Monday, March 23, 2015


Cricket is built in a typical Swiss lateral frame design, with the treadle alongside the frame rather than between the supports, and the flyer and bobbin perpendicular to the treadle.  She was found in a Bavarian farmhouse and probably dates back to the early 1900's.

She caught my eye because of her beautiful turned features, especially the captive rings on the mother-of-all horizontals and the wheel hub.  (The large one on the wheel hub undulates back and forth as the drive wheel turns - just mesmerizing.)  Captive rings are created while the main piece is turned, by undermining wood from the piece being carved.  Spinning wheels with a lot of them showcase the skill of the woodworker.

This wheel was a birthday present to myself.  I found her on German eBay and watched the seconds count down with baited breath as the listing came to a close.  Unfortunately, my good luck did not extend to the next phase of the process: the seller packed the wheel and distaff most carelessly, basically sticking the wheel in a box, cramming the distaff in diagonally, and sending her on her way with a stray sheet of bubble wrap floating on top and a single strip of tape sealing the box.

Damage to the standing distaff was obvious: the base had completely snapped off, but if it weren't for the added length of that piece, the wheel would undoubtably have been stuffed into a smaller box and sustained more damage.  As it was, my heart sank when I took the box from the postman and saw the holes punctured through the sides of the box by the top finials and the crank.

The crank was loose in the hub.  It required hide glue and four days of patience, but that repair did go smoothly.  More seriously, there was a torsional crack along one horizontal support which did not want to rotate back into place.  I ended up injecting diluted hide glue into the crack with a syringe, switching the tension screws so the one that was warped was in the undamaged hole, and hoping for the best.  The wood was parched but came back to life with some boiled linseed oil.

So, I learned a lot about repair from this wheel, and in the end I felt more affection for her because of the TLC she required from me.  She came back into spinning condition very nicely. My son named her Cricket.

I've only spun on one other bobbin-led wheel, and it was a wild jerky sort of ride, so I expected Cricket to be a tough spinning experience.  I do find it more difficult to get started, and joining breaks is harder to do securely, but in general I was surprised to find that the wheel is a pretty smooth spin and yields fine singles easily.  The flyer brake system was missing, so I rigged up something using a bit of felted old sweater under the flyer lip, some baker's twine, and a lovely antique clock key that I found on eBay.

She still has a ways to go before her restoration is "finished".  Her uprights are loose in the base, so there is significant wobble that needs addressing, and the treadle pin is bent downwards, which means the treadle slides right off without thick cotton cord belting it to the frame.  I have plans to add some feet to the four corners of the base, which will allow me to make some sort of block under the treadle to hold it in the right position.

A few weeks ago I brought Cricket to a spinning retreat, where she garnered a lot of attention.  I spun up a batt of sparkly dark green fiber and told her story over and over to curious spinners, some of whom had never seen an antique wheel in action!

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