Christchurch – sightseeing and spinning wheels

I was last in Christchurch in February 2013, almost exactly two years after the second dreadful earthquake.
Much of the central city was still a red-zoned no-go area.

There were unsafe buildings everywhere awaiting demolition, and it’s no joke demolishing (for example) a 26-storey hotel that’s ready to fall down at any moment. Aftershocks were still happening, too, though we didn’t feel any.

It’s by no means all fixed now, but some places are getting there. The Arts Centre, for example, which will be a happy memory for any fibrecrafter who visited Christchurch before the earthquakes, looked like this in 2013:

Here is much the same view today:

It’s not so pretty round the back though:

Did you notice the very white new stonework on the right, contrasting with yellowed stones around the windows that date from when this was the original Canterbury University? Christchurch is a city of contrasts at present – lovely old heritage buildings restored, others shored up and crumbling, impressive new buildings, and many, many open spaces still awaiting who-knows-what.

It can be a bit confusing, even (I was told) for the locals sometimes. The cathedral, for example, is famously a wreck.

(taken with the lens poked through a high wire-mesh fence)

Recently a decision has been taken to restore it, at huge expense. But everyone I talked to thought it should be preserved as the ruin it is and a new cathedral built (think of Coventry). There are still, after seven years, families and elderly people whose homes are uninhabitable while the Earthquake Commission, the insurers and assessors squabble about what to do with them. Better, surely, to choose a cheaper alternative for the Cathedral … ?

Yet from the back, you’d hardly know it was damaged.

Look around you at this spot, and you’ll see the new as well as the old –

these charming sheep flock in various public spaces, and there are murals and installations all over.

Here, strange things are done with mirrors.

Further along the tram route (a wonderful way to tour Christchurch) you pass near the most interesting playground I’ve seen. This is a tiny corner; I didn’t see it all as my feet were getting tired by this time.

It was Friday during school hours. I’m sure it would be crowded on a fine weekend!

Yet half a block up the road, the site where an 18-storey office tower had to be demolished has turned into this –

One thing hasn’t changed: Christchurch is still ‘the garden city’. We stayed at the YMCA, opposite the Botanic Gardens. Here is the autumnal view from our window –

So what about those spinning wheels I promised? I was fortunate to be able to go to a meeting of the Christchurch Guild of Weavers and Spinners, at their wonderful rooms at The Tannery.  I was in awe of their beautiful work – you can admire it on their blog

They were welcoming and friendly, and several had interesting wheels. This one is a hammer wheel (no prizes for guessing why the name) made in the late 1970s by a company in the Netherlands called Moswolt. It’s bobbin lead, and the owner said she was told she’d never be able to spin fine on it – but she can and does.

There was also a Gypsy, one of Mike Keeves’ earlier Grace wheels. They are rather rare.

And something I’ve never seen in person before, only in photos – a wheel by Noel Price  of Greymouth.

He only made a few and they are really well engineered. See the little wheel that smooths the path of the thread to the hooks:

On my last day in Christchurch, I saw another intriguing wheel. That one and its relatives will be the subject of next month’s blog.


Double drive bands again, and an unexpected kiwi

Tying a double drive band by yourself, if you’re not a dexterous octopus, can be frustrating. It’s easy to keep ending up with something like this.

Charlie Wong, “spin doctor” and valued correspondent, has devised a method which may help, and kindly agreed to it being published here.

The way I have always done it, which is fairly standard, starts with a loose slip knot or half hitch on the back maiden just to keep things under control a bit. Then over and around the drive wheel, under and around the bobbin groove, around the drive wheel again, and under and around the flyer whorl groove. Release slip knot from maiden and join the ends with a reef knot.

Whichever method you are going to use, start by adjusting the drive band tension so that the flyer is as close as possible to the drive wheel. Most string stretches in use, and you will probably soon need to tighten it! And remember to allow plenty of string! It’s helpful to keep the string you haven’t got to yet (the working end) rolled in a little ball.

Charlie’s system may seem complicated at first, but it’s less likely to leave you with unruly string everywhere. Personally I’d still suggest hitching the end of the string to the back maiden before starting, but undoing this before making the first knot.

