Patrick Jennings and his Wheels

Patrick Jennings was farming at the Whalesback Station (on the Inland Kaikoura road in North Canterbury) in the early 1940s. He attended a Red Cross meeting where spinning was demonstrated, a meeting probably organised as part of the war effort to encourage farmers’ wives to learn to spin to provide articles for seamen. (Mr Jennings did not go to the War as farming was a reserved occupation.)

He decided he could make a wheel, and taught himself to spin. His daughter, Mary Nimmo, still spins on this original wheel, shown below, which her father made using a Singer Sewing machine wheel and other metal parts to give a very solid and stable base.

Its largely metal construction was to become typical of Jennings’ work. On his subsequent wheels, even though he was an expert woodturner, the only wooden parts were generally the bobbins (5 supplied with each wheel) and the whorl. Most of Jennings’ wheels have just one sliding hook.

Jennings’ wheels have a feature which was to become quite widespread in New Zealand-made wheels: the flyer assembly is of the type that would be known as “Picardy” if it were found on a saxony style wheel in Europe. The whorl is situated between the two maidens, whereas the flyer, instead of being adjacent to the whorl and also within the maidens, is in front of the front maiden.

With upright wheels the tops of the wheel posts commonly serve also as maidens, and the closeup at right shows clearly how Mr Jennings put the whorl between the posts (one wood, one metal in this wheel) and extended the spindle to hold the bobbin and flyer at the front. Among other examples of this arrangement are the upright wheels by Morrison and Dunnachie.

Mr Jennings continued to make wheels as requested during the War. The group photograph below shows that there was considerable variation between them, but they share the predominance of metal asnd the Picardy-type flyer arrangement. He himself spun large quantities of wool in the grease to be knitted into seamen’s socks. He also spun fine wool from which his four children’s singlets and school jerseys were knitted. He moved from the Whalesback to Gore Bay (near Cheviot) in 1953 and then to Oxford (inland from Christchurch) where he continued to make wheels.

Mary Nimmo thinks her father made at least 50 wheels. She remembers a pink wheel (painted metal), now sadly gone, which her father made for her when she was about 7 years old. Mr Jennings continued to spin while in his 80s and produced perfect skeins, hard to distinguish from commercial wool. In his retirement from 1980 to his death in 1992 he made many occasional tables and wooden bowls, now in homes around the district.

This account is based on one compiled by Lyndsay Fenwick, with the help of Mary Nimmo. For a good explanation of Picardy wheels see Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels Spinners and Spinning 112-113.