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Romney wheels were manufactured by Business Products (N.Z.) Ltd, a one-man business founded and owned by an immigrant from the Netherlands, Jan Boersma. He designed and produced them himself until 1978 when he returned with his family to his homeland. It’s said that he lived in Wellington and worked for stock-and-station company Wrightsons, but this is not confirmed.
Romneys were supplied either as a kitset or assembled. They are made of NZ native beech and kauri, and finished with a mahogany stain. The one-speed whorl is metal.
George Henry Schofield was a builder living in Wadestown (a hillside suburb of Wellington) from the 1930s till at least 1946. After that he retired and moved with his wife Rosamond to Titirangi, Auckland. Mrs Schofield was an early member of the New Zealand Guild of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers, and in their February 1938 newsletter she was particularly commended for her wonderful teaching at the Technical School, Wellington.
The first wheel pictured above is said to have been made, in oak, by Mr Schofield for his wife. It was later gifted by Dorothea Turner to the Auckland Museum. Others were made of cheaper materials for use in schools and technical colleges (there is even an old newspaper clipping showing one in use by a student in Indonesia) and the wheel in the second photograph was probably one of these. It is very light and easy to carry, and only the flyer and wheel hub are oak; the rest is southern beech.
The curved metal strip, called a flyer frame, holds the spindle and pivots at the support posts. At its left-hand end a cord is attached at a hole in the metal. This cord passes over or under the bobbin groove. (I set it to pass under, as this is the way one held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum is set up, but either way should give about the same contact with the groove.) Then it goes through a notch in the right-hand end of the frame, and down to attach to a spring and a threaded metal rod which are fastened to a bracket behind the front post. By tightening a small nut at the bottom of the rod, the frame is tilted and both the drive wheel tension and the bobbin tension are adjusted.
However, tightening the drive wheel tension to an acceptable level made the bobbin tension impossibly tight. This was resolved by adding a tight cord between an otherwise inexplicable notch in the flyer frame and a little eyelet hook in the right front post, which tightens the drive wheel tension separately.
At least two Schofields have ended up in North America. Both are in use: one owner much prefers hers to a more modern wheel (picture at right). She has found that it works equally well with double drive and no scotch tension string. It was brought to the US by a returning tourist, who had found it hanging dusty and unused in the rafters of a school somewhere in New Zealand.
It has recently (June 2017) come to light that wheels of the same design were made by Mr Euan McEwan, who lived in Portobello, for the King Edward Technical College in Dunedin. We do not know whether he or Mr Schofield (if either) originated the design; it would be very interesting to find out more.
The Scholar was first made by Ashford in 1984. Scholar Mark 1 (on the left) continued in production until 1987, when Scholar Mark 2 (on the right) was introduced. From 1997 it was superseded by the Kiwi, but there are still many in use.
Serena wheels by Sleeping Beauty were supplied unfinished as a kitset and were designed by Alex Baillie as a more basic economy model. Though simpler in construction, with the footman passing through the table, they share with Thumbelina the small table and widely splayed legs.
More on Sleeping Beauty wheels
Ron Shearman began making wheels in the 1970s. He experimented with many different styles and rarely made two the same until the 1990s, when he was asked by a skilled spinner to create a wheel to her specifications. The result, after many refinements and improvements, was versatile and sophisticated wheels with some unusual features. They feature a dual tension system: the main tension raises and lowers the mother-of-all, but the secondary one, for very fine tuning, is a little metal screw which pivots the flyer assembly to alter its distance from the drive wheel in small increments. The Regent wheel on the right above is made mostly of macrocarpa.
He also made a few similar but with finials (extra pieces of turned wood inside the rim of the wheel between the spokes). This model was called Westminster, and the dark-stained one shown here is made of elm except for the flyer and bobbins which are tawa. It can be used with either double drive or scotch tension.
In the early years of wheel-making, Shearman made at least two Saxony wheels.
Cecil (“Ces”) Shields of Heathcote, Christchurch, began making spinning wheels in 1969, and by 1977 he had made and sold 192. The drive band was a twisted bootlace, and the weights in the wheel were made of lead from batteries, melted into round plugs.
He made several versions of his wheel. In the second photograph he is spinning on a ‘square wheel’ he made in 1977. He also made carders and other spinning equipment. He died in 1979.
