Tag Archives: Northern European

A unique Rappard wheel

Note added 24 May 2019 – It seems the wheel is not  nearly as unusual as I thought. There will have to be some revision of this post.

At the 2019 Creative Fibre Festival recently, I watched the Fashion Parade. There were many stunning garments  and I should have been paying close attention. But there was also a spinning wheel, at the far end of the runway beside the commentator’s lectern. I was fixated and frustrated, trying to see it properly.

Afterwards, seen from closer to the stage, the wheel was clearly a Rappard Northern European – with 16 spokes! I knew of one other, but only had a couple of small photos of it. So it was out with the camera and notebook.

The turning is nicely detailed, but it has a sturdy, almost peasant feel. Northern Europeans are  quite different from the graceful simplicity of the Rappards’ later Mitzi, and this one has more detail than the ones we usually see.

Comparing the turning, from the feet to the maidens to the drive wheel, the usual 8-spoked model is simpler almost everywhere.

One thing all Northern Europeans I’ve seen have in common is the unusual construction of the drive wheel. It’s like this:


which would have been made by joining four pieces of wood like this and then cutting out the circle. It might be easier than the more usual method of making matching segments, but it means that end grain of the wood is being attached to lengthwise grain, which can be tricky.








There are two little retaining pins to stop the tension screw from screwing right out. Two seems a bit like overkill.

You may have noticed the unique design on the treadle.

It’s far more elaborate than any we’ve seen before. Did Maria design it for someone special?

Then I peered underneath, and found, not the usual Rappard name and numbers, but this:

– JR (John Rappard), 77 (presumably 1977) and two lines with an arrow through them. He put similar mark on just one other wheel that we know of, the one below with its charming little finials between the spokes.

Its treadle motif is the rosette, one of the standard ones, but underneath is this –

It’s marked (19)73, so it’s a really early Rappard, and it has three lines pierced by the arrow. Was the arrow symbol perhaps used on wheels which were made specially for a particular person?

And what does the symbol mean? Rex Chapman-Taylor (son of the famous craftsman-designer James Walter Chapman-Taylor, who did not mark his work) used an arrow mark on items of furniture he made (this example is on a chair):

It looks like a sign of Sagittarius, the star sign of the Archer, and Chapman-Taylor senior was very interested in horoscopes. But neither he nor his son Rex was a Sagittarian, and nor was John Rappard,  – all three were born in June. So the arrow and slash(es) mark remains a mystery.

Later I learned a little about the wheel’s history. It had belonged to Betty Healey, a colourful character who was much loved by her fellow members of the Dannevirke Spinning Club.  Longtime members still remember her with affection, and remember her big spinning wheel, though she was actually more of a weaver. it’s not known whether she had owned it from new. It ended up in a shed, but was found by her son and has been given to the Manawatu Spinners and Weavers Guild.

The wheel has some visible history. That mark in the middle of the table is actually a very rough hole which goes right through. Apparently at some point someone tried to add an electric motor to it. But that’s no reason why it shouldn’t still be a good spinner.


Carvings on the treadles of Rappard wheels

Updated 17 April 2018, 20 May 2019

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 on these little stems, but she was vague – just flowers from her imagination, apparently.

Another update, 20 May 2019:  This is on the treadle of a 16-spoke Northern European, dated 1977:

The wheel also has an unusual makers mark. There’s more about it here.

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.