Spinning class

Last weekend I taught a beginners’ class in wheel spinning. Some of my pupils also took part in a spindle class last spring, and I was happy to see they wanted to learn more.


Five old Finnish Saxony wheels!


Two more Finnish Saxonys, and my Louet “Peerie” Victoria that I lent to one of the participants as the green wheel wasn’t in mood for working. The owner fixed it in the evening, but got so fond of my Peerie (who wouldn’t!) that she wanted to go on using it during the second day.

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Finnish spinners will know what this is about: three wheels from Kiikka, called “kiikkalainen” in Finnish. The municipality Kiikka was famous for its skilled wheel makers, but all that ended when people stopped spinning. Luckily there are lots of old wheels in the second hand market, and among them hundreds of kiikka-wheels. You see mine (I call her Eevi) with the blue distaff stand in front. I use it for spinning in public, while my other two antique Saxonys are for home use only.


There was also a new German wheel, but I forgot to ask about the maker. Germany was, and is, an important country for spinners. All the wheels you see in this photo have their origin in Germany. The Saxonys came to Scandinavia from Germany centuries ago, and the upright wheels have continued to develop into interesting new forms there. I think the wheel in the front may be a Toika wheel, but if someone knows what it is, please tell me! It’s unfinished. EDIT: A kind reader has sent me a photo of a Toika wheel from the 80s. It’s much more robust than the wheel in the class, and many details are different. I therefore think the one in the class isn’t made by Toika.

My pupils had various skills from none to quite advanced. It’s always difficult to teach a beginners class to people who needs very different kinds of knowledge and skills. I had prepared myself for a situation like that, but you’d still need to be able to split into at least three persons! One who makes the wheels work, one who teaches the basics in spinning, and one who teaches advanced techniques.

But it was fun, thanks to the nice participants! The beautiful room in the Crafters House at Stundars is an inspiring place for small groups. I hope we can continue in the spring with fiber knowledge, fiber preparation, and one or two new spinning techniques.


  1. Susan

    That was wonderful. It is difficult to teach when there are several different levels going on at once. I have been spinning for so long that I don’t know what I do! Will have to remember soon as I am going to help someone next week 🙂 Loved seeing all those spinning wheels, make my hear sing!!

  2. Rebecca

    Why is Germany such a significant place for spinning? What are the modern German wheel brands? How can I find out more about spinning in Germany?

    • Barbro Heikinmatti

      The German area was a significant economical and cultural area for centuries from the 13th century onward. Products like spinning wheels spread over large areas with the merchants from the Hanseatic League. In our time several small wheel makers have designed interesting new wheels. You can find out more in the German spinning groups on Ravelry. This one seems to be the biggest: http://www.ravelry.com/groups/spinnernetz. Or you can google “Spinnrad” and “SpinnrĂ€der” and see what comes up.

      • Marilyn F.

        Hello Barbro and Rebecca . . . Here is some information on the origins of spinning wheels in Germany that you might be interested in if you have not heard it before. I came across this little book about 1982 and have remembered it since. I have written a little “book report” for you on it. Marilyn

        According to the John Horner’s (1858-1919) Collection of Spindles Spinning Wheels and Accessories as published in a small book “Spinning Wheels” by the Ulster Museum in 1952, the modern horizontal bobbin-flyer-pulley mechanism for the spinning wheel was originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci and it included what we call today a “woolly winder”, where the yarn was distributed evenly on the bobbin as it fed onto it. There are many great diagrams in this book illustrating the mechanics of spinning wheels and regional types of wheels in Europe, Ireland, including Finland and Norway, with some examples of Chinese and Indian wheels. Horner said that Leonardo’s invention was not brought into practical use until German wood-carver Johann Jurgen in 1530, twelve years after Leonardo’s death, applied Leonard’s invention to the spinning wheel. Although it was without the even distribution of yarn onto the bobbin (wooly-winder), Jurgen had a series of hooks on the flyer for the spinner to manually move the yarn for even distribution. (Ahhh, progress??)

        John Horner was an engineer, like his father, who invented and made improvements to textile machinery. He spoke many languages and traveled extensively on the continent as an adviser on the installation of textile machinery. He was especially interested in the history and development of the linen industry and the promotion of the Irish linen industry. His book “The Linen Trade of Europe during the Spinning Wheel Period” was produced in 1920. During his travels he studied and collected spinning wheels and accessories that now are the Horner Collection which he presented to the Ulster Museum in 1907-08.

        This small book “Spinning Wheels” is based upon Horner’s catalogue on the subject of spinning wheels and although some authors feel it is difficult to actually pinpoint the origins of the spinning wheel, this is what Horner discovered.

        • Barbro Heikinmatti

          Thank you Marilyn, that’s very interesting! I have a dissertation from Helsinki University: Veera Vallinheimo, “Das Spinnen in Finnland : unter besonderer BerĂŒcksichtigung schwedischer Tradition”. In the chapter on spinning wheels she states that flyer wheels were first introduced in the 17th century in Scandinavia. There is a Saxony wheel from 1739 in my local museum. I hope you all know The Spinning Wheel Sleuth? Lots of interesting wheel history there.

          • Marilyn F.

