Thursday, February 26, 2015


This dainty parlor wheel found me through German eBay this past fall.  She was a mess of swollen wood and needed a few weeks in front of a radiator before I could get all her parts to move, but thanks to gentle persistence and a little tub of beeswax hair ointment, we worked everything out.

Elsa is called a parlor wheel because she was built for spinning, probably of silk, by fine ladies who were likely spinning to demonstrate the accomplishment in a social setting, rather than working at domestic production.  Parlor wheels are typically upright and richly decorated, making them more appropriate for display in a house's more public rooms.

Initially I thought this wheel was maybe 120 years old, but a bit of research turned up a very similar wheel in Joan Cummer's reference "A Book of Spinning Wheels".  Her wheel was traced to its origins in England in the late 18th century, much older than I had speculated.  I consulted with Owen Evans, a spinner and collector, who confirmed that the wheel is German, perhaps inspired by the English design, and likely produced in the mid-1800s.  The wheels are SO similar, though.. could Cummer be wrong?

Elsa has lovely details.  The rim of the drive wheel is lined with metal, which is functional as well as gorgeous; even though the drive wheel is on the small side, it has terrific momentum.

The reason this wheel caught my attention is because of her very unusual bobbin-winding system.  Normally the bobbin sits in the flyer, held there by the whorl screwed on at the end, and the yarn being spun is loaded onto different spots of the bobbin by guide hooks lining the arms of the flyer.  Here, the yarn always runs through the very end of the flyer arm, through a little loop, and the bobbin itself is moved in and out of the flyer.  A crank at the front of the assembly turns a screw which moves a little leather-lined paddle nestled in a groove of the bobbin.  When the paddle is moved closer to or further from the flyer, it drags the bobbin with it.

It allows for the spinner to pack a bobbin really efficiently, which is important when it is so tiny!  Here it holds barely an ounce of spun wool.

I expected Elsa to be a fussy prissy little wheel, but it turns out she is a very efficient and well-designed machine, and is happy to get back to work.

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