unwinding the filaments of silk from the cocoons.

We wrote about it for The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, and our article is now reprinted here with the kind permission of the editor.

A unique Rappard wheel

It now (July 2019) seems this wheel is not  nearly as unusual as I thought. More here.

At the 2019 Creative Fibre Festival recently, I watched the Fashion Parade. There were many stunning garments  and I should have been paying close attention. But there was also a spinning wheel, at the far end of the runway beside the commentator’s lectern. I was fixated and frustrated, trying to see it properly.

Afterwards, seen from closer to the stage, the wheel was clearly a Rappard Northern European – with 16 spokes! I knew of one other, but only had a couple of small photos of it. So it was out with the camera and notebook.

The turning is nicely detailed, but it has a sturdy, almost peasant feel. Northern Europeans are  quite different from the graceful simplicity of the Rappards’ later Mitzi, and this one has more detail than the ones we usually see.

Comparing the turning, from the feet to the maidens to the drive wheel, the usual 8-spoked model is simpler almost everywhere.

One thing all Northern Europeans I’ve seen have in common is the unusual construction of the drive wheel. It’s like this:


which would have been made by joining four pieces of wood like this and then cutting out the circle. It might be easier than the more usual method of making matching segments, but it means that end grain of the wood is being attached to lengthwise grain, which can be tricky.








There are two little retaining pins to stop the tension screw from screwing right out. Two seems a bit like overkill.

You may have noticed the unique design on the treadle.

It’s far more elaborate than any we’ve seen before. Did Maria design it for someone special?

Then I peered underneath, and found, not the usual Rappard name and numbers, but this:

– JR (John Rappard), 77 (presumably 1977) and two lines with an arrow through them. He put similar mark on just one other wheel that we know of, the one below with its charming little finials between the spokes.

Its treadle motif is the rosette, one of the standard ones, but underneath is this –

It’s marked (19)73, so it’s a really early Rappard, and it has three lines pierced by the arrow. Was the arrow symbol perhaps used on wheels which were made specially for a particular person?

And what does the symbol mean? Rex Chapman-Taylor (son of the famous craftsman-designer James Walter Chapman-Taylor, who did not mark his work) used an arrow mark on items of furniture he made (this example is on a chair):

It looks like a sign of Sagittarius, the star sign of the Archer, and Chapman-Taylor senior was very interested in horoscopes. But neither he nor his son Rex was a Sagittarian, and nor was John Rappard,  – all three were born in June. So the arrow and slash(es) mark remains a mystery.

Later I learned a little about the wheel’s history. It had belonged to Betty Healey, a colourful character who was much loved by her fellow members of the Dannevirke Spinning Club.  Longtime members still remember her with affection, and remember her big spinning wheel, though she was actually more of a weaver. it’s not known whether she had owned it from new. It ended up in a shed, but was found by her son and has been given to the Manawatu Spinners and Weavers Guild.

The wheel has some visible history. That mark in the middle of the table is actually a very rough hole which goes right through. Apparently at some point someone tried to add an electric motor to it. But that’s no reason why it shouldn’t still be a good spinner.

Hamilton wheel again

My Hamilton wheel is still mysterious, even more beautiful, and no longer troublesome.

How many differences can you spot in these before-and-after photos?
First, there’s now a serious amount of yarn on the bobbin. Spun with no throwing of drive band!

The second difference is what made that possible – the mother-of-all (MOA) and flyer assembly are no longer on a wonky angle, but straightened so that the whorls line up with the drive wheel.

The third difference was part of that process – the little brass pin you can see sticking out of the MOA.

And lastly, there’s the difference that a good clean and wax makes (though admittedly the second photo was taken in a different light). Kauri wood responds wonderfully to polishing.

The repair needed an expert so I sent this to Mike Keeves, maker of Grace wheels.

