Maybe if that piece was tighter?

A few days ago, Joe’s parents started cleaning out their storage space. They moved to a smaller home, and some stuff had to go. This process has been pretty awesome for everyone. Tons of furniture moved along, and the youngsters in particular have made some really decent scores – they’re pretty happy, but not as happy as me. Here’s what I got.


(By the way, please forgive me if things look funny. My laptop is in for service and this is coming to you from my ipad. It’s a strange system.) It’s Joe’s dad’s grandmother’s walking wheel, from her house in Newfoundland. It’s about a hundred years old, and was handmade by someone, and Joe’s father has been trucking around and caring for the thing for years and years. The problem?


You guessed it. It’s in parts. I think I have everything it takes to make it work, but I’m not totally sure, so I got two more tools.


That’s Alden Amos spinning book, and a phone that knows Judith MacKenzie’s phone number. I swear that if I can’t get it together and running with those two resources, I probably don’t deserve it.

More tomorrow, after I try and figure out what piece screws into what piece and why it all looks sort of crooked.

113 thoughts on “Maybe if that piece was tighter?

  1. What an exciting puzzle to solve! And what an amazing family heirloom. Do you think it will still work after all those years disassembled?!

  2. Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts has a walking wheel. I bet you could get help there. I loved spinning on it one day I was visiting. Good luck!

  3. Looks to me like you have the two most important parts (other than the book and the phone)…the spindle and the wheel….
    Can’t wait to see the unveiling!

  4. Two words: Reid. Needles.

    Before you start pulling out whacks of hair give him a call. He’ll be at the Woodstock Fleece Fest.

    Good luck!

    • Yes. Exactly what I was going to say.
      He’ll be at an event in KW on Sept 27, too, if you want to track him down sooner.

      I want a walking wheel (and a floor loom) but I have to wait until a few kids move out so I have space. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Maybe if that piece was tighter? | Yarn Buyer

  6. Oh man. I love puzzles. Puzzles that produce a wheel at the end? My fingers are twitching.

    May I come over to help, please? (My mummy always told me to ask nicely if I really want something.)

  7. Gotta say I’m impressed by your creativity in gansey-avoidance. First you chose to design it, then spin for it, then process the raw wool for it, now BUILD A WHEEL to spin on. What next? Chopping down a tree to make spare parts, or maybe raising a few extra grey sheep?

    • Now, now… she’s just, erm, putting all that experience into figuring out ways to, as who should say, streamline the process for future projects of the same nature.

      • Hmmm, you could build the ark, invite the sheep…one could get carried away…or…should be carried away…where, oh, where does the madness stop 🙂

  8. Wow. What a work of art. I wish I could lend you the women from Purlescence here, they are geniuses at getting wheels together. They fixed up one my father-in-law had jammed a popsicle stick into to make up for the mismatching sidebars–they made it perfect (and no popsicle stick anymore.)

    You are so going to love that wheel. Best wishes to Joe’s folks in their new place.

  9. Stephanie, you are one lucky soul! My husband’s grandmother had a walking wheel in their attic that was in pieces. My husband said he remembered his great-grandmother spinning on it. I was so far down the totem pole in relatives who would be in line for it though, and I never did find out if it found a home. I hope you get yours up and running soon. Can’t wait to see pictures!

  10. Wow, what a treasure. One question – where do have room for it in your house? (Coming from someone who lives in 1000 sq ft with three other people…)

  11. Since you’re in Toronto, you might give Black Creek Pioneer village a call to see if they have a local expert who could advise you on the wheel construction. I learned to spin on a walking wheel when I worked at living history museum — huge fun and none of that darn pedalling, either

    • Failing someone to advice, she could at least go and check out theirs – it can be a lot easier to figure out assembly when you can look at a model instead of just flat pictures.

