Husfliden wheels from Norway to New Zealand

Please click on the photos to see them properly!

In the early 1960s interest in handcrafts, including spinning, was increasing in New Zealand as in many other countries. Craftsmen were beginning to respond, and soon there were spinning wheels available from makers like Pipy, Beauchamp, Nagy and Tyler.

But the indomitable Aileen Stace of the Eastbourne Spinners, while approving and encouraging (and when necessary criticising) these new wheels, wanted something special for her spinners.

I don’t know who had told her about the wheels sold by Husfliden (“Homecrafts” in Norwegian), in Bergen, but she wrote to the company about obtaining some. The reply, dated 29 June 1960, is still in the records now held by the Eastbourne Historical Society.

I apologise for the poor photo of a worse photocopy of a damaged original, but much of it is legible if you enlarge it. And I don’t know whether the letter addresses her as Mrs Mary Stace in error (Mary was her middle name) or whether the correspondence was actually carried out by another family member.

She ordered some wheels, and I remember seeing them a year or two later in her studio. They stood tall, pale and slender among the more sturdy New Zealand-made wheels. As a beginner I was not qualified to spin on them!

There was soon a second shipment, which included some for members of the group who had asked for a wheel to be included in the order. We don’t know how many in all came here, but there are still some around. Most have lost the little touches of bright paint around maidens and other turning, but if in good condition they still spin smoothly, fast and fine. 

They have a rather unusual style of crank to turn the wheel, generally called an internal crank. The footman/conrod stands between the drive wheel and the wheel post, which means it has to pass through a hole in the table. The top end connects with in a bend in the axle, which rotates to turn the drive wheel. This system has been used on some treadle sewing machines too, so when we occasionally find it in New Zealand-made wheels we can probably assume it is derived from the sewing machine design rather than from these Husfliden wheels (see also New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their Makers ch.6, 120-122 on cranks in spinning wheels and sewing machines).

When you alter the tension, the mother-of-all slides on little runners or rails of wire: if they are straight and undamaged the adjustment is smooth and simple. You can see them in the picture at right, if you enlarge it with a click.

A few years ago I was privileged to work on one whose wires had somehow become bent, so that the tension wouldn’t move. First the little tapered retaining peg had to be knocked out (from underneath) – this is a tiny but important part of a screw-tension horizontal wheel, as it forces the tension screw to turn in place and move the mother-of-all, rather than unscrewing and falling out. You can just see it if you enlarge the photo below, a bit like a tiny matchstick, on the carpet between a maiden and the tension screw.

Then it was possible to dismantle the whole setup. I straightened the runners, and rubbed candle wax on the wooden threads of the tension screw (oil should never be applied to wooden moving parts as it may make them swell). When everything was reassembled the tension could be properly adjusted – a very satisfying result.

But these beauties were not the only Husfliden wheels to come to New Zealand. After Fred and I were married, we lived in London while I completed my PhD at University College and he worked at Imperial College. They sent him to Bergen for a conference in mid-1965, so I tagged along. (Bergen is fascinating!) One day we were strolling down a street, and I glanced across and saw “Husfliden” over a shop opposite. It was just as well there was no traffic at that moment!

In the shop they had two different styles of spinning wheel. One was the highly polished aristocrat familiar from Miss Stace’s studio. As a poor student I couldn’t afford that one. The other was a more modest production, and the wood was unvarnished, but its lines were simple and clean and appealed to me. The shop assistant explained that Husfliden didn’t manufacture their own wheels. The different styles were made in different villages, mostly by farmers during the long cold winter; the expensive one came from somewhere near Bergen if I remember rightly, and the smaller from near Trondheim, further north. I could just afford one of those, and I’d always hoped to spin again when I could. So they shipped it to New Zealand, partly disassembled and totally protected in a splendid purpose-built wooden crate. It waited in my mother’s garage till my return the following year and emerged undamaged ready to be put together.

I slightly wish now that I hadn’t stained it darker, but kept the lovely blond colour of the wood. However, this was what I liked at the time. It’s a lovely wheel to use, smooth and consistent, with ratios of 10:1 and 11.5:1. The first wheel I owned, it brings back precious memories and I love it dearly.

It can’t have been the first of its kind to reach New Zealand. At least one must have arrived earlier, because in 1963 Ken Bartlett of Christchurch started making wheels clearly based on the design. At left is a 1972 example, in front of my Husfliden. Apart from small differences in a few of the turnings, and a different position for the bobbin-holders, you’d be hard put to tell the difference.

