Monday, March 30, 2015

The Holyoke Spinning Machine

So much to say about this one.  In the words of a fellow collector, this rare Canadian spinning wheel is a "mythic beast".  When I first started developing an interest in antique spinners, it caught my eye because of its elegance and the use of cast iron, and I eagerly scoured the internet to learn all I could about the unusual design.  I learned that five of them were known to exist, four of which were in museums and one in private collection.  The one closest to me was at the American Textile History Museum.  I dreamed of getting the chance to see it in person and take measurements, so when I learned some metalsmithing I could make something like it for myself.

Imagine my thrill when a sixth turned up at an antique store in Quebec.  A good soul posted about it on Ravelry, I called the store right after they opened the next day, and gave them a credit card number over the phone.  I watched the "sold" banner appear across its photo on their website, and waited impatiently for the chance to drive the fourteen-hour round trip to pick it up.

In October, I brought the mythic beast home.  The first time I tested it out, the treadle bar snapped at a spot that had clearly been repaired in the past.  A bolt had stripped threads that made it difficult to tighten the frame properly, the wheel rubbed against an upright, and the whole thing was covered with a layer of thick latex paint.  Under the paint, though, there were impressions on the wood flyer indicating that my baby had a solid history as a working wheel.

I had the treadle repaired professionally.  The spot at the break was reinforced with steel rod, then wood was added to replace what had broken away.  Stripping the flyer and whorl revealed past repairs, all of which looked to be solid and professionally done.  I added some leather and a few metal O rings in spots to tighten and cushion things up.  The last little rattles and wiggles were worked out in December, and I had a wheel that was virtually silent, steady, and smooth.  The metal drive wheel weighs ten pounds and has lovely momentum.

There are two patents associated with this wheel design.  The first was filed in Holyoke, Massachusetts by two Canadians, Vigeant and Demarais, in 1880.   Though it is clear from the drawings that their design incorporated the unusual wheel shape and materials, their patent was actually about some sort of wedge at the hub that accelerated the wheel's momentum.  (No surviving examples of this design feature are known.)  A Canadian patent in 1883 by Beauchemin specifically develops a way to add a zinc rim to the drive wheel to improve production efficiency.  This second patent refers to the wheel design as the "Holyoke Spinning Machine".

Like other Canadian wheels of this era, the Holyoke wheel has tilt-tensioning.  A thumbscrew forces the flyer assembly away from the drive wheel, tightening the drive band.  In each of the six wheels, there are design variations, including small changes in the tensioning system.  Variations also appear in the treadle design (wood treadle, "bear claw" iron treadle like mine, or traditional iron treadle).  Some of the surviving wheels have a spring-loaded MOA for holding and releasing the flyer, and at least one wheel has a flyer made of metal.

Restoring my Holyoke wheel has been an interesting journey and I appreciate the historical significance of owning a rare wheel like this one, but at the end of the day, what delights me most about it is that it is a terrific spinning machine - my favorite at the moment.  Jeekeehoo, a Ravelry member who was following my progress restoring the wheel, made a comment which perfectly expresses my feelings about the project:
It’s great that the other examples of this wheel are being preserved in museums, but there’s something so lovely, so right, about this one being SPUN on, being loved and cared for by someone who really understands that seeing it function is part of what makes it beautiful, part of what makes it worth preserving.

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