I was in my old home town Vaasa yesterday with hubby. While waiting for him when he did some errands, I went to the Ostrobothnian Museum to see if an old spinning wheel I’d heard of would be on display. It was, but I also saw this one:
Absolutely awesome! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I’ve never seen anything like it, except some new wheels that are also resplendently made and painted. The wheel is from the island Björkö in the Baltic Sea.
The light was bad for taking photos (but very good for just looking at the objects), but I still hope you can see the year that’s painted on it: 1854. It’s in very good condition, so must’ve been appreciated also after it’s no longer been used.
The bobbin is dark blue. Hard to say whether it’s original, but it did look as if it belongs to the wheel.
The furniture and the textiles are typical for the island: rich, bright colors, much red, green, blue and yellow.
And here sits the man in the house mending fishing nets amongst all this beauty! The bed is special: in Björkö shelves for plates were built onto the headboards. I didn’t see the reflexion of the glass cabinet facing the bed until I downloaded the photo, but I think you still can see the plates and bowls. The walls are sprinkled with red paint, very decorative and effective.
This is the wheel I went to look for. It also was behind glass, like so many of of the other objects in the museums nowadays, and therefore camera stands usually are forbidden. That makes me a bit grouchy, even if I can understand why I’m not allowed to mess around with sticks.
What you see is an upright wheel from the early 18th century, found in Karijoki in southern Ostrobothnia, now in the museum in Vaasa. The flyer and bobbin assembly is missing, which of course is a pity. This is one of the few old castle wheels there are in Finnish museums. I don’t know if the flax distaff is original, but it’s plausible the wheel once has been equipped with one of the same type.
Next week: distaves, lazy kates, and other goodies! A teaser: this lazy kate is from Toholampi in northern Ostrobothnia.
I looked through my photos and chose a few spinning wheels for my readers. When I look at my stats, I see that a majority of you are in the US, followed by Finland, and the rest of the world. (That’s why I write in English, and not in my mother tongue Swedish.)
Here’s a bouquet of Finnish spinning wheels for my international readers. They are all from museums, mostly from Ostrobothnia, the middle western coast of Finland where I live. The Saxony wheel was designed to spin short, carded wool in an efficient way using the long draws. It’s not an easy wheel for a beginner, but this is what the young girls still learned to spin on. I love the smooth, wide movements in the long draw as we spin it in Finland: as long as your right arm reaches, drafted to the right without twisting your body backwards as some of the other long draws demand.
First: the proper way to attach spokes. If you look closely, you see that they don’t go in a straight line, but more in a zig zag line. A Norwegian friend told me that this prevents the wood from breaking. There are usually six slightly bent parts in the wheel, forming a perfect circle. You can see a faint line in the wheel where one of the joins is. This wheel is in a museum in Vaasa.
A typical wool flyer has fewer hooks than a flax flyer, and it’s wider. The Saxony wheels in Scandinavia were used for both flax and wool. You can spin both on either of the flyers, but thicker wool yarns tend to catch on the hooks of a flax flyer. Below a wool flyer. There’s also a skein winder with a counting train. Professional spinners always measured their yarns, as there had to be a certain length in each skein. This wheel is in use, and the spinner has secured the drive band because of all the kids that want to spin the wheel and make a mess of the band.
Deep or lighter blue wheels with red details were common in my part of Finland.
This wheel is in a museum in Taivalkoski in north eastern Finland. I don’t know if the colour was common in the Kainuu region, or if the wheel has been brought there from another part of Finland.
A green wheel from Malax in Ostrobothnia. Green wheels can also be found quite often here.
An old wheel from Korsnäs, the home of the famous Korsnäs sweater. There’s no dating, but in my eyes this looks older than the Saxonys from the late 19th-early 20th century that we have seen above.
This is an old wheel. On the other side of the drive wheel there’s a carving “1739”. It seems to have been added later, but it must have some significance. Either it is the year the wheel was made, or the year the spinner got it. I love it, I think it’s very beautiful. The distaff is much newer, and the footman seems to be of later age also. The wheel is in a museum in my municipality. No, I haven’t been permitted to try it – I’ve asked 🙂 But it works, I’ve tested it that much.
