Monday, August 17, 2015

Living History: Found in a Spinning Wheel!

This fine old lady spinner has come to live at our house!  And I couldn't be more thrilled!

I had been looking for a spinning wheel for quite some time.  There were quite a few that came up for sale on Craigslist, but they were all very expensive and didn't seem to have all their parts.  I did some research on what to look for.  I watched some videos on how to clean and repair antique spinning wheels.  And I kept my eye out for just the right one.  Finally, I found her!  She was also just the right price for my budget!

The only problem was...she was BROKEN!  And in a pretty major way.

One of the uprights that hold the wheel in place had split right out.  But the piece was there and I figured I could glue it back.

The fun thing about working with antiques is that they have a history!  And history abounds all around them.  In every aspect of what you do with them. Spinning wheels are fascinating!  They've been around for centuries!  In every different culture!

But that wasn't the only history I learned about.  In order to fix this spinning wheel, I also had to learn about the history of glues!

Up until the 1930s, there was pretty much only one kind of glue.  Glue made from the hides of animals.  And it had to be hot in order to spread on.  My spinning wheel had obviously been broken before and been glued before.  But I had no idea what kind of glue had been used.  All I knew was that if I wanted to re-glue it---I would need to get the old glue off first.  Because "glue doesn't stick to glue."  Or so I had been taught.  But hide glue DOES!  If this previous repair was older than 1930, I would be able to heat it up, add some new hide glue and everything would stick together!  Hide glue is apparently the preferred glue for true antique enthusiasts.  And they still sell it!  (Poor old horses--still getting sent to the glue factory!!!!)

I read about and did the glue test.  A few drops of hot water on the glue.  If it gets sticky, it's hide glue.  If it turns white?  It's old Elmer's-type white glue.  As you can see in the picture, I got white glue spots.  So this repair was done more recently!  Sadly, this meant all the glue had to come off first.

Reading further, I learned that hot vinegar would loosen old white glue.

Scrub a little with a wire brush...and Voila!

A nice clean wood surface for gluing!

It was easy to dip the broken off piece in hot vinegar...not so easy to soak the whole spinning wheel!  But a wet rag and some patience did the trick.

Scrape with a wire brush.  Scrape with a knife.

New white glue and zip ties and clamps!

A few more small repairs....the discovery of some more old repairs...and then she was as good as new!

I had to learn how to thread it up right.  String around the big wheel and then around the bobbin, back around the big wheel and then around the flyer.  I had to get the proper tension set so it wouldn't wind too quickly.  I had to learn to treadle so it would go continually forward.  I had to learn to treadle without thinking, so I could focus on drafting the wool.  Drafting is allowing the wool to spin with one hand while pulling the unspun wool out into skinny lengths with the other hand.  It involves a lot of thinking and doing at the same time!

At first, I thought I would NEVER get it!  It seemed impossible.  But just like riding a bike---I went to sleep one night after trying and trying---and the next morning, I woke up and I could spin!!!

Now I feel connected to all women.  Through all cultures.

Through ages of time!

It is a magical feeling.  The rhythm of the spinning wheel.  The whooshing sound it makes.  The smell of the wool.  The feel of it slipping through your fingers.  And the joy of seeing it wind up on a bobbin with the promise of being useful.  A scarf.  A hat.  A weaving!

And when I lay down to sleep at night, my mind is still treadling and drafting and spinning straw into gold!


  1. So interesting! Such a crafty woman, you are!

    1. Thanks Michelle! There is something about heritage arts and crafts that just intrigues me!


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