Saturday morning spinning and the tale of two wheels

Facebook friends got a sneak peek on Wednesday night of the two new-to-me wheels that I acquired. These were a completely unexpected acquisition too. Here’s the story of that acquisition, and a little bit more that I’ve learned about them since they’ve been in my possession.
A friend who knows a LOT of local antiques dealers asked around some time ago on my behalf if any of them had any antique wheels or to let him know if they come across any. By “some time ago” I mean at least last spring. Antique wheels, good ones anyway, just don’t seem to come up in this area all that often. When my friend called me yesterday to tell me that one of his antique dealer friends had not one but TWO, I was immediately intrigued. I was given the number of the gentleman with the wheels and I called him to ask if I could come and take a look. He described them a little more, and reiterated that they were both complete and in great condition. He had just picked them up and didn’t have any pictures that he could send to me first, so all I knew about these wheels, which wasn’t much, was from that phone call.

I was still intrigued, but cautiously optimistic. I have seen a LOT of ads for antique wheels that are supposedly “complete” in “great condition” or “fully functional” but all it tells me is that there are a lot of antiques dealers out there that know nothing about spinning wheels. Many of these wheels being offered up for sale are missing crucial parts like flyers and bobbins, or the treadle and footman. For many of these folks, “fully functional” means the treadle turns the drive wheel, or that the drive wheel simply turns. They have absolutely no idea how a spinning wheel actually works to create yarn, and many of the pieces they sell need a significant amount of repair or replacement parts. Since these wheels aren’t current production models, turning them into a functioning spinning wheel requires finding a talented wheelwright or woodworker who knows and understands spinning wheels and can re-create these parts for you, which can sometimes be quite expensive.

There are also folks out there selling what many spinners refer to as a “spinning wheel shaped object” or SWSO. These wheels look great, and often appear intact and complete, including flyer and bobbin, but they have one or more specific characteristics like a one piece flyer/bobbin assembly, no orifice for the yarn to pass through, no flyer hooks, or equally sized flyer and bobbin pulleys (no take-up), that render them completely useless as spinning wheels. Many of these lovely frauds were manufactured by furniture companies in the 1960’s and 70’s as home décor items. Why anyone would invest time and money into manufacturing a non-functioning spinning wheel is beyond me, but they have fooled many inexperienced new spinners looking to get their first wheel for cheap, so if you fall into that category, beware of the SWSO, and beware of the incomplete vintage and antique wheels that might seem like a good deal because of their seemingly low price.
Anyway, back to my story of the two wheels that came home with me on Wednesday.

Immediately after dinner, and regretfully bailing on Wednesday night knitting with friends, I left to meet the gentleman with the wheels. When I arrived at his house, we went out to his van where he still had the wheels from his pickup earlier in the day. As he opened the back doors I saw the drive wheel of a great wheel leaning up against the side of the van, with its table and what appeared to be a complete miner’s head on the front of it. I was now feeling a little less cautious and a little more optimistic. Then, from underneath a blanket on the floor in the back of his van, he pulled out what had to be the cutest little upright wheel I could have possibly imagined and set it down on the driveway. It didn’t take me long to do a complete visual check before it even touched the pavement. The single treadle and footman were present and connected to the drive wheel. It had a proper flyer with a proper orifice, and three bobbins, all with some very over twisted handspun yarn on them. It was double drive, and the flyer and bobbin pulleys seemed appropriately sized to allow take-up. There was no drive band, but that was not a concern as those are easily replaced. I was getting even more optimistic about this find!

Once it was down on the ground in front of me, I gave it a thorough inspection. The flyer rotated freely on the maidens and the bobbin on the flyer turned independently so I knew that nothing was stuck. The treadle operated the drive wheel, and the drive wheel turned without effort and did not in any way appear warped or out of alignment. I noticed one join on the drive wheel that wasn’t completely flush, but that was very minor, and did not seem to affect it in any way. The wheel had a very familiar style, especially to the shape of the split table below the drive wheel, and an unfamiliar name along with a date and number stamped on the back part of the table. I was very pleased with what I was seeing, and knew right away that this one wheel was well worth the price that I was being offered both of them for.

After inspecting the cute little upright wheel, it was time to have a look at the behemoth that was still in the van. We carefully took each piece of the great wheel out and put them together there on the driveway. The drive bands for the wheel and miner’s head were old and rotten, but again, that drive band is easily replaced. The miner’s head was complete, and intact. The drive wheel mounted nicely on its post, but the post itself seems to need a little adjusting to make the wheel sit correctly and in line with the miner’s head, which again, was not much of a problem. This great wheel was clearly a much older piece, but nothing was broken, and it was indeed complete, and although it wasn’t exactly the kind of spinning wheel I was in the market for (I wasn’t actually in the market for any spinning wheel, actually, this was all sort of out of the blue) it sure was a beauty, and included in the deal. So once we settled up with payment we disassembled the great wheel and loaded it into the back of my car while the cute little upright wheel was strapped into the passenger seat up front next to me, and I was heading back home with my treasures.

