Sleeping Beauty Wheels

In the mid 1960s, Alex Baillie of Auckland (then a consultant for Woodturners NZ Ltd) noted increasing interest in spinning and weaving. Ashford wheels were scotch tension and he felt there was a need for double drive band wheels.

Mr Baillie designed a wheel based on one which the late Jean McDonnell (proprietor of an Auckland shop, long gone, called The Wheel and the Loom) had purchased from the Ranfurly Veterans’ Home. The whereabouts of that wheel are now unknown but it must have been like the one at right (if not the actual same wheel). This wheel comes from the UK; it has no markings and though it has been suggested that it could be a Dryad, it apparently isn’t.

Parts for the new wheel were produced by Woodturners NZ Ltd, and the wheels were at first assembled by Ross Maxwell, bearing his label. They were marketed by Alex Baillie (trading as Baillie and Watts) under the name Sleeping Beauty. The picture at left shows one of these early Sleeping Beauty wheels beside the English wheel, and the similarities of “look and feel” are obvious. One odd feature of both wheels is that the whorl and bobbin grooves are square in profile, a rather unusual shape which may have proved unsatisfactory.

The differences are more subtle, other than the bar between the maidens on the UK wheel. This might have been to secure a scotch tension cord as there is a peg for it but no obvious place to fasten the other end; the wheel is currently set up for double drive. The Sleeping Beauty wheels designed by Alex Baillie (except the Pixie and the Princess) are exclusively double drive.

The two wheels differ in some of their construction details, in most of their measurements, and slightly in the profile of their turnings: clear signs of a different maker. For example compare the securing of the axle in the hubs, the turning at the top of the wheel posts, and the fitting of the footman to the crank.

Changes to the design were made over time: the early Sleeping Beauty in the picture has sliding tension moved by an end screw, which was soon superseded by hinges allowing the mother-of-all to be tilted. The square part of the maidens and the posts supporting the drive wheel (which were initially turned from square section blocks of wood) are a feature of the very first wheels.

The partners also produced, under R.D. Maxwell’s name, a little booklet called Spinning for Fun. This includes assembly instructions which show a hinged mother-of-all (below). By now the maidens and posts are entirely round in section, being turned from round timber.

By the early 1970s only about 40 wheels had been produced, and at this time Ross Maxwell died. Alex Baillie continued to market the wheels, now in partnership with Roy Coop who took over their assembly.

Initially only the saxony style Sleeping Beauty was made, but in the mid 1970s, in response to requests for a small portable wheel, the Thumbelina was created. It was based on a Polish double drive wheel, and made (like the Sleeping Beauty wheels) from treated tawa, an attractive New Zealand native timber. When a request came for a cheaper wheel, the Serena was made using particle board for the drive wheel, but these proved less popular than the Thumbelina with its solid timber wheel. However, some Thumbelina wheels are known which also have a particle board wheel.

The Princess “Indian Spinner”, a bulky spinner, was advertised as “new” in The Web in August 1977, and there was also a Jumbo attachment for heavy yarns (picture at left) which could fit either the Sleeping Beauty or the Thumbelina. It has only one flyer arm; the other side of the flyer shoulder is enlarged and weighted to balance the arm with the hooks.

Other designs included (in response to an enquiry from the West Indies) the folding Pixie with its carry strap, which apparently did not progress beyond a prototype at this time though it was advertised in The Web in 1979. Also advertised were the Snow White rotary carder and the Cinderella 24-inch 4-shaft table loom.

During Alex Baillie’s time with the business the wheels were sold through craft shops in New Zealand – in 1978 the advertised price of a Sleeping Beauty was NZ$105.60 – and soon overseas as well. By the time the business was sold, 70 percent of the wheels were exported, to the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, Holland and Japan.

In 1982 after Roy Coop became ill the business was sold to Fisher and Paykel Finance who renamed it Omana Industries Ltd and produced the colourful leaflet below. (Fisher and Paykel are still prominent manufacturers of whiteware – but not spinning wheels!)

In July 1983, Omana Industries was bought by Ray Chisholm who had also bought Pipycraft from Philip Poore. Ray Chisholm operated the combined business briefy from Howick and then from Pakuranga (both suburbs of Auckland) until August 1987 when it was sold to Ashfords. During that time he made changes to some of the existing models and introduced others. He continued to use the Omana Industries Spinning Wheels leaflet (below).

It shows a wider range of wheels than those produced by Alex Baillie and his partners: the saxony, a Thumbelina which is much fancier than the earlier ones, a simple saxony-style called Jenny (apparently intended to compete with the Ashford Traditional), the folding Pixie (of which a few must have been made during the Fisher and Paykel period, as both Alex Baillie and Ray Chisholm are sure they never produced them for sale) and the Princess “Indian Spinner”.

Chisholm also produced a few “hybrids” of Sleeping Beauty and Pipy wheels. The “Pipy-Thumbelina” at left has mostly Thumbelina turnings but the flyer bearings are Pipy, with the brass hook to secure the orifice, and the bobbins have metal shafts like Pipy bobbins. The tension has reverted to tilting, with hinges. There are also hybrids of Sleeping Beauty and Pipy saxony wheels.

The picture at right appears to be a hybrid (on the left) between a Serena (on the right) and a Thumbelina, but a close look reveals some inconsistencies. Among them: the hybrid’s table is longer than either, at 360mm (about 14 inches), and its solid wood drive wheel is thicker. Is this another experiment by Ray Chisholm? Or an adaptation by some other maker? It’s impossible to be sure. Two are known, both found in Australia. This one was purchased there in the 1980s.

There are further details on some of these hybrids here.

The historical information above was compiled by Lyndsay Fenwick with the help of Alex Baillie and Ray Chisholm.