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 www.nzspinningwheels.info.

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 http://www.nzspinningwheels.info

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.

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.