Simplex wheels were made by Baynes; like other Baynes wheels they have the whorl built into the flyer, and a hole through it for the yarn to pass through. The wheel is more economically constructed than the familiar Baynes Colonial, using a lot of plywood.
More on Baynes wheels
Harold Smithies (1911-2006) of Invercargill worked in the construction industry, and was very conversant with all kinds of metal framing. On his retirement in 1976 he began to make spinning wheels, using wheels of treadle sewing machines he found at the dump but making the remainder of the mechanism himself. His records show that he made 90 in all. The height of the post (and thereby also the drive band tension and orifice height) is adjustable.
Bob Spence was from Shetland but lived in New Zealand for almost 40 years. In the 1970s he made several spinning wheels, including this one which was made specially for Margaret Stove. His wheels are copied from the Shetland “spinnie” but made of New Zealand native woods. This double drive wheel is specially designed for fine spinning. Mabel Ross (Encyclopedia of Hand Spinning 159) writes of Shetland wheels designed for gossamer thread “the diameters of spindle and bobbin whorls differ only very slightly… This produces the necessary high twisting rate with very slow draw-on, useless for normal threads…”
Sprite was an experimental model made by Philip Poore in small numbers in the last few years that he made Pipy wheels. They have a similar two-legged stance to the Wendy, but the drive wheel is metal, there is no flyer frame and they stand a little taller. They bear under the treadle the code MD – this one is MD7108, probably made in August 1971.
More on Pipy wheels
Alec Sutherland of Atawhai, Nelson started making wheels in the 1970s to early 80s, getting some of his wood from the nearby Wakapuaka tip. The spindle and flyer just sit on top of two grooved pieces of leather attached to the maidens. There is some variation in Sutherland wheels: the larger one in the third picture has different turnings, whereas the smaller is only 73cm tall (the others are all 81cm). All have 4 legs, the back two close together
The earlier Suzie by Majacraft does not fold, and there have been several other changes.
More on Majacraft wheels
John Thompson of Christchurch is said to have made two wheels a year in the 1970s and 1980s. Both the wheels illustrated are mahogany and have a metal plate inscribed “J. Thompson Christchurch NZ”. The first has a single balance weight inset into the drive wheel. The one on the right has differently set up maidens and spindle bearings. It may be later, with its crisp, deep turnings: Mike Keeves comments “To me this indicates more confidence and competence as experience has been gained over time”.
These Thumbelinas were made by Baillie and Watts under the name Sleeping Beauty, probably in the 1970s. The mother-of-all is hinged to adjust the distance from the drive wheel. The bar that supports the treadle is attached to the front legs by a metal hook-and-eye.
The second picture (of a different wheel) shows the little lever at the back of the mother-of-all. It is turned to the side to release the back maiden for removing the spindle to change bobbins. The drive wheel rim is made of a composite wood.
Later Thumbelinas were considerably re-designed. One bought in 1978 – the instructions with it say “Thumbelina Mark 2 (1978)” – is almost identical to the ones shown here except that it has no label, and a screw-and-spring joining the treadle to the footman. The drive wheel is now solid wood, the turning is more elaborate, the mother-of-all is a different shape and the legs are not so splayed. The little pedestal on top of the table has gone. It seems that Baillie and Watts redesigned the Thumbelina at this time.
However, the shape of the treadle, the groove(s) around the face of the wheel, and the orifice passing through the front maiden are all the same as the earlier Thumbelina. The three wheels pictured here are probably by Omana Industries, as they are identical with the one shown in their leaflet, even down to the metal plate on the front which says “Sleeping Beauty/a craft product/made in New Zealand”. The third may be earlier than the others, as it doesn’t have the elaborate bobbin kate on the table.
The wheel shown here has been adapted by reversing the flyer head so that it is more to the right. Some Tiny Tims have a plainer flywheel, without the deep grooves, and some do not have the built in kate.
More on Majacraft and their wheels
The first Tom Thumb shown is unmarked but another is known which has “Tom Thumb – Handmade from New Zealand Kauri” lightly carved in the underside of the treadle. It can be used with either double drive or scotch tension, and spins well. The mother-of-all can be folded over for travelling. These wheels were made in the 1980s by Albie Thomas out of recycled kauri from the old tram barn in Manukau Road, Auckland.
Tui wheels were developed by Mr K. Fomotor as a simpler version of the Peacock. The flyer arms are more curved than other Peacock wheels, the post supporting the mother-of-all is in front of the wheel not behind and the sleeve by which its height is adjusted is plastic instead of metal. The footman passes through a hole in the table.