  12. Ok the Harlot’s family got Midge working…with the resources you have getting this wheel to work will be a walk in the park ;o)

  13. You might want to join or check put the Spindle Wheel group on Ravelry. We have several members who are very knowledgeable about walking wheels. We also have several reference pages with tons of information. Even lists of wheel doctors who can help restore them.

    Welcome to the great/walking wheel caretakers group.


  14. Wow, indeed! What a lucky gal you are. Think how long that wheel has been waiting to see the light of day again…
    And how fortunate you both are that it landed in your capable spinner’s hands. I predict you’ll both be humming soon! (With a little help from your friends.)

  15. When I got a walking wheel (probably from the late 1700s) it was missing the head. I was very pleased to find a refurbished minor’s head. If you do have a head in good shape, bits of it made of corn husks or leather may need to be replaced and, when I was looking into this 10 years ago, there were people who could do that. The spindle may also need some help – depending on how much use the wheel got. Be very gentle cleaning it and don’t put wax or chemicals on it unless you know what you are doing! There are a couple of books/booklets out there on Great Wheels – esp. on using them to spin very fine wool singles.Let me know if you want me to dig up the references. Good luck – Great Wheels are so much fun!

  16. That’s a very lucky spinning wheel, to have been so cherished for so long, and to end up in your hands, where it will continue to be so.

  17. That walking wheel is fabulous! I just found a tintype of my great-great grandfather spinning on his front porch from approximately 1875. GGGrandma was standing behind him. He had a big wad of wool on a distaff. I wondered why I wanted to spin.

  18. What a beautiful wheel, and what a fantastic way to connect with your family’s history. Best of luck putting it back together.

  19. I’d probably not assemble it right now. Instead, I’d mix linseed oil with turpentine (real turpentine, vegetable stuff gotten from bitter oranges), ratio maybe 1:2. Then clean all parts with soapy water, let dry, maybe sand them ever so slightly to tamp down whatever was raised by the water and then lovingly oil them. After they are not tacky anymore, consider oiling a second time. Did the wood slurp up the oil greedily? Then yes, maybe even a third layer. Did it take forever to dry out? Then no.

  20. No question that you scored big time. The real question is, do you have space for this in your house? Speaking as someone who lives in a 172-year-old home, space really forces you to confront your priorities. It sounds as though you know yours!

  21. What a treasure! My grandfather had a walking wheel but I don’t know what ever became of it. He also had a floor loom…same thing…don’t know where it went. I know you will be able to assemble the wheel with no problems, after all, you are a Knitter!

  22. Wish I could join you in Loveland… But I’m in India. Have a wonderful time in a beautiful place at a lovely time of year! (But be warned… The weather can change every 30 min if it feels like it. You really can see sun and warmth in the morning and snow in the evening!)

    • I believe Alvin Ramer is ill and no longer able to repair wheels. Donna Lonergan’s husband (Jim?) is an expert on wheel repair. Donna does a lot of teaching at Gemini Fibres and she and probably her husband will be at the Knitter’s Fair on the weekend at the Gemini booth.

  23. What an heirloom, and how perfect that it should come to you, a world-class fiber (or fibre, if you prefer) maven. I’m sure that you will get it assembled, it will work, and a fine tool from the past will once again fulfill its purpose. Win-win!!

  24. Holy cow! That is incredible! Sigh. I wish my family had cool heirloom stuff like this. Heritage is sooo cool. Can’t wait to see it working.

  25. What an amazing family heirloom; and who better to have it! Congratulations! I prefer my walking wheel to all other forms is spinning; the rhythm is so very soothing. If I may have your mailing address I’d love to send you some roving from my cherished tiny herd of alpacas to practice on. Best of luck with your newfound treasure:-)

  26. Positively brilliant! Nobody deserves it more . . . and I mean that in the best possible way, because it might turn out to be a bear to assemble and use (but maybe not!)

