ArteFACTS: The Walking Wheel

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of our featured artefacts for Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting is our Walking Wheel, or Great Wheel, an earlier types of spinning wheel. The fiber is held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. This wheel is thus good for using the long-draw spinning technique, which requires only one active hand most of the time, thus freeing a hand to turn the wheel. The great wheel is usually used to spin wool, and can only be used with fiber preparations that are suited to long-draw spinning.

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The walking wheel is approximately five feet in height.   The large drive wheel turns the much smaller spindle assembly, with the spindle revolving many times for each turn of the drive wheel. The yarn is spun at an angle off the tip of the spindle, and is then stored on the spindle.   To begin spinning on a great wheel, first a leader (a length of waste yarn) is tied onto the base of the spindle and spiraled up to the tip. Then the spinner overlaps a handful of fiber with the leader, holding both gently together with the left hand, and begin to slowly turn the drive wheel clockwise with the right hand, while simultaneously walking backward and drawing the fiber in the left hand away from the spindle at an angle. The left hand must control the tension on the wool to produce an even result. Once a sufficient amount of yarn has been made, the spinner turns the wheel backward a short distance to unwind the spiral on the spindle, then turns it clockwise again, and winds the newly made yarn onto the spindle, finishing the wind-on by spiraling back out to the tip again to make another draw.

walkingwheel

This particular artifact arrived at the museum in the late 1960s.  It originally belonged to Mrs. David Fleming who used this wheel for over 70 years of her life while she lived in a cabin north of Cobourg.   In the summer of 2011 Mrs. Fleming’s great grand-daughter came to see the walking wheel that her great grandmother had used.  While at the museum that day she provided me with a photograph of Mrs. David Fleming pictured beside her walking wheel and a poem that was written by Mrs. David Fleming on April 14, 1914 in Cobourg, Ontario.

I’m putting you away, my dear old wheel,
With an aching pain in my heart,
And in spite of all that I can do,
The tears from my eyes will start.

We’ve been friends for over 60 years,
Day by day I’ve walked by your side,
Drawing the threads of fleecy wool,
With a happy, contented pride.

And you and I together have made,
The yarn for mitts and hose,
Which kept hands and feet of my children warm,
Protected from frost and snows.

The years roll on with ceaseless tread,
And no change have they brought to you,
And I, dear old wheel, have grown old and gray,
And far from as good as new.

The bloom of youth has left my cheek,
And my step is less sprightly than then,
For I am some years past the mark
Of my three score and ten.

When I am gone, who will love you, my wheel,
As I so long have done,
And who will walk by your side and spin,
The wool as I have done?

Some ruthless hand may break and burn,
And put you out of the way,
And the thought makes me sigh with an ache in my heart,
As I put you away today.

The hum and buzz of you, dear old wheel,
Has been music in my ears.

~ Mrs. David Fleming, 1914

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One thought on “ArteFACTS: The Walking Wheel

  1. As I was cleaning my new Walking Wheel today, I saw where many lanolin covered fingers had touched the spokes to turn the wheel. I got a chill thinking of all the Wisconsin pioneers who loved and took such good care of this wheel. It connects me to the strong women who have gone before me. I will cherish this wheel in my time to own it. Loved the poem by Mrs Fleming.

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