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Updates and unknowns

Books are better than websites, because of their permanence. A website can disappear into thin air at any time, for all sorts of reasons, but a book is unchanging (exception: not in Jasper fforde’s entertaining The Eyre Affair).

Websites are better than books, because they can be changed. New information and ideas can be added at any time, so they can grow as knowledge of the subject grows.

That is why I have both. was started in response to enquiries about New Zealand spinning wheels, and New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their makers grew out of the realisation that the information is valuable and needs to outlive me.

Eric Phillips wheel

New information still arrives, though it’s a trickle now compared with the flood when I started. I’m not as conscientious as I should be in updating the page of additions and corrections to the book, but I hope everyone who has the book checks it occasionally.

Discoveries go into the website. On the home page there is always a list of recent additions. Some are minor, such as when better photos have been sent by helpful people. Occasionally there is extra information, or even a totally new maker. A distinctive group of spinning wheels that had been tantalising me for years was finally identified last year by a communication out of the blue, so Eric Phillips is now added to the list of makers.

Schofield wheel

There’s also that intriguing new snippet about Schofield wheels, which as far as we know originated the flyer frame which developed over time into the most striking feature of Philip Poore’s much-loved Wendy. Was Euan McEwan making them to Schofield’s design in the South Island (perhaps to save on transport costs?) or was he perhaps the innovator of the design?

Then there are the mystery wheels. Frustrating me at the moment is a group I’ve called, for now, “wide table wheels“. They are heavy, but smaller than they look in photos, at not much over 1m top to toe (they vary a bit). They turn up on Trademe and occasionally in person, with never a clue as to origin – until recently, when one was said to have been made in Napier about 42 years ago for a lady named Addis. It is quite well engineered, with oiling holes in the wood for flyer shaft and main bearing. It originally had a leather belt with no tension adjustment and a single ratio.

2 slightly different “wide table wheels”

I have been able to find out that a Nina Addis was an expert spinner years ago in Napier. Was it hers? Who made it for her? Will we ever know? Time will tell.

There has been a lengthy search for the maker(s) of the beautiful and mysterious Hamilton wheels. Maybe I’ll talk about them another time.

Do check the “NEW” list on the home page of the website once or twice a year – there might be a miraculous solution to one of these puzzles! And needless to say, if you can shed any light, please get in touch!


Why I won’t do valuations

I get quite a few emails asking questions about spinning wheels, and I enjoy them. Sometimes I can answer the questions, which is very satisfying.

There are a few questions I don’t enjoy quite so much, the ones that go something like this –
I have a such-and-such wheel. Can you please tell me its value?

No, I can’t. There are far too many variables.

First, I don’t know what condition it’s in, how many bobbins it has, whether there are any other extras. If there’s no photo I can’t be sure the sender has identified it correctly. And even a good photo or two doesn’t tell a viewer how well it works – only, with luck, that it looks as though it should work or that it probably won’t.

Second, often one can’t tell from the email address what country the sender is in. Gmail and Hotmail addresses, and some others, give no clues. Why does that matter? It’s vital: prices of spinning wheels vary dramatically from one country to another.

Here in New Zealand we have a relatively small population and a glut of wheels. For example a small, easy to carry wheel of a well-known make, like this Rappard Wee Peggy, if in excellent order with plenty of bobbins and other goodies, could perhaps fetch around NZ$80 here. In the US you might get three or four times that, and remember that $1 in NZ is only about three quarters the value of $1 in the US. I think Canada and the UK might be similar to the US, and Australia would be approaching them (I have no idea about other countries). We Kiwis don’t always appreciate our wonderful spinning wheels as we should!

Even if you take account of all these factors, everything depends on whether someone, or preferably several someones, happen to want this wheel on the day. That is a matter of pure chance.

The final and most important reason I politely decline to give a valuation is that I really don’t find money interesting. Not nearly as interesting as the wheels themselves, anyway. The value of a wheel to me is in its history, the ingenuity and skill of its maker, and the miles of lovely yarn it has spun and can still spin, giving joy to its spinner.

So I won’t venture to guess what a wheel might sell for. My only suggestions are:
Find a nearby spinning group and enquire there.
Ask on Ravelry, if you are a member – there are discussion groups for spinners of most places, and the wonderful Working Wheels group.
Look at sales of similar wheels in local auction websites. Those might be Ebay (anywhere but New Zealand), Trademe (NZ), Gumtree (UK and Australia), Craigslist (US) or Kijiji (Canada), and no doubt there are many others.

But beware.

Rare antique spinning wheel in working order. $400. Seller: D.Luded

Look at the actual bids, not just the asking prices! Many sellers know nothing about what they are selling and imagine that any spinning wheel must be a valuable antique. This fake advertisement is only a slight exaggeration.

First aid kit – for spinning wheels!

Last year I put one together for the group I belong to, the Wairarapa Spinners & Weavers Guild. It gets a lot of use – most members now know where it’s kept, and will go and get it if a wheel needs a minor fix. Here are the details, first published in Creative Fibre in December last year.