Step 1 – Starting near (or temporarily attached to) the back maiden, bring the string over and around the drive wheel, under and around the bobbin groove and lay it over the drive wheel (beside the first circuit of string).

Then take the end you started from (detach it from the maiden if necessary). Tie it firmly with an overhand knot around the string leading from the bobbin groove. You are tying it with itself, not with the other string.

Pull the end from the knot and the string that is to go round the drive wheel in opposite directions so the band is taut. The first stage is now secure.


Step 2 – Go around again, passing around the whorl groove this time. Go past the first knot, and firmly tie a second overhand knot to the string you tied the first knot with (not the string you tied it to – I got this wrong on my first try). The string you tied it with is the one that can slide along the other string.


Step 3 – Cut off the first knot. Be careful not to cut the string it’s tied to – if you are uncertain, test which string is which by loosening the knot a bit and sliding it. It’s the string that moves with the knot that you cut. Then all the strands should stay in their proper places.


Step 4 – Tie the cut end with an overhand knot to the other strand (not to the one it was tied to before) close to knot 2 – closer than in the diagram. Pull the two ends tight. Knots 2 and 3 should now neatly become one, and you can discard the remains of knot 1.

After trimming the ends, Charlie likes to rub a drop of PVA glue into the knot, just to keep it firm and tidy.

Thank you Charlie, and also thank you to my friend Sue who helped troubleshoot the instructions.

And now for something completely different … here is a Rappard Mitzi, seen in Denmark.

Look closely at that treadle –

Isn’t it lovely? Nothing is known of the wheel’s history, though it has clearly had a lot of use. I wish Maria Rappard were still alive, so we could compliment her on her artistry and ask how she came to create this special design.

I’ve added it also to the earlier post on Rappard treadle carvings. Thank you so much to Dorte who posted it on Ravelry and has allowed me to use her photos.



Just for fun – how monsters spin and knit


Enthusiastically but badly.
How do I know?
I have been one.

The story starts several years ago with our younger daughter, her husband, and two friends inventing a monster family – Tangle, Dangle and Mangle.


They made their first appearance at Kiwiburn in early 2014

Since then they have proved that they are multi-talented. They perform various death-defying feats.

Dangle is particularly skilled at aerials.

Baby Mangle is a very independent little monster-person, who hates having a bath.

It seemed to me that they needed another family member – Grangle, in fact. You may have noticed her beside certain forum posts on Ravelry. She loves to spin and knit, as she first demonstrated by knitting a scarf for her little grandchild.

It was a great day when the family came to visit and she proudly gave Mangle his new scraf (monsters have their own ideas about spelling).

You can see that with her furry paws she finds spinning and knitting a bit difficult. But she loves her crafts.


She also likes to help her friends fix their spinning wheels. She had a lot of trouble with this one, which she said didn’t werk proply.



Later she made Mangle a swetur too. Of course it had lots of mistakes. From a human point of view, making effective deliberate mistakes turned out to be much harder than I expected.

With hindsight, I should have chosen a smoother yarn. This shaggy stuff is appropriately monsterish, but mistakes don’t show up well. Random crossed-over stitches and mini-cables were a waste of time. I had high hopes of wrapped stitches (wrapping the yarn two or three times instead of once to make a long stitch), but they’re not nearly obvious enough.

Holes (yo, k2tog) show up quite well and I should probably have made a little row of them. Slipping a few stitches and leaving the yarn across the right side of the work was useful. So were a few purl stitches among the knit.

I tried leaving a long hanging loop, tying it off so it wouldn’t affect the whole fabric too much, but the knot looked too intentional. So I half-undid it and got a tangly-looking knot – much better.

Dropped stitches had to be used sparingly. I didn’t want the ladder running right down to the border (this has to stay on the little sausage-shaped creature, not sag right off) so the trick was to make a new stitch and mark it. Quite a few rows further up, the stitch above this one was dropped. At first I put in two of these but having two ladders spoiled the effect so I hooked up the second one.

I have enjoyed getting to know the monsters and being part of their family.


Some of this post is based on an article first published in Creative Fibre magazine, September 2014.
There are a lot more videos by the monsters here.

