Tag Archives: Rappard

A unique Rappard wheel

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.


Rappard Peggy timeline, and some memories

Recently my ISP warned that they are closing their free user pages. The timeline for Rappard Little Peggy and Wee Peggy wheels has therefore moved, and is now among the pages on this site. It’s listed in the main menu at the top of this page. The layout  had to change a little but all the information is there. I hope it will be useful.

I was fortunate to get to know Maria Rappard (often called Mies or Mitzi) a little during the last years of her life. The first thing I ever heard about her was that she was rather terrifying. And yes, she could be: she was tall and striking-looking, very firm in her beliefs, and very outspoken. But once she was your friend, she was caring and generous (and still outspoken).

When first I telephoned her and introduced myself, wanting to find out about Rappard wheels and their history, she told me in no uncertain terms that some things were wrong in what I’d written. I kept in touch and kept asking questions, and after a while she accepted that I was genuinely interested and wanted to get things correct.

Later I visited her and her daughter, Yuet Ngor, at the farm on Signal Hill in Dunedin. I’ve already described how John, and later Maria, came to New Zealand and the history of Rappard wheels. She told me that “after a long session of me nagging” John made her a wheel, and she showed it to me – the very first Rappard wheel:

As time went on she told me more, and I learned that she had been a child in Rotterdam during the Nazi occupation. The people there suffered terribly, and some details of her story I don’t feel free to pass on. There was one episode, though, that I don’t think she’d mind you knowing.

Like many other families under Nazi rule, they had an illegal short-wave radio to listen to broadcasts from Britain. This was kept in a locked cupboard in her mother’s bedroom. One day, when only Maria was at home, police came to search the house suspecting there was an illicit radio. Of course they demanded the key to the cupboard. Maria told them it was where her mother kept her shoes, and she (Maria) was absolutely forbidden to open it. She must have been very convincing, because they said they would come back the next day when her mother was home – but by the next day the radio was safely hidden with neighbours.

During the last winter of the war and for a time after, there was a desperate shortage of food in the area and thousands starved. Maria said she would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the generosity of the Allies. Her health was permanently impaired by the hardship.

Here is a very special gift she gave me: a tiny Wee Peggy, just 63cm tall, seen here with two Little Peggies.

‘Baby Peggy’, as I like to call her, was created as a display piece for when they were promoting Rappard wheels at festivals and other fibrecraft gatherings, in New Zealand and overseas. She stands on a little box containing an electric motor, and when plugged in and properly adjusted, she spins. You couldn’t actually make yarn on her* but she’s very charming and eye-catching. Here she is with me at a spinning wheel display, where she attracted a lot of attention.

One of the things I admired about Maria was that she didn’t hate all the German people for what the Nazis had done. I also admired her creativity, her courage and determination in making a new life in New Zealand, the part she played in building up the Rappard spinning wheel company in partnership with John, and the lovely spinning wheels she helped create.

* Actually it is possible to spin a little yarn on Baby Peggy – Owen Poad of Majacraft proved it at a recent festival. But you wouldn’t want to do much. (This correction added 14 May 2019)

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.



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.