Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Big Louie

Big Louie represents the rich tradition of spinning wheel manufacture in Quebec from the 1870's to the 1930's.  Known as a Canadian Production Wheel, Big Louie has a large (30") drive wheel capable of fast output for the spinner who can keep up.  CPWs use a type of tensioning called tilt-tensioning, which means the wheel is adjusted by tilting the flyer assembly away from the drive wheel, tightening the drive band to increase twist and take-up.  Louie's tensioning unit is a cast iron "saddle-style" clamp tightened with a wing nut.  (Most spinning wheels of this shape tension the drive band by means of a screw at the butt end of the bench, which moves the flyer assembly backwards and forwards.)

CPWs are also marked by their use of cast iron parts, which were faster and more cost effective to manufacture than their wood counterparts.

Louie came to me after living as decor for almost 70 years.  I bought him from a woman in New Hampshire who got it from her mother's best friend, who had found the wheel in Canada some 50 years earlier.  Still, he was ready to spin with practically no adjustments at all.  (Restoration was minimal but included removing a quarter inch of axle grease build-up.)

Though Louie came to me in very good condition, he has an old, charmingly rough repair on the wheel rim, just a few pieces of wire twisted through a rim separation to hold it together.  Repairs like this are not unusual on antique wheels, which were important household tools and typically maintained at home.

CPWs and their makers have been very well researched by an enthusiastic subset of the antique spinning wheel lot.  Caroline Foty has written an impressive e-book compiling what we know about the group of makers, who made these wheels with such similar characteristics in a small geographical area.  Folks with eyes more discerning than mine have suggested that Louie is a "presumed Michel Cadorette" CPW, because his design details are entirely consistent with Michel Cadorette's work, but the maker's mark, if there ever was one, has been obscured by wear and a dark wood finish.  A marked wheel would have a stencil on the bench like this:

Michel Cadorette was born in 1853 in Quebec.  By the 1890's he was producing over 1500 wheels per year, and kept up this level of production until the early 1900's.  In 1922 he passed the business over to his son Philias, who continued in the family tradition through the Depression of the 1930's.

Big Louie's name was inspired by the main character of Trumpet of the Swan, the movie I was watching with my kids when I first got this big wheel turning.

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