Carvings on the treadles of Rappard wheels

Updated 17 April 2018

I’ve been inspired to write about these by a discussion on Ravelry, in the Wee Peggy and Little Peggy Group  (which  deals with the larger Rappard wheels too). I am very grateful to all the Ravelry members and others who have been so generous over the years with information and photos of their wheels!

The first wheel John made for Maria didn’t look a lot like any of the later Rappard wheels – it had relatively elaborate turnings but no carving.

A little later, in 1968 or 1969, this very early Northern European is still not immediately recognisable, but it does have some sort of design on the treadle. Unfortunately the photo doesn’t show it clearly – it doesn’t look like any of the motifs we see later.

in 1970 the Rappards went into full-time production of spinning wheels, converting to workshops the hen houses of their egg production farm on Signal Hill in Dunedin.

The saxony-style Northern European was their first model. It was superseded by the Mitzi (a name Maria was sometimes known by), an attractive double-table wheel. All the horizontal wheels produced in the Rappard workshop had a motif on the treadle. Maria, who had an artistic background, designed a series of them, and they were carved into the treadle with a router by the craftsmen.

This tulip is particularly lovely, and the rosette (my rather inadequate name for the second design shown) is simple and refined.

The heart  above is a little crude in execution, and the poor-quality photo of the simplified flower doesn’t excuse what looks like perfunctory workmanship. Maria said once that she used to get annoyed when the craftsmen became lazy and didn’t take enough care with the router. She wouldn’t have hesitated to make her views known about this or any other shortcomings that she felt the easy-going John was overlooking – one former part-time worker told me that when she came into the workshop ‘sparks would fly.’

This series is interesting: three flower stalks on a Northern European, two stalks (beautifully carved) on a Mitzi, and one stalk on a Little Peggy! This is the only treadle carving I’ve come across on a Peggy – perhaps it was a special request from a friend? The placement on the treadle is a little off, and one suspects the craftsman wasn’t used to putting carvings on that shape of treadle. (I should add that the single stem is also found on the larger wheels.)

Update: And here is another one, which turned up in Denmark:
– one of Maria’s little flower sprays, behind a beautifully stylised kiwi!

I once asked Maria what was the plant whose flowers are shown here, but she was vague – just flowers from her imagination, apparently.

If you know of a Rappard treadle motif different from any of these, I’d love to hear from you. A photo would make me even happier!

More about Rappard wheels and their history can be found at

Hands and flyers – an opinionated post

Do you sit up nice and straight in front of your spinning wheel? Or do you slouch and sprawl?

I like to spin couch potato style, leaning back and relaxed. It’s not terribly ergonomic, and might not be healthy for hours at a stretch (there’s rarely time for that). And it certainly wouldn’t suit everybody, but I enjoy it.

The point is that there are many, many styles of spinning. Like so many things in spinning, if it works for you it isn’t wrong.

In particular, there is no intrinsic reason why yarn should travel to the flyer only from directly in front of the orifice. Even if your wheel has some kind of hook or delta or loop (see pictures – click to enlarge) instead of an orifice, there’s usually some flexibility.

With an orifice, there are practically no limits. You can draft higher or lower than the flyer or to left or right of it. If you don’t believe me, watch this instructive and funny video –

That is why I disagree with the comment one sometimes hears, that a horizontal wheel for a right-handed person should have the flyer on the right. Not that it’s wrong to want to spin with the flyer on the right, of course, if you find it more comfortable. But it shouldn’t be stated as a universal rule.

For a start, some right-handed people spin with the right hand forward, some with the left. Left-handed people are similarly unpredictable as to their spinning handedness. The only thing that seems to have an effect is how they were taught (or taught themselves) when they first learned to spin.

Flyer height is usually irrelevant too, unless there’s a huge discrepancy between the height of the wheel and the height of the spinner. In fact it’s often thought to be better not to spin close to the orifice.

So we should each spin in whatever position is comfortable, and not be too much dictated to by our wheel’s flyer. Treadles can be a different matter. We’ll consider them next month, unless I get distracted by a shinier idea.