More on Peacock wheels
W. Edwin (“Ed”) Ward, a retired ships’ furniture maker, came to New Zealand about 1970 from Yorkshire, England to take up a position teaching woodwork at Marton District High School. He made about 8 wheels, all of Australian Black Bean timber. The one shown here is marked W.E.W. 1975.
Reginald Warr of Hawkes Bay made 25 or 30 of these in the 1970s. He used various timbers, including rewarewa like this one, kauri, macrocarpa, tawa and even one of teak. The owner’s initials were carved in very big letters on the treadle (the first owner of this wheel was EW) and they are also marked with Mr Warr’s name or initials.
Weave-joy Looms of Portobello, Dunedin, produced various looms and a range of wheels in the 1970s. The first one is made mostly of rimu and heavier than it looks. There is no finish on the wood and the carpentry is quite rough, except for the flyer. The maker, Peter Lawrenson (“Cottage Weavers”) also sold handspun, handwoven tweeds.
The second Weave-joy shown, which is in Oregon, USA, is better finished, with a brass label, and it has the scotch tension adjustment above the flyer. Its design could have been influenced by Walter Morrison‘s wheels. The drive wheel and the footman are off an old treadle sewing machine. The uprights, feet and table are fine heavy wood and look as though they might have once been part of an old table or chair. The treadle is ply wood. Bobbins, whorl and metal findings are visibly artisan made. The wheel’s new owner finds that with oil and careful adjustment it spins well and likes to make a fine thread.
Wee Peggy by Rappard was a kitset wheel, and is not very different from the Little Peggies except that the front maiden does not extend above the orifice and the flyer is central. This one was bought and assembled in 1978.
The assembly instructions and parts list for a Wee Peggy are here; original parts are no longer available.
Recently Ashford have made a version of the Wee Peggy, though few have been sold in New Zealand. Details here.
More on Rappard and their wheels
The WeeQT was made by Linkwood products in Waimate, South Canterbury. The only clue as to date is that it was advertised in The Web in June 1986. It works on the “direct drive” or “friction drive” principle – there is no drive band, but the edge of the whorl rests against the side of the wheel near the rim and is turned by friction as the wheel turns.
The overall height of the spinning wheel is only 38cm. For transport it can be carried in a little box, with the flyer assembly (which has only one arm) removed and fixed into the box separately.
Wendy wheels by Philip Poore were designed for easy transport, and can be laid flat in the boot of a car – in fact it is apparently possible for a passenger in a Volkswagen to spin on a Wendy. They have an unusual design with a metal flyer frame that is tilted by a tension screw (inside the wooden ball) that has a left and right hand thread. They were designed for double drive but can be adapted for brake tension or even bobbin lead. This one has the Tekoteko stamp and is signed P.B. Poore.
More on Pipy wheels
Geoff Wild made about five of these based on the Nagy upright wheel, in Upper Hutt near Wellington, in the early 1980s (after Mr Nagy’s departure). The details of turning are different from Nagy’s, and the treadle is wider. Unlike Nagy he did not use kauri: this wheel is a mixture of jarrah, rewarewa and rimu.
Wildy: see Carlisle
James “Gib” Wilson (1907-1973) of Invercargill made at least half a dozen of these. It is recounted that even in his later life when very ill he “perked up when talking wood turning, or working on the lathe”. The two wheels are similar in concept though the second is much more elaborately detailed and it has the flyer and treadle on the other side of the posts. The elaborate one is made of southern beech, the simpler one of a Malayan hardwood called miranti (or meranti). Another elaborate Wilson has been seen in mahogany, without the diagonal struts from posts to base.
Recently a rather different wheel (but clearly a Wilson) has come to light. It works like his other plain wheels but has some refinements. More information about it, and about Gib Wilson, is here.
Sidney Wing of Redcliffs, Christchurch, made quite a few of these in the late 1970s. Most have the plain rectangular table made in four pieces with the wheel let into it, like the first two illustrated. The first wheel shown at right has two maidens and a conventional orifice. The second has no front maiden, and a hook instead of an orifice.
However, one has recently come to light with a table made of two pieces separated by turned spacers – similar to the way the Ashford Traveller is made, but the turning of the spacers is quite different. All of them have his characteristic bamboo-like turnings of the legs.