11 May 2011

Aubertin, the tiny spinning wheel

Through the amazing Ravelry network, I am now honoured to be the caretaker/owner of Aubertin, a very small little wheel from France.

Here’s Aubertin at the start of his journey, in a backyard in France:

There is a LOT of shellac on this wheel. It took a lot of scrubbing with methyl hydrate to uncover the wood beneath – which is beautiful – and in the end, I gave up and left quite a bit of the shellac still there, as I was tired of scrubbing.

There were quite a few small repairs needed, which I knew when I got the wheel – the lady in France who found the wheel and shipped it here had my tiny budget in mind as she searched, and we both knew that with the bargain basement budget I had, repairs were going to be part of the project. That’s not a problem for me, I think they are part of the fun!

The mother of all was nailed in place, for starters, which would make tension adjustment impossible… and the nails were embedded right into the wood. Fortunately I was able to slip a hacksaw blade in the gap between the supports and the mother of all and cut it free, which was interesting. There were quite a few cracks and one large break that had to be glued and clamped to stabilize things, and another large break that needed wired together for better bracing and support. All that was fairly straightforward, though, and with a generous coat of tung oil after hours and hours of scrubbing off ancient shellac, the wheel is beautiful.

The little cup is for water – not for drinking, but for dipping your fingers in. This wheel would’ve been used to spin flax, and you need to wet your fingers periodically when spinning flax to smooth it down, so flax wheels often have a cup or a little dish to hold water. The tiny white nubbins on the wheel and decorating the ends of various sticky-outy-bits appear to be ivory – I’ll have to look closer, but when one of them popped out today,  the underside looked a whole lot like a tooth that’s fallen out, so I am leaning towards ivory rather than bone or antler, though any of those materials would be common.

And, despite the very rusty and wobbly flyer hooks, I was able to spin too! Super exciting. It treadles way more easily than I would have expected, and although it is a fragile little thing, it definitely was built to work. It’s not as odd as you might think having the orifice down so low – the angle of entry of fibre into the orifice of the wheel doesn’t really make much difference for most spinning (big bulky art yarns might be an exception), though modern wheels almost always have the orifice up near the level of your hands.

I used a blue drive band because blue seemed like a good French colour – I imagined an artistic gentleman walking to the café on the corner for his morning croissant and latté, wearing a blue beret. You can see the  stamp of the maker’s name on the back bar – it says Aubertin, which is where the wheel gets it’s name. I have no idea who Aubertin was, or how old this wheel might be … I’ll see if I can find anything out. (Oh yeah, ignore my toes in that picture too … I didn’t notice they were in there until after I posted the image!)

The wheel is really, really, really tiny – tinier than you’d expect even from the pictures. Here is a group shot, just for perspective:

Before you ask, no, not all of those wheels are mine … although more of them are than I would’ve thought  possible a year ago. The great wheel is Grandma Shirley, then there’s Jacqueline the CPW sitting between another CPW and an upright castle wheel that are both being delivered to their new owners in a month or so, the little LIthuanian wheel, which lives here, and the Czech Republic wheel that is looking for a new home. That’s a lot of wheels, eh? Wow.

My next adventure will be to complete the refinishing of Grandma Shirley the great wheel: the verathane is mostly off but I need to sand it clean then finish with a coat of tung oil. I now have a minor’s head (no, it has nothing to do with the cranium of a very young kid nor one who digs coal for a living) and am anxious to learn the great wheel spinning dance.


  1. They really are beautiful and all unique. They are so graceful looking that I can understand why you love them. If only I found them relaxing to work with, but it would just cause me stress to try. One day though - it's right up there with learning to quilt.

  2. Oh, Ev, spinning is much more forgiving and relaxing than quilting! At least for me - although I like hand sewing, but the fiddliness of getting the piecing just so is way beyond my patience levels. Spinning, on the other hand ... if it overtwists, well, ply it with something and it'll probably correct itself, if not, call it art yarn! You pay extra for that at the store! It's quite a bit easier than you think, once you get the hang of it. If you'd like to borrow a wheel for awhile to practice with, just let me know. I think I could possibly find a spare ... ;)


Comments have been opened up for immediate posting - the spam filters seem to be doing their job pretty well, thankfully. I love hearing from you, thanks for taking the time to post a comment!