I've browsed antique shops for years and rarely even found a great wheel, much less one that had all it's pieces and an unwarped wheel. But when I was least expecting it, a beautiful wheel found it's way to me! Since almost all of my patients are in the 80+ category, I often find myself chatting about things in the past. I love listening to their stories about how things were when they were growing up, and all about their families. And frequently my hobbies find their way into the conversation as there are just not that many people around who spin or weave these days.
So one day, I'm talking with a very nice lady and she tells me that she has a great wheel that has been in her family for a long time. They had tried to sell it at one time, but it was going to cost almost as much to ship as what they had it priced. And with the hassle of having it professionally crated, it managed to keep it's place in the living room for many more years. She was wondering, since I belong to most of the big guilds here in town, would I know of someone who would like to have it and that would actually use it. I said I would help her find someone, not really thinking that I would keep it. After all, it has a pretty big footprint! But the more I researched the wheels to see what they were selling for, the more I wanted to take it home with me! Kind of like when you foster that cute abandoned puppy, then he never leaves. So we settled on a fair price, plus a little extra since I knew it was probably in good shape.
Saturday came, and I picked up my mom for the big adventure to look at the wheel. It was supposed to be stormy all day, but we were just dying to see it. We were rewarded with a beautiful great wheel sitting in their living room. I looked it over with my inexperienced eye, and it looked like all the parts were there and that it would spin. So I took a bunch of photos before dis-assembly, then loaded it up in the car.
Our other project for Saturday was to get Mom (and me) up and running on our new Nook HD's. So after a quick drive through Burger King, we were ready to spend the afternoon loading apps, downloading books, and a general tutorial so she'd be ready for book club this week. It definitely helped being able to go through the steps together. Usually we just run over and fix things for her, so it was fun to let her experience the process. And I haven't had even one "tech support" question this week! Way to go Mom! And I'm loving my Nook. Just the right size to carry around in my purse.
Sunday was spent on cleaning, waxing, and re-assembly. During the cleaning process, I found a maker's mark on the end of the bench - "SR AL". I've since learned from the folks in the "Spindle Wheel" group on Ravelry, that it was made in Alfred, Maine around the period when Samuel Ring was Trustee of the Shaker colony there from 1809-1814. However, wheels continued to be made with that mark after 1814. The tensioning system on my wheel wasn't used until after 1823. But even at that, the wheel is around 190 years old! It is absolutely amazing to me that something so delicate could survive that long. Definitely shows how important a tool the spinning was to people of that period.
The only thing missing from the wheel, is the little rectangular block on the bottom right post of the miner's head.
And here I am. Working hard on my long draw to make my first yarn on the wheel. I'm kind of in that "park and draft" phase, but improving. I had some merino top laying around that I decided to try out first, but I think it would have been a little easier if I had carded some wool to work from rolags. It helped a lot that I understand the principles of spinning off a spindle from spinning on my book charkha. I do think that the great wheel is easier though. The charkha has a really fast drive ratio to spin cotton and other fine fibers. The great wheel is a bit slower and geared more to spinning wool, although you could spin cotton as well.
I'm practicing a little each day and my spinning is definitely improving! Here's where I stopped this afternoon. And I'm wasting less and less. While I was out on Sunday looking for a cotter pin for the wheel hub, I stopped by the storage unit and picked up a big bag of white Polworth to card. That will be my first real test after I finish the merino. So stay tuned! If you'd like to see more photos, I've got them all up on my Flickr page here.