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!


Peacock spinning wheels

peacocklogoforblogI know I said I’d tell you something about the Wairarapa – but that will have to wait, I’m afraid. I’ve been trying to make a timeline of Peacock wheels, and what a complicated history that turned out to be! Now a first draft is ready to share.

One thing has emerged already: what we’ve been calling an Original Peacock is really an Original Fomotor Peacock. I apologise to all those who have trusted my account in of the history of these charming little wheels. It is inadequate and will have to be revised. The bad news, for those not in New Zealand, is that you are unlikely to see a true Original Peacock. Mr Peacock made them only for local customers.

There are still gaps and probably mistakes in the timeline, so I’m posting it here in the hope that readers will help. Any corrections, information, measurements or photographs will be welcomed.

Have at it!

(There have been several updates by 23 October.)

Your niddy-noddy – do you know its history?

The humble niddynoddy is really rather interesting

The humble niddy-noddy is really rather interesting

Some time ago I was startled to notice that there was a niddy-noddy (yarnwinder) in a long-ago painting by Leonardo. Then I was even more startled to discover that niddy-noddies have been found in a Viking burial. So I did a bit of research, and the result was this article. It was published in Creative Fibre magazine in March 2016.

This will be the last article for a little while. More will come, as I’m a compulsive scribbler, but I don’t feel it’s fair to put them on the internet (even with permission) till at least 6 months after publication.

I’ll keep blogging, though, aiming for about the 20th of each month. I’ll tell you a little about my world – a world very focussed on spinning and spinning wheels, though there are other things in it too…

The Wendy spinning wheel and her relatives

WendyPhilip Poore’s little Wendy wheels are still sought after, in New Zealand and other countries. But few people know that Wendy was part of a tradition of New Zealand flyer-frame wheels. Back in 2008 I told their story – now republished here.

Being reminded of William McDonald, maker of one of Wendy’s “ancestors”, always makes me smile remembering one of my very first spinning lessons with the formidable Miss Stace. As the leader of the Eastbourne Spinners, a group she had founded in WW2, she had a studio full of a variety of wheels that I now wish I could remember more clearly! Mr McDonald, as well as being one of her spinners and making his own little wheels, helped by maintaining the group’s wheels. One day Miss Stace told me with great amusement that he had just telephoned to say he’d “be over later to fix the loose maidens in the spinning club.” wendyandfriend

‘Flyer-Frame Spinning Wheels in New Zealand’ was originally published in The Spinning Wheel Sleuth #60 (April 2008), and I thank editor Florence Feldman-Wood for agreeing to it being reproduced here. I have added a couple of photographs and a footnote that were not in the original.