Today it’s time for a happy story, as I’m able to introduce the newest addition to the Treehouse! It involved a lot of patience, and a crafter’s blessing from the moon, but I’d like you to meet my very own spinning wheel!
In my post about learning to spin on spindles I mentioned that I was interested in learning to spin on a wheel. Having spun almost daily on spindles for a while, I started to look more seriously into ways to branch out my interest.
The hand spinning industry is incredibly small scale, much more so than hand knitting already is, and as a result a lot of spinning equipment is fairly expensive. Fair enough to the equipment makers, as they deserve an honest price for their work. However, it can be frustrating when you simply lack the money to buy the equipment. To start spinning, you don’t need much more than a basic spindle and some fibre, but branching out beyond that can be fairly inaccessible for a variety of reasons. I don’t think it serves anyone to ignore that reality.
When I first looked into getting a wheel I was heartened by seeing many nifty and thrifty spinners out there who showed options beyond getting the latest and greatest (though full support to those who do). So for the past few months, since that ember started burning, I have been keeping my eyes peeled on second hand spinning wheels, keeping close tabs on several second hand online marketplaces.
The search has been made more difficult -or smaller, perhaps- because we don’t have a car. A world wide pandemic with lockdown and evening curfew wasn’t making the search easier! And, as spinning is a tiny niche, the second hand market is by extension even smaller. I forced myself to not look at antique wheels – not because I think none of them are spinnable, but because I think you need more expertise to make them work than I posses, with my 9 months of spinning on spindles. I also figured getting a modern wheel second hand is more practical in case I needed to replace parts and such.
After reading up on wheels I established a slight preference for flyer led or double drive wheels over bobbin led, because these are more suitable to spinning the stuff I knit with. This is slightly unfortunate, as I live in the country that’s the home base of Louet, the champion of bobbin led wheels. So, out of 10 modern second hand wheels you find online, 9-and-a-half are Louets! After checking pretty much daily for a while and nothing turning up I knew this could become a very long haul.
Striking Gold Under the Moonlight
My luck changed one unsuspecting evening under the light of the supermoon. My searched had slowed down a little bit, and I didn’t check for new wheels daily any more. I just came back inside after a spot of stargazing and enjoying the sight of the supermoon on a clear starry night. I had been making an effort to have less screen time, but as I came inside and sat down at the windowsill, I felt my phone burning in my pocket. Not sure if it was a premonition, or my mind trying to find an excuse for a nightly scroll of the timeline, but I could not resist a quick check off the regular online marketplaces. Alas, the only one that caught my interest was still a two hour train journey away – not doable in a lockdown. I felt a bit foolish at that moment, but I clicked on the ad anyway, just to read up on the specs. And then… all the way at the end of a blurb of text I saw a singular note: the seller was willing to bring the wheel to one of two drop off locations, including the home town of yours truly! I couldn’t believe it! I just sat there staring at my phone. I sent a message with an offer and an hour later it was a done deal and I could come and pick her up a couple of days later. I sort of remained in disbelief in those inbetween days, and couldn’t really grasp it until the wheel was standing in my house for a day or so. As it turned out, the pick up place was literally only a few streets away (walking distance) from my home adding to making it really feel like it was meant to be. Now I don’t think this was specifically some sort of wish fulfilment on a full moon or falling star type of thing, but the energy that night felt special even without finding my wheel, and for me my wheel will always have that full moon connection.
The wheel is an older Ashford Traditional model. I think there are places where this is one of the most common wheels you can find on the second-hand market (as I mentioned though, my country is not one of those places!). I think this is the oldest of their models that is still in production, and the model hasn’t changed a lot over that period. Ashford has a neat timeline on their website which broadly documents the changes made on the wheel over time to help second hand buyers date their wheel. That is all well and good, until you get a wheel that has prominent features of 2 different time sets. Mine has the simpler rounded maiden uprights from the ’65 period and lacks the decorative lower bump and isn’t pointy as the maidens of the 1975 version are, yet they are bit tapered like the latter . The drive wheel on the other hand lacks the more lavish decorated spokes from the 65 period and falls clearly in the 1975 period with the more basic single bump. It doesn’t look like someone has diy’ed it and frankensteined a wheel together, so I’m guessing this is an inbetween model when some changes had already been made to the wheel, but not the full set that would come from the 1975 onwards. So, to wager a guess, I’d date mine to around 1970-75. The previous owner had her for around 10 years, so I’m at least the third spinner the wheel lives with, likely there will have been more. I like the idea of my wheel having seen the journey and been the companion of so many spinners throughout her life!