An individual spinner might find one useful too. You won’t need so much, just the items that will be useful for your own particular wheel or wheels, though you might be surprised at how often you hear “Please may I borrow your …”

I should add that since writing the article, I’ve learned that beeswax (no other kind of wax) is good to put on slipping drivebands.

An exciting discovery

It wasn’t discovered by me, but I was privileged to co-author the publication in Creative Fibre magazine in September 2016.

There are all sorts of questions that face a spinning wheel designer – from simple questions like horizontal or upright, three legs or four,  to subtleties like proportions, drive mechanism, tension, ratios, and the complex interactions of moving parts. Have you noticed how many of the best makers have a background in engineering?

The variety and ingenuity of the answers makers come up with are endlessly fascinating (I think this is why I keep studying spinning wheels). Ingenuity is particularly called on in times of war, when need is urgent but materials are scarce.

So here it is – a friction drive wheel from World War One.

Note: a slightly more detailed account (with footnotes even!) will be published in the Spinning Wheel Sleuth later this year.

More wheel instructions!

Here at last are the rest of the instruction leaflets from my files.

Some are not wonderful quality, mostly because the original leaflets were often amateur productions (but still valuable to spinners). I think after a bit of photoshopping they are all more or less legible.

If you have instructions for a different New Zealand wheel (apart from Ashford’s which are on their website) I’d be very grateful for a copy. Please leave a comment or get in touch  at <>.

Those missing wheel instructions

Do you have a New Zealand wheel which has been parted from the maker’s instructions? Perhaps you may find them on this page.

Right now it’s only wheels A to M – I’ll add the ones from the N to Z file soon.

The collection has been accumulating for over 10 years. A big thankyou to all those helpful people who have contributed!

Why Wairarapa?

We came here from Wellington in January 2010. Wellington is a lovely city, with lots to do, a beautiful harbour, and perhaps the best coffee in the world. Why on earth would we or anyone else move an hour and a half away to live on the other side of a very big hill? There’s no article this month – instead, I’ll try to answer that question.

We had to find somewhere. Somewhere much smaller and flatter than our little farm on Wellington’s outskirts, somewhere manageable for people with artificial hips and the other inconveniences of age. This kind of place didn’t work for us any more –

Photo: B. McFadgen

So we looked for a smaller house in Wellington, that didn’t have a vast hillside to look after and wasn’t up lots of steps or or down lots of steps. Sounds easy? Not in Wellington.

When my parents first arrived in Wellington from Canada in 1934, my mother wrote to her family describing this place on the other side of the world. She made a little sketch of Oriental Bay, tracing a rather long walk that they took. You will need to click to enlarge it, and another click will embiggen it further.

They were staying in the St Ives guesthouse (on the right) and you can see them, Stan and Fran, setting out up a steep zigzag (“puff puff puff…”) through close-packed houses. After a rest at the top they walked along a high path and remarked on “cliff dwellers everywhere”. Then it was down another steep zigzag (“brakes on”) noticing how houses were typically reached by a steep path. Walking back along Oriental Parade beside the beach they had to run when it started to rain, and they must have been quite wet when they got back to St Ives.

Oriental Bay is still a lovely part of Wellington, though now expensive, with a popular beach. It has changed a bit since 1934 – the trams (street cars) are now buses, and there are some modern houses and apartment buildings. But it’s no accident that the recurring description is “steep”.

Photo: Business Events Wellington

This recent photograph must must have been taken from somewhere near the top of my parents’ walk, though in very different weather. The sandy beach is Oriental Bay, and you are looking across to the central business district. The commercial buildings have grown and spread, of course, but the surrounding hills are still inhabited by “cliff dwellers”.

Cliff dwelling is no longer for us. After weeks of househunting in Wellington, finding nothing we liked that looked suitable for our old age, we asked each other “What about Wairarapa?” We liked the area, and we knew quite a lot of people there from our involvement with the Black & Coloured Sheep Breeders’ Association. I knew it had a large, lively guild of spinners, and expected (correctly) that it would be a treasure trove of interesting spinning wheels.

So here we are. We love it. Plains, wide and flat, stretch from the rugged South Coast northward between mountains. This was taken looking east from the foothills of the Tararua Range – the Pacific Ocean is on the far side of the hills in the distance.

It’s been an important agricultural area from the 1840s. European settlers drove sheep around the coast from Wellington to set up their farms. Merinos came first, but were prone to footrot in the flat countryside and soon Romneys took over. By 1851 there were 20,000 sheep and 2000 cattle in the region.

Drive or cycle for just a few minutes out of any of the five main townships (Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Martinboough and Featherston) and you will see sheep, cattle, probably some horses, possibly alpaca or deer (yes, deer are farmed here). Another few minutes and you may find yourself in a place of real beauty.

We have not regretted our move. Not for one moment.