            Well, let’s see, if Jurgen was working on the flyer wheel in 1530, then they found their way to Scandinavia in the 1600’s, and you have one in a local museum dating from 1739, the timeline makes sense. The use of Spinning Wheels must have spread pretty quickly and been a very important tool to use to speed up the process of making clothing, etc. How fascinating that you have a 1739 wheel so close by. I wonder how they found out it was that old?

            • Barbro Heikinmatti

              In fact, I’ve discussed the dating with a wheel collector in Australia a couple of years ago. It looks as if the date has been added to the drive wheel later, and he could also see some repair that I hadn’t noticed. There’s a photo in the banner in my old blog, Hillevis TrĂ„dar, and more on my flickr page, album Verktyg-Equipment-Työkalut. I’m Hillevi3 on flickr.

        • Rebecca

          Oh this is very interesting, thanks Marilyn. That would be a great collection to explore at the museum. Thank you Barbro for the reminder about the Spinning Wheel Sleuth.

  3. Rebecca

    I should have begun with compliments on this fascinating post. It is not often we focus on the wheels themselves in talking about spinning. So interesting to see the wheels common in different places.

    • Barbro Heikinmatti

      Thanks! Yes, I thought the wheels would be interesting for spinners outside Finland. You find the same kind on Saxony wheels in Sweden, but also what we now call “Norwegian”. That’s logic, when you look at the map and see Sweden in between Finland and Norway. But the Saxony originally came from Germany, as I wrote in the post. Many Swedish spinning terms are German loan words.

      • Rebecca

        Oh! My fascination and curiosity just grows and grows. Thanks for the German links. It is posts like these that make me realise how Americentred is the online/print spinning culture I have been exposed to in Australia! There are so many spinning cultures that I have barely glimpsed.

        • Barbro Heikinmatti

          And still – the American spinning culture has its roots in the different cultures immigrants brought with them. What we see now in Spin Off, Ply, Interweave’s books and videos, spinning groups etc are fusions of many spinning cultures. We adapt our techniques and tools to the fibers we have, and the influences we have. A Swedish spinning friend who moved to Australia some years ago complained about the “old fashioned” spinners she first met. They weren’t interested in her (in my eyes) beautiful colour and skilled technique experiments 🙂

          • Rebecca

            That is again very interesting. Was your friend based in Melbourne? I wonder if this was her experience of an urban centre or a country town? I have just recalled something I read recently in Richard Rutt’s History of Handknitting about the popularity of knitting for middle and upperclass ladies in the early 1800s in England arising from the growth of fancy (fine) wools in Saxony after the fall of Napoleon redistributed Spanish merinos accross Europe after being controlled by Spain for a very long time. The Saxony merino took dye very well and started a knitting fashion among ladies as I guess it differentiated itself against coarser homespun yarn for stocking knitting common as income generation amongst English rural poor. Now, it makes sense to me that prior to industrialisation (and this would have been just prior to industrialisation) of wool spinning, this fancy yarn coming out of Saxony would have been handspun. Would you agree?

            • Barbro Heikinmatti

              I don’t have Rutt’s book, which makes me upset quite often… As far as I know he knew what he was talking about. Knitting history is a quite new field, so there’s a lot to research. I’ve seen shelf after shelf of Rutt’s research material in The Knitting Reference Library in Southampton, but I didn’t have time to explore it. My friend lives in Adelaide, and the group she visited meets there, but I don’t know where the spinners come from. I’m sure there are other groups that would suite her better!

            • Rebecca

              It is a fine book but the original collection would be amazing. Does your friend know of Local and Bespoke? Great blog of amazing South Australian maker, Dyer, Spinner. She recently spun with newspapers!

  4. Olga Vos

    What wonderful pictures! I just love those old Finnish wheels, and in fact I just got a Kiikkalainen wheel all the way from Finland. I have been trying to find more information about these wheels but am having little luck. Do you happen to know hwere I can find out more?

    • Barbro Heikinmatti

      Hi, saw your wheel in the Revelry group Antique Spinning Wheels, which I believe is the best place to find out more. I was just going to suggest you look there, but you already found the group 🙂 Hope you’ll have a good time with your Kiikkalainen!

      • Marilyn F.

        What about the Spinning Wheel Sleuth. I hear they have lots of info on older / antique wheels, although I am not a subscriber.

          • Olga Vos

            I’m having a great time with my Kiikkalainen, Petra.I was referred to an old thread about these wheels where I learned more. And I searched the Spinning Wheel Sleuth’s site but didn’t find anyhting, so I sent her a message and got a response saying she hadn’t heard about Kiikkalainen wheels and could I tell her more 😉 so I will tell her what I know.

            • Marilyn F.

              That’s wonderful Olga that you found information and now you can share it with others. I am not familiar with the Kiikkalainen wheel either, but always enjoy learning about wheels I’ve never heard of before. Good detective work on your part.

            • Olga Vos

              Thank you, that is so nice! I love old wheels. I love that they have been made to earn their keep and have done just that.

  5. Marilyn F.

    I think Finnish wheels are some of the most beautiful ever made, especially since Barbro has shared so many of them on her blog over the years. I might be a little prejudiced since my first wheel was a Toika. It seems Finland has had a strong fiber history that a lot of the world has not heard about.

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