Every spinning wheel has a story to tell

Every spinning wheel has a story to tell. Even a brand-spanking-new one, unassembled and just out of a box, will have one soon. Character and personality start forming when the owner gives it a finish, tightens the drive band, and sets a foot on the treadle. Dings and dimples appear as the spinner’s habits wear into the wooden parts. Much more can and will happen over time if care is not taken, as we can see when looking at an antique wheel. Your newsletters have shared lots of tips over the years for taking care of our wheels. Advice appeared a while back from the North Country Spinners (Northwestern New Jersey/Eastern Pennsylvania) that is so practical and straightforward, the gist of it is given below.

“Overhaul Your Wheel Day” has four easy steps that take about an hour to complete in all but that insure your wheel gets the attention it deserves. The first step involves getting ready to clean it. Assemble supplies needed such as a lightweight lubricant for nonporous metal surfaces, petroleum jelly for the porous ones, paraffin or beeswax for screw threads, and a leather conditioner. Get out the materials to apply these, including soft rags and cosmetic applicators. Locate any replacement parts you might need—for example, a drive band or brake band. The second step is just common sense. Protect the area where you will be working with newspapers or a towel, and consult your wheel’s manual (if you have one) to check where and how much lubrication should be applied. Third, start bottom up! Turn your wheel over to inspect and clean out each part—hinges, treadle, axle crank, wood screws, bearings, bobbins, flyer, and bands. Remove any trapped fiber or “gunk” (that dirty black oily substance) before applying the proper lubricant. Last, and this is the best part, spin for 30 minutes to give time for the oils to work into the parts, wiping up the excess that works its way out. Now your wheel is ready for long hours of winter spinning.

What happens when we neglect to treat the wheel as a machine is illustrated by two members of the Spinning on the River Fiber Guild (Tennessee). Angela Schneider and Mary Lessman unexpectedly saved two Ashford Traditionals on a visit to the fiber department at Memphis College of Art. The wheels had been donated to the college years ago and were not being used in the present curriculum. Inattention had left them in bad need of repair. A layer of rust coated the metal parts, bearings inside the bobbins were missing as well as springs on the brake bands, the lamms to the treadles were broken, and the drive wheels were splitting at the joints. The instructor was hoping the wheels could be restored for students to ply specialty yarns to use in their textile work. Angela and Mary brought them back to working condition, and Angela later dissembled, cleaned, and repaired them more thoroughly after the term was over. The guild bought the second wheel in its state of disrepair for their equipment library. In exchange for her work and materials, Angela’s guild dues were considered paid for the year. Later Angela and Mary returned to the college to demonstrate plying techniques to the advanced weaving students, and their teaching was considered payment in full for the guild’s wheel.

Rescuing the wheels led Angela to reflect on why she became involved in the process,and she concluded that being connected to other spinners is one of the reasons why she spins, weaves, and knits. “Turning raw material into a useful—and used—item is being an active part of a living world.” But why take time with other people’s equipment? She believes an old wheel holds the history of those who used it, were clothed from it, and were taught important skills with it. “Often the stories are lost, but people were there. They linger around old tools like spirits to guide new willing hands . . . “It’s the continuity of past to future, the connection to people I will never know, that speaks to me from an old wheel. It’s as if the wheel is saying, ‘Take me. Spin. Be still and active at once. Be connected.’” Let’s harken to the whisper of our wheels! If it has been a while for you, National Spinning and Weaving Week, October 1–7, is a good time to begin again. For ideas and more information, check out the Handweavers Guild of America website as well as the Spinning and Weaving Association website.

Remember you can now add or list a correction to the location of your group online as well as locate one near you by state or country.

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