  27. *silent whistle* Looks like you got the jackpot. This looks amazing. Best of luck putting it together! Show pics of the progress, please! 😀

  28. ~ looks at useless spinning-wheel-shaped-object on which hydro-bill money was spent ~
    ~ looks at family heirloom spinning-wheel YH just acquired ~
    ~ looks again at USWSOetc. ~
    ~ sighs deeply, and takes to her bed in the middle of the afternoon ~

  29. What a great project! Useful, something you love, slightly challenging, and connected to family history. Though it will be hard to top the work on the boat, I’m sure. 😉

  30. ~ stands, stunned, gazing at the latest acquisition ~
    ~ gives a deep, heartfelt sigh, and just goes back to bed ~
    ~ forever ~

  31. Very cool! Who cares if there’s space in your house? Make some! I see a couple of people have mentioned Black Creek ? Village? Upper Canada Village might have someone with expertise also, although maybe they are further away from you (tho’ not by internet!)

  32. Wow! That is really cool. I’m sure Judith can put you on the right track. I scored a floor loom in the same condition. It was handmade in 1950 (so no ‘brand’) and of course it is in pieces. And there’s a LOT of them. People keep asking me what kind of loom. I’m not a weaver (yet) so I’ve got no idea. I’m clearing out a space for it, so hopefully my puzzle pieces will become a loom in the next couple of months. I’m not sure what will take longest – clearing a space or putting it together.

  33. That big wheel — is that for flax, not wool? I know they were different but don’t remember which was which. If it works, you have the blessing of being able to commune with the past. If it doesn’t work, you have a gorgeous, elegant antique to enjoy. Lucky girl!

  34. Genesse country musseum in Muford , NY has one. It is about 5 hours away from you. Glad the wheel has a home were it will be loved.

  35. Think of it like a giant, lovely tinker toy. Most walking wheels and many other styles are meant to be put together with pins (wooden) and/or just pressure fit. Look at the patina lines at the edges and that will give you a good clue as to which hole that part wants to be in. Have fun!

  36. A perfect example of Karma. All the good that you do, all your generosity, wisdom, humour – this is the kind of thing that makes people say you deserve such a beautiful heirloom. I don’t think you can go wrong with Alden Amos; but also an out-of-print book called The Care and Feeding of Spinning Wheels by Karen Pauli is a nuts-and-bolts approach to restoring and repairing old wheels,including walking wheels. You might find one online or in a library. Gemini Fibres is a wonderful resource and I would take their advice on a woodworker/spinning wheel restorer, for sure. I’m quite certain that wheel was always meant to be yours and it’s happy to have found its true home – what a wonderful connection with all those loving hard-working hands it knew long ago.

  37. Look into The Spinning Wheel Sleuth at
    If you feel you have any unusual features in your walking wheel.
    There are lotsa wheels hiding in attics in the NE areas of North America.
    In my family 2 great wheels, two saxony wheels and two delightful castle type wheels with two flyers.

  38. It’s absolutely lovely. What a treasure!

    By the way, hope you are packing warm handknits for Colorado! We’re very wet and cool right now in Loveland, and there’s even a (slight) chance of snow on Thursday!

  39. That has got to be one of the best family heirlooms to receive! Spinning with a walking wheel feels like spinning with a companion with personality. You’ll have it together in no time, they’re pretty straightforward to figure out.From the picture it looks like the only thing you’re missing is the drive band. Play around with different fibers and different drafting techniques and you’ll soon have a new friend that you’ll love.

  40. A walking wheel!!!! My day is made. Any time something unpleasant happens, or things spin a wee bit out of the expected, I will sit back and think “Stephanie has a walking wheel.”

    Sheer bliss. At least, once it’s together and you get it figured out.

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  42. I got to spin a little on their great wheel at the Jenkins booth this spring. Oh my. Can’t wait to see yours assembled and working. Enjoy

  43. I hope you get the wheel fixed up and working properly. It reminds me of my (Newfoundland) grandmother’s loom which someone threw in a skip. Still upset over that one. I wait to see the final report on your wheel as some consolation!

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