Once home, I brought both wheels inside and carefully reassembled the great wheel in the living room to show it off, and get a picture of both of them together. The great wheel really is a behemoth, and makes the cute little upright wheel look disproportionately small. When stood next to my others, the upright wheel is still slightly smaller, but looks more in proportion. After admiring both, I disassembled the great wheel and moved it into my yarn room for now. It literally fills the whole room. I knew before I even brought this home that we had nowhere in the house for it to spend its days in assembled form. I need to play around with it in its unassembled state to see if I can make something work. If not, it will have to spend its days in either the garage or the basement when not actually in use. I hate the thought of that since it’s such a stunning piece, but that’s the sacrifice one makes living in a smaller space.

With a handful of cleaning rags, a bottle of diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a bottle of furniture oil, I set about cleaning up the cute little upright wheel. There was yarn on all three bobbins that needed to come off. I have no idea when this wheel was last used, but it had to have been quite some time as the yarn on the bobbins was incredibly coarse and desiccated. It practically crumbled away as I tried to remove it. I removed the distaff, flyer, maidens, and all the bobbins and noticed that the number 73, same as what is stamped on the back of my wheel, is written on all but one of the bobbins, which bears the number 72. I gave each piece a thorough wiping down with the Murphy’s to remove the grime, then took a rag soaked in the furniture oil and gave each piece a good rubbing with that. This gave me an opportunity to get my eyes and my fingers into every little nook and cranny and inspect everything again up close. The front leather bearing may need to be replaced at some point soon, but for now it appears to be holing up okay, and the metal orifice and flyer shaft could use a rubbing with some fine grade synthetic steel wool. Other than that, everything is in fantastic shape!

Wiping everything down one final time with a dry rag, I reassembled everything, grabbed by ball of crochet cotton, tied a new drive band on the wheel, put a little bit of oil on the leather bearings, flyer shaft, and drive wheel, and sat down to try it out. This little 50 year old spinning wheel that hadn’t been used in ages spins like a dream! It’s not squeaky or sticky at all. It’s not even very noisy. The screw in the back maiden makes the take-up very easy to adjust as you spin. The drive wheel, though smaller than many drive wheels on uprights I’ve used, is quite heavy, turns smoothly, maintains its momentum very well, and nothing wobbles, shakes, or moves when spinning. I’m really impressed with this wheel, and so happy to have it as a new addition to my herd!

When I retired for the evening, I took my iPad with me, logged on to Ravelry, and searched the groups for any mention of the name Anthony Cardarelle. It turns out there has been a lot of mentioning of that name and his wheels. Through Ravelry, and this link to a preview of an issue of the Spinning Wheel Sleuth, I learned that Anthony Cardarelle, based in California, made spinning wheels from the late 50’s into the 70’s, and one of the Clemes brothers (of Clemes and Clemes spinning wheels and fiber tools) worked with Anthony. When Anthony died, his wheel designs were acquired by Clemes and Clemes, and the design for the wheel that I have became the Clemes and Clemes Traditional wheel. That explains why mine looked familiar when I saw it. I’ve seen the Clemes Traditional a few times in person, and a number of times in photos. My distaff assembly is attached to the wheel a little differently, and my treadle is very different, and may be a replacement, although I’m not so sure. The finish on the top surface of the treadle is much darker than the rest of the wheel, but underneath it matches the finish and patina exactly. So perhaps this treadle design was changed at some point to what we see today on the Clemes Traditional.

Now my project is bringing this great wheel back to life. It’s clearly much older, possibly mid to late 1800’s. It’s in fantastic shape, but needs proper cleaning and oiling, new bearings for the spindle, and possibly a new spindle as the very tip of mine does appear like it might have broken off. The rear upright needs to be secured so that the drive wheel sits properly, and of course, a drive band. The driven spindles group on Ravelry is full of people with lots of experience breathing life back into these gorgeous pieces of spinning history, so I will let them guide me on my journey with this great wheel, and I will do my best to find a good spot for it to live in our home.

This morning’s spinning will be with Cardarelle which I’ve decided to name Clu (cute little upright). Many spinners refer to their wheels in the female sense, but I get a male vibe from all of mine. So this morning I’ll spend some time getting more familiar with Clu, and he will continue to get to know his brothers, Juergen, Alfred, Mack, and Diederick, and the as yet unnamed great wheel.
Have a great weekend everyone, and happy spinning!

2 thoughts on “Saturday morning spinning and the tale of two wheels”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: