08 March 2011

The Great Wheel

I have read about Great Wheels, and seen one in pieces (though never one all together or in working condition). They’re neat wheels … they are older than the flyer wheels that we normally think of when we thing “spinning wheel”. Essentially, a great wheel takes a drop spindle and puts it on it’s side, using a great big wheel (which the user turns by hand) to put the spin on the spindle. The spinner walks while spinning – pacing backwards while drawing out the yarn from the spindle with one hand and turning the wheel with the other, then pacing forwards to wind on the finished single. They are meditative to use, as you learn the dance of fibre and wheel.

Now, lovely as they are, they are huge. They need room to walk in order to use them. I have a house full of wheels. No need to add a great wheel to  the mix.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

So … I’m checking out the ads on Kijiji, like I always do, looking for wheels that are looking for homes. Right there, at the top of the list, posted not an hour earlier, was a great wheel – free. I thought about it for oh, five seconds, and sent an email. I explained that I am a spinner who loves to restore old wheels, and that I would very much like to give this wheel a home where it can come back to productive life. Then I paced anxiously, hoping for a response. It did occur to me how silly it was to go from thinking “nah, I don’t need a great wheel” to feeling like this one just NEEDED to come home with me!

Within a couple of hours, the lady got back to me. She liked the sound of my email, and thought the wheel did indeed belong at my house. How marvellous! We emailed back and forth a bit, and I learned that the wheel had belonged to her mother, Shirley, who did not spin but loved antiques. Apparently she spent quite a bit of time finding “just the right wheel”, and it was of her treasured possessions (not stored in a barn, like so many other great wheels!). Seven years ago this Friday, Shirley died suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation, and since then, this beautiful wheel has lived in her daughter’s basement. With basement renovations coming to make room for a growing family, the wheel had to go … so she posted it, and I responded. When I picked up the wheel today, i found adorable children and a happy household. I’m honoured to be chosen to carry the story of Shirley’s wheel forward into the future.

There’s a wee bit of work to do on the wheel, but not much. It does need a proper spindle – apparently there’s one somewhere in the basement and it may turn up as renovation preparations continue. I have a temporary one in place for now (made of a knitting needle, a wine cork and a rubber band) – enough to spin a sample of yarn and see that the wheel holds a drive band and will happily spin!

Someone described great wheels as the ‘matriarchs of wheels’. After seeing Shirley’s lovely grandchildren today, I think this wheel should be named “Grandma Shirley”  … in honour of her previous owner, and her status as matriarch of wheels.

I like to think that the real Grandma Shirley would be pleased. Her daughter seemed to think she would be.

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