All these parts were solidly glued together – MOA, MOA collar and screw block. (And the back maiden but we weren’t worrying about that.) Carefully packed, it arrived safely. Mike sent me some photos:

The first job was to use a Forstner bit to drill right through the MOA and destroy the wooden pin securing it to the MOA collar. He said the MOA didn’t appear to have been glued originally, but stuck on at a later date.

Once the MOA was freed, he had to separate the screw block (the piece the tension screw goes through) from the collar, by drilling out the rest of the well-glued-in pin. In the picture above the screw block is still in the clamp. Then he had to drill out the remainder of the pin from the screw block, so it could be replaced with a new one and everything lined up properly.

He was concerned about the cracks in the screw block, and the damage that has at some time been caused to the screw thread where the tension is adjusted (he thought by a drill or a nail). We both believe the screw block and the tension peg that screws into it are, like the rest of the wheel, made of Kauri (recognisable by its tiny dark flecks) – it’s a lovely wood for spinning wheels, except for these vital little functional parts.Nothing can be done about the thread, but I find if I keep it well lubricated with candle wax it works smoothly. And Mike did a great job of glueing the cracks. This was one of those rare times when glue should be used to fix a spinning wheel – when something has broken apart that was originally one piece of wood, or that was originally glued when the wheel was made (or of course in a kitset wheel, if the maker’s instructions say to glue).

Many wheels have been ruined by well-meaning people using glue to fix something that wasn’t originally intended to be stuck together. And that’s what had happened to this Hamilton wheel: at some time in the past, the MOA perhaps was a little loose and twisting around. So he (it’s usually a he, but that may be unfair) stuck the MOA and its collar in place with glue. Only unfortunately he didn’t stick them quite right. I guess he had never heard of shims.

Anyway, then it was time to put things back together. Mike suggested a dry joint rather than glue to hold the mother-of-all to the collar, and putting a removable pin through the MOA to hold everything together, in case any adjustments have to be made. I was happy to agree, and that is why a little brass pin has appeared in the second spot-the-difference photograph at the top of this post. I do like to keep things original where possible, but with spinning wheels function comes first.

Here’s another before and after pair.You are looking from underneath at the end of the screw block with the bottom surface of the pin very visible (oddly, the hole for the peg widens at the bottom). Behind it is the bottom of the MOA collar, and behind that the bottom of the MOA.

The most important change is that the screw block is now perfectly in line with the MOA.

The shiny white on the surface of the collar is three thin plastic removable shims that Mike put in, in case the collar didn’t fit snugly to the table. He didn’t have the entire wheel to make sure everything fitted to it exactly. I could remove some or all of the layers if I pulled out that tiny brass pin, which you can just see the tip of at the top of the collar, but I left them in because it fits perfectly as it is.

In the second picture you can hardly see the little blemish at the right-hand end of the MOA. There were several spots of such damage – dog? small child? They are much less noticeable now, after I stained and waxed everything.

We’ve noticed several things that we feel are design faults, but none of them seem to matter much. First, there is no retaining pin to stop the tension knob from screwing right out – but it’s very easy to keep it in place when adjusting the tension. Also, Mike pointed out that there’s no clamping or holding piece under the table that keeps the MOA assembly in position – it stays put just fine, though. And there’s the use of Kauri for screw threads, which it isn’t really suited for.

Mr Hewison(?) was creating wheels under wartime conditions of urgency and shortage of materials. Was he an expert spinning wheel maker? Perhaps not, though he was a fine craftsman. The ‘faults’ don’t make the wheel any less a joy to spin with.Like other Hamilton wheels I’ve seen, it has 14 spokes in the drive wheel – not a common number. Their spacing isn’t completely even. This wheel was made in a workshop, not a factory!

I am very grateful to Mike for his skilled, knowledgeable work. The best wheel-makers and wheel-repairers are also spinners. He doesn’t spin so much these days, and remarked ‘spiders spin webs on my wheels as if to say, this is how it’s done you idle fellow’. (How wrong they are!)