The wheel is a Saxony style spinning wheel with a flyer led system (scotch tension) and single treadle. Because mine is an older wheel, it is outfitted with the old brake band tension system and has the old flyer with only one ratio (as opposed to the new flyers with 4 ratios). Especially at this stage I don’t mind that lack of options, and if I feel it’s needed in the long term I can always easily add a new flyer to this wheel. Overall it is described as a highly versatile wheel, more suited to spinning fine and mid range yarns than thicker or textured or art yarn. The bobbin capacity is 100 gram, which is on the smaller side from what I’ve seen and might be a pain with plying, but it too points to the wheel favouring thinner yarns. In any case, I talked about what types of yarn I’m excited to learn how to spin here and I think this wheel will lend itself well to those spinning goals.
In terms of looks for me the wheel is perfect mix of basic with some chimerical elegance. I live in a small apartment, but since I was looking for a second hand wheel I knew that an easily foldable wheel would be a hard bet, so in lieu of that I was aiming for something I wouldn’t mind seeing a lot and I think this was almost a perfect match for me. I think I actually prefer the simpler cuttings, plainer wheel and rounded maidens to the current decorative woodwork cuttings. It is a bit more simple and basic but I think it suits me. It also allows the grains in the wood and warm tones in the colour to really shine. The colour is a beautiful warm toned darker wood; seemingly red toned at times and warm caramel at other times. I was told that because this is an old wheel the wood used for it was Kauri wood, which explains the natural splendour and beauty of the wood that has held up over decades of use. Ashford has long since stopped using it because of it’s rarity. Even without environmental or scarcity arguments, I can also think of a couple of ethical reasons why you wouldn’t want to use such an old material from New Zealand and ship it all over the world. Nevertheless, I think the best way to treat the Kauri wheels already in existence across the world is by getting the most mileage out of them as we possibly can.
The wheel is in good condition and looks like it’s been maintained well over the years. You can see she has been well used by marks here and there but to me that adds to her charm. The woman I bought the wheel from is an avid spinner and had the wheel in use until she sold it, which is a good sign when buying second hand. I did replace the tension spring and brake band as that did not survive the journey to my apartment. I made beeswax wood polish to finish the wood. This is a neutral finish to protect the wood and other than lifting the colour and bringing out the grain that is already in the wood doesn’t alter anything in the looks. I made a polish using only 100% natural beeswax and cooking oil (1 unit of beeswax to 2.5 of oil). I had never actually polished anything let alone made my own polish, and while it should be fine (and essentially the same as the polish Ashford sells), I first tried it on a piece of furniture to make sure it actually was fine. Well… I ended up polishing multiple of my second hand and older pieces of furniture so you could say it ended up being more than fine (where was this knowledge all my life???).
Taking Her For A Spin
I haven’t been able to throw myself into it completely but I have been spinning on it a bit here and there to try it out. Of course my first attempts have been a bit awkward as I’m getting used to an entire new way of spinning. On my first go all of it went much too fast, the take up was just so much too much, I couldn’t keep up and wondered what the hell I gotten myself into… sweet relief, when the next day it went a lot better and felt like a world of difference already. That is just to say there is a lot of getting used to things! It’s a different way of drafting and of course now treadling. On the flip side, on the wheel I now have two hands free to handle the fibre vs the one on the spindle. Similarly I think it will take me some time before I get the hang of fine tuning the mechanics of the wheel, even with a simpler wheel such as this. But all in all I’m pleased with were I’m at. I’ve been able to make yarn on it in the short time I’ve been on it! I’m planning to go about it in a similar way as I learned how to spin on my spindles; so trying to spin short amounts here and there as often as I can and see how that goes.
I don’t think having a wheel will replace spinning on my spindles completely. In the short time I’ve had both a wheel and spindles it hasn’t at least. The movements, motions and techniques for both methods are different and I think that will work nice in tandem with each other (also to give the body a break from the same repetitive motion) and I also think I’m too attached to my spindles by now! Additionally I can spindle spin almost anywhere by now, and can do it standing, whereas with a wheel I’m distinctly more restricted as to where I do it. In terms of output it’s been a bit of shock how much faster wheel spinning is than spindle spinning, even in the short few days I’ve been spinning on it. I think that will add good things to my spinning; I think spinning for bigger projects will be a a lot more attainable, but I also really value the slowness and precision of spindle spinning. In this area I too think wheel and spindles have the potential to work really well together and complement each other.
When the wheel came to live with me my cats all took a turn to welcome it inside by giving it a spooked look and then a single head boop and taking turns sitting on the treadle. As it turns out the wheel is the perfect place to sit under while keeping an eye out for birds visiting the balcony. One of them has also sat on my lap for a bit while I was spinning, or tried to at least. So it has really worked out for everyone in this household.
I hope you can tell how over the moon I am with this wheel. I still catch myself looking at it and cannot believe that after months of searching, in a pandemic and lockdown, I found the most perfect wheel just a few streets away. What an incredible stroke of luck! I can’t wait to see where this wheel will take me on my journey as a spinner and how my spinning will develop on this blessed by the full moon wheel. Any wheel or spin advise/musings/enthusiasm are, as always, of course welcome.
I hope you are all doing well! xxx