You can look up the New Zealand wheels whose flyers are pictured here in

Trouble-shooting a spinning wheel

There are many simple wheel problems that we can solve ourselves, often very easily. I wrote about some of them in Creative Fibre magazine in June, and here is the article.

The first question to ask someone (or oneself) when a wheel is playing up is ‘When was it last oiled?’ If the answer is an embarrassed ‘Umm…’ the cure may be surprisingly quick.

If oil isn’t the solution, you need to diagnose the trouble. It can be hard to tell where the noise/stiffness/whatever is coming from. One possibility is to start from scratch – first take off the driveband and just treadle. Is the drive wheel running quiet, smooth and straight (get someone else to watch) and are the treadle, footman and crank behaving as they should?

If all is well so far, add the driveband, flyer and whorl but no bobbin yet (assuming it’s scotch tension – with double drive you’ll have to include the bobbin at this stage). If everything is still running smoothly, add a bobbin with a very long leader, feed it in as though spinning and see what happens.

This approach can sometimes isolate the problem. I hope ‘Spinning wheel ailments’ will provide a few solutions.


It has been an exciting time for this compulsive enquirer-into-spinning-wheels. We have two new makers! There’s almost no information about them (yet – can you help?) but we know their names and their wheels.

The first is H.Henderson, who made this double-table wheel in 1976. It was his 15th, but we know nothing more about him. The wheel turned up in a charity shop in Wanganui, with no history – so thank goodness for a maker who did us the favour of putting a metal plate with date, name and number on the drivewheel end of the table.

Henderson wheel

The maidens are fixed in the mother-of-all by little wooden knobs, which need to be removed to turn the maidens to remove the flyer and change the bobbin.

We can’t tell where it was made. Wheels are great travellers, so its Wanganui findspot is not much of a clue. Does anyone know of a Mr H. Henderson who made wheels in the 1970s? Full details and more photos of the wheel are on the website.

The second discovery is a solution to a mystery which has been tantalising me for several years. It happened (as so often in this game) by a series of lucky coincidences. Remember the “wide table wheels I wrote about in August?

Well, we can now call them Nicholson wheels.

How do we know the name? The trail started some months ago with one that came with a history that it had been made for a lady called Addis in Napier, who had designed it. This was verbal information, not written, so it could have been Adis or Eddis or something else that sounded like that. However, in the White Pages I found a few Addises in Hawkes Bay and contacted them, and learned about Nina Addis, a skilled fibrecrafter there years ago.

Nicholson wheel type 1

That came to a dead end until I was looking for something else entirely, in photocopies I made years ago of documents held by the Historical Society of Eastbourne. They have among their treasures the records of the “Jolly Spinners” who later became the Eastbourne spinners: Aileen Stace’s group, who contributed so much first to the war effort and then to the encouragement of spinning in New Zealand. Miss Stace wrote Annual Reports, chatty accounts of the groups’s activities and also of anything else that caught her attention. She always paid close attention to what makers of wheels were producing.

In her report for 1967 she wrote: “Three new makers of wheels appeared during the year. (She then mentions Beauchamp and Nagy) … the third is a large tall wheel of a style we haven’t seen before, which is being made by a Mr Nicholson of Waipawa with aid and encouragement from Mrs Addis, I don’t think he will be able to keep the price to L14 for very long there’s a lot of work in them, they are most attractive and work well too.”

Cautious people might say more confirmation is needed, but this is good enough for me!

Nicholson wheel type 2

I wonder whether there was a change from the spoked wheel to the cutout wheel in order to reduce the cost and work of production? This is supported (or at least not contradicted) by the spoked wheel that belonged to Mrs Addis. Presumably if she was advising on the design, her wheel would have been one of the first made. I put this theory (with photos) to Mike Keeves, maker of the lovely Grace wheels, and he agrees – he points out that the turning on the wheel with cutouts is crisper and more elaborate: the maker developing his skill?

Again, for more details about these wheels see the website.

As so often, serendipity and sheer dumb luck have played a big part in these discoveries. An even bigger part was the help of interested and kind people. You know who you are – Thank You!

Note: this Mr Nicholson is not to be confused with the Mr Nicolson-with-no-h who made wheels during and after World War 2.