Through Ravelry and my good friend Vern (who you read about earlier this week, spinner extraordinaire), I’ve become involved with a group of spinning wheel rescuers. Now, spinning wheels might not sound like something that would need rescuing but if you think about it, how many members of the general public know anything about how to take care of something like a spinning wheel?
Sadly, this means we see them in all sorts of unhappy permutations. They get made into lamps, assembled backwards, parts get added or go missing and they are painted all sorts of wacky colors, or almost worse, covered in polyurethane. (Note to self: Preservation of any antique generally does not involve the use of polyurethane).
These wheel rescuer folks are amazing. All are spinners with a special interest in antique wheels and a strong bent towards enabling others. Once you pick up the rescuing bug, it can be hard to stop. You see, there’s always another wheel out there that needs to be taken in by someone who will care for it, put it back in working order, and then use it as it was meant to be – for making yarn. It becomes a cause rather than just a hobby.
The other thing that makes this group interesting is the fact that while most of us have never met each other, we are a tight community. People are helpful and actively watch out for each other, both to find wheels that need rescuing and to fix them after rescue. There are a number of wheelwrights in the group who actively watch the forum for people with spinning wheel challenges and offer advice on how to fix them. In fact, when I had a challenge with a wheel I had rescued (and wheelwrights are scarce in Colorado), a gentleman wheelwright from Australia gave me loads of advice, even taking the time to send me private messages with lots of instruction on how to fix my problem. It worked, and the wheel (which had previously spent nine years in a lady’s garage) now makes yarn.
These people bend over backwards to help each other in their quest for a spinning wheel. I bought a Canadian Production Wheel from an eBay seller in Albany New York, only to find out afterwards that the seller had no idea how to ship a wheel this large (CPW’s can have a 30 inch drive wheel). My wheel was stranded. I put out an urgent call for help to rescuers to see if someone local could help. Not only did this woman take time out of her life to help me, she drove 30 miles each way to meet the seller and pick up the wheel, packed it using recycled boxes so I wouldn’t have to pay for packing, and wouldn’t take a dime for her services. I was awed.
So, this week it’s my turn to pay it forward. There’s a wheel nearby that has been ‘lampified’ and someone on the East Coast wants to rescue it. So, we’re off to check it out and send her pictures so she’ll know if it can be saved. And if she decides to buy it, I’ll pick it up, pack it and ship it to its new home. In the end, everyone is happy and one more little piece of our history is not only saved but put back into useful service.
It’s a wonderful thing to see these wheels once they’ve been fixed and cleaned. Many come out of barns, attics, or garages and are covered with years of dust and grime. They seem happy to be able to spin, doing what they were made to do. And for the spinner who uses an antique wheel, there’s a sense of satisfaction in using a wheel that so many others have used. I always wonder about the other spinners who used a particular wheel and what they were like.
My wheel collecting has slowed down since I moved to Colorado. There are a lot of spinners here, but not very many antique wheels, which are much more plentiful in the Midwest and on the East Coast. The cost of shipping is prohibitive when the items are as large as this and they have to be shipped so far. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch the forums and participate vicariously. And you never know, that perfect next wheel might well turn up here – I’m always on the lookout just to be sure.
My 'garage' wheel rescue. After spending 9 years in a Denver garage, this lady has been cleaned and restored. She's now enjoying a nice retirement at my friend Amy's house.
My very first rescue - this is actually a quilling wheel which is used for winding yarn for weaving. It now has a lovely home with the parents of my friend Concetta (whose grandmother was a weaver, I thought that was very appropriate!)
Most of my wheel collection, along with the Westies helping with a quilt project. The largest of the four (pictured above) has since found a new home with Amy. My Schacht Ladybug must have been hiding that day.