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.

Startled by a spinning wheel

photo1The friend who was with me says I was struck speechless (most unusual for me) when we walked into a little museum and were confronted by this wheel. I had never heard of its maker Alan Brenkley, but I soon discovered his fascinating story.

Here it is. The article was first published in The Spinning Wheel Sleuth #92 (April 2016).

A light-hearted look at sheep terminology

Here’s something a little frivolous, from back in 2003. It was published in the magazine of the Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders Association of New Zealand, an organisation whose members were of enormous help to us in our sheep breeding efforts. We knew nothing when we started!

I highly recommend their website to anyone interested in obtaining and using quality handcraft wool.

Spinning Song from World War One

In the First World War (as later in the Second) knitted items like warm socks and balaclavas were an important contribution to parcels sent to the troops by organisations like the Red Cross and the Navy League. Around New Zealand, women formed groups to knit; but in wartime, wool and the factories to spin it into yarn are soon diverted to more pressing uses. So in many places, out came the spinning wheels.

Inspired by patriotic fervour, the amount of work done was extraordinary. For example in the first 6 months of 1916, production by Canterbury Red Cross members included 8989 pairs of socks, 2426 mufflers and 1488 balaclavas. School children were taught to knit, and sometimes to spin, encouraged by songs like ‘Knitting’:
Marching, marching, thro’ the misty night,
Peering thro’ the dark, longing for a fight,
Tramping, stumbling, on the broken ground,
With the tang of battle all around…

That ‘charming patriotic song’ (so says the cover page – it has an even more ferocious second verse and no mention of knitting despite the title) – came from Britain. There were New Zealand composers too. One was Miss Jane Morison, of Masterton. Born in Scotland in 1855, she had come to New Zealand with her family in 1870. She became a music teacher, and composed a number of stirring songs, most of them during World War One.

Her ‘Spinning’ has recently been rediscovered. It would be nice to know whether Jane Morison was a spinner herself; the mention of ‘wool from the farm’ certainly rings true in the Wairarapa, where sheep have been farmed for generations. The words were published in the Wairarapa Daily Times on October 2 1917.


The sheet music (with slight changes in the words) was published in 1918 ‘with the object of encouraging a spirit of practical patriotism in young people’. The cover proclaims that it was ‘Dedicated to Patriotic School Girls’.

Since then the song has been forgotten for many years, but here it is and it was actually sung at the Wairarapa Spinners and Weavers Guild’s recent Christmas party.

If you would like to sing it too, click below to download the sheet music.

Heather Nicholson The Loving Stitch (Auckland University Press 1998) chapter 6
Paul Turner, ‘New Zealand Music during the First World War: the Songs of Miss Jane Morison’ Journal of New Zealand Literature 33, Part 2: New Zealand and the First World War (2015), pp. 72-88
And thankyou to John MacGibbon, who succeeded in locating the music and accompanied our (very) amateur performance. No, there is no recording …

A special museum

First I must reassure you that I and mine, and the museum I’m about to describe, are all unharmed by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand in the early hours of the 11th of November.

Many people and places weren’t so lucky – you will have seen pictures of the devastation in and around Kaikoura, and perhaps also of the buildings in Wellington’s centre that haven’t held up as well as they should have (though to be fair, most of Wellington is fine). Earthquakes are a fact of life that we have to cope with, if we want to live in this beautiful land beside the junction of two tectonic plates. I may talk more about that some other time.

Right now, I want to tell you about a very special place in Masterton – The Wool Shed, New Zealand’s National Museum of Sheep and Shearing. (Some of what follows was first published as part of a longer article in Yarnmaker 25 (Winter 2015). I have added more photos. as well as several videos taken by John MacGibbon.)

Wool Shed exterior

A few years ago, two old woolsheds were rescued after more than a century of use on Wairarapa farms, and trucked into town. You can watch their often hair-raising journeys thrugh winding country roads:

Then a team of local volunteers joined them together and lovingly restored (but by no means “modernised”) them. Farming families and descendants from around the Wairarapa and further afield contributed memorabilia, knowledge, and often their time.

Shearing board

Here the story of sheep and wool in New Zealand is told, from the beginning: Captain James Cook put two sheep ashore in 1779, but they ate a poisonous plant and died. In the 1800s more sheep arrived, mostly Merinos, and soon large-scale farming was spreading. In the 20th century Romneys and other stronger-woolled breeds began to predominate, their wool and meat being among our main exports. Numbers are down now, but there are still six sheep for every citizen.

On view are examples of shearing and sheep-farming equipment (some items have changed surprisingly little over the years) and mementos of the wool industry old and new.

Shearing gear

There’s even an original bushmen’s hut that was built in the late 1800s for the use of bush fellers and fencers clearing land for sheep farming – step inside and feel yourself a real pioneer.

Bushmen's hut

There’s plenty about wool and its uses, and a new display about the history of spinning that I’m particuarly proud of having helped with.

Photo credit: John MacGibbon

Photo credit: John MacGibbon

Wool shed volunteers entertain and instruct visitors with real-life shearing during summer weekends or if a group has booked ahead.

Shearing demo

When you visit you may also find the Wairarapa Spinners and Weavers Guild: we meet every Wednesday and the first Saturday of each month except January. There are about 90 of us, spinners, weavers, knitters and felters. Weaving happens upstairs where members keep several looms (including one set up for visitors to “have a go”). Downstairs we ply our other crafts, and we love to chat with visitors.

So to anyone with an interest in sheep or wool – do visit if you get the chance. We’d love to see you!