Later, Bartlett began to make a few changes, probably to suit New Zealand spinners. The treadle gets wider, with room for two feet, and by 1979 the bobbin storage is back beneath the upper table. Things in general look a little bit sturdier. And there’s another interesting change – the mother-of-all now slides on wire runners! By then he must have seen one of the other type of Husfliden, probably one of Miss Stace’s imports, and liked the idea. (You are right about this photo, the drive band isn’t properly in place!)

So how do you recognise a Husfliden wheel, given that they sold at least two different styles and possibly more that we haven’t seen and that there have been copies. “Made in Norway” stamped underneath is no help; many vintage Norwegian wheels have this. But all the Husfliden wheels I’ve seen have a little button that says Husfliden Bergen Norway. It may be under the table like mine, or on the top, but it will be there somewhere. Here is mine at about its actual size (bigger if you enlarge it).

There is still a Husfliden shop in Bergen, at the same address as in 1960, Vaagsallemenning 3. They offer knitting yarn and loom accessories, but sadly no spinning wheels.


No empty bobbins?

It’s a problem many of us face. Recently I found a cure, though I fear it will be temporary.

I own four spinning wheels, and between them they have at least 20 bobbins.

Each one has a story and I treasure them all

But still I could never find a completely empty one – there was always a bit of leftover spinning from a workshop or a demo or a project. Quite a few years’ worth of cardboard cylinders also held singles that had been wound off onto them in desperation. (Of course I could never throw any out.)

I decided to use it all up in a variegated knee rug.

I had 500 grams of carded wool from a flock of Romney/Down breeds origin, in a gingery brown moorit colour that didn’t really go with anything.

So I spun that up and then started plying it with all my oddments. It went pretty well, though there was so much variety in the leftover singles that some of it came out nice and thick and some was too thin and skimpy. When that happened I added a third thread, generally some white or cream silk (I’ve attended several workshops on spinning silk). There were occasional bits of alpaca, too. I made a rule that it all had to be animal fibre, though a tiny stripe of cotton snuck in somehow.

It was fun deciding which oddment to ply next. I tried to vary between light and dark, bright and dull. If there was a lot of something I didn’t use it all at once, because I didn’t want enormous blocks of one colour.

I ended up with some skeins I was rather pleased with, and I apologise for not having any pictures of them. I wish it had occurred to me to take progress photos!

Time to knit. The easiest way to make a cosy knee rug is in garter stitch, starting in a corner with 3 stitches. Increase at the beginning of each row till it looks as though it’s half way there, and then decrease at the beginning of each row down to 3 stitches again.

How I started my knee rug

Actually there was one refinement – at the beginning of each row I knit two stitches and then knit twice into the 3rd stitch. This gives a nice edge.

The triangle grew, and I liked it, and I started thinking “I want to wear this!” I imagined a jacket made of a big rectangle at the back, and two narrower rectangles for the fronts. So when the sides of the triangle got to the width that would fit across the back, one side changed from increasing to decreasing at the beginning of the row – it became knit 2, knit 2 together.

Now I was knitting diagonally across the rectangle that would become the back

When I thought it was long enough I decreased at the beginning of each row down to 3 stitches and ended it. Simple, except that I tried to put some shaping on the shoulders, which is hard to figure out if you are working on the diagonal. But I (sort of) managed.

The fronts would have been just as easy, except thatI wanted a slanted neck opening. Like the one on the left.

Now if I’d been happy to make a couple of simple rectangles for the fronts, and treat the top centre corners as lapels like the one on the right, it would have been easy. But as it was, I had somehow to add decreases to slanted knitting, which was already being increased on one side and decreased on the other. The grey stripes in this diagram represent rows of knitting, and you can see that on the right front I was already decreasing at the centre front, and on the left front I was increasing.

There was much frogging (rip it, rip it) and picking up the stitches and my good temper and trying again. I don’t recommend the procedure to anyone but a talented mathematician, which I am not.

However, it was eventually finished. And at our recent Guild spin-in I modelled it proudly in the fashion parade.


Thankyou to Patrizia Vieno for taking these two photographs

If you think I look happy in these pictures, you are right. And it wasn’t only because of the jacket. If you will forgive some personal detail – I was happy just to be there, because less than 4 weeks earlier, I had undergone a mastectomy for a suddenly-discovered breast cancer. I hadn’t dared hope for such a quick recovery. But it was caught in time and though of course there is never certainty, right now the future looks bright.

In recent weeks I have learned the value of wonderful supportive friends, and of organisations that are there to help. I have learned the importance of being open about cancer, too, and not hiding it or only mentioning it in whispers – as a result, my two daughters have now enrolled in New Zealand’s free breast cancer screening programme, as have several of their friends. There are all kinds of support out there, and amazing people who will share their experiences. Nobody needs to go through it alone.


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 <>.