This wheel is in a museum in the Finnish speaking part of Ostrobotnia, Vähäkyrö. It’s dated 1611, but that seems to be wrong. No authorities have yet accepted the date, and the reason is that flyer wheels were almost unknown in Finland at that time. Until we know for certain, we just have to admire it. It seems to be a relative of the one from 1739 above. Strong wheel, very steep bench.
The museums have so many spinning wheels, that they can’t display them all. The one above is stuffed away in a barn at a museum in my municipality. I wanted to show it because I believe this kind of wheel must’ve been common. It’s a simple undecorated wheel that has clearly been in use. How many of these have been used as fire wood, as there’s no elaborate wood turning or painted decorations? It’s just simply a tool.
Now here’s a classic: a spinning wheel from Kiikka, a municipality in south western Finland that was so famous for it’s wheel production, that there’s still a spinning wheel in its coat of arms. It’s called “Kiikkalainen” in Finnish, and easy to recognise because of the way it’s decorated. I have one of these, and it’s indeed a very good Saxony. This is from a museum in northern Ostrobothnia, Kokkola.
Upright wheels are very sparse in Finnish museums. There have been upright wheels earlier, but they have disappeared probably before museums became common. This wheel is in a museum in Malax, where you can also find the green Saxony above. It’s history and origin is unknown. A discussion in the Antique Spinning Wheels group on Ravelry couldn’t establish a precise region, but Germany, Netherlands, or Belgium seem to be closest guesses, much because of the wood turning style.
Almost every municipality in Finland had at least one wheel maker, often several. The spinning wheels were of great importance, as industrially made textiles didn’t become common until the end of the 19th century, and in many rural areas even later. All small holders and bigger farms had sheep, and flax was grown until the second world war. All women could spin, some better, some just acceptable for work clothes and blankets.
So what happened? The simple question is: man made fibers. During our last wars against the Soviet Union (1939-1944) all capable men were at war. The women and children took care of everything else. I’ve heard so many of them say that after the war they put away their wheels, because they reminded them of the never ending exhausting work, when spinning was the last task late in the night when everything else had been done. The man made fibers and mill spun wool yarns saved the women from the spinning wheels and looms.
So here you find many of them now: this is from an attic in one of the museums close to where I live:
Sleeping beauties beside their skein winders.
Many wheels also ended up in the grandmas’ attics. Now they are often sold on the second hand market, and luckily there’s a steadily increasing number of spinners who want to use these old treasures.
Here’s what happened next, when the spinning was done: plying yarn, making heddles for the loom. And after a while, doing the laundry and pressing the linen. This is also from my favourite museum here in my municipality.
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.
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.
Blue is my colour. I like all colours, but I love blue. So last autumn I bought blue paint for the distaff holder where you put your distaff when you spin flax. The lower part of the holder is new, turned by a kind man at the outdoor museum where I use to spin in the summers. He wanted me to paint it, so I did that a couple of days ago. I painted my spinning chair blue as well, because I really like to paint. And because I love blue 🙂
And then another kind person from that same museum called me and asked if I would like to take care of a spinning wheel, an heirloom that had belonged to a friend of her family. I said I’d have a look at it. And it was blue. And the wheel was straight, it had all the necessary parts, and I said, yes, I want to take care of it. I call it Elsa after the last owner. Here she is, with the blue chair, the blue arms, and my other Saxony wheel Eevi, and little Peerie Louet Victoria.
I have spun a few meters on her. Eevi is a wonderful wheel, but I have a feeling Elsa might be even better. Let’s see after a few months, when she has got used to her new home and the conditions here. She was made in the municipality where my husband and I have livet the last 24 years. I don’t know who made her. There used to be a wheel maker in almost every village, but what the wheels have in common is the blue colour with sparse red details. And, a relief for spinners with floors you don’t have to be afraid to damage: the legs have metal tips that keep Elsa stay where you’ve put her. No sliding across the floor here!
I will add red details to the distaff holder later.