Workhorse – spinning with a Canadian connection

A year or so ago, I started knitting again – after more than 30 years of not knitting.

As is typical for me, I started to get interested in the whole process – not “just” the fabric making part of it but making the yarn, etc.   I’ve always loved the look of a spinning wheel but couldn’t justify the space or cost requirement because I didn’t spin.

I found plans to build a basic (and little!) quill spinning wheel – called a Dodec (for “dodecagon” or twelve-sided wheel)  – online and did that but I didn’t know if it was me or the wheel needing to be set up better when I was having trouble – but I got a small taste… and it was noisy.  Some of you who know me in person  – know how little I like “noise”.

Back in the summer when we had green grass like most civilized people!

Ryan and I discussed the merits of a professionally made wheel with readily available parts to learn on so that I could eliminate the equipment as a problem and concentrate on learning the skills needed to spin.

Well last month, Lorna – a sewing friend and the lady who taught me to sew not so many years ago – offered to lend me her Ashford Traditional spinning wheel to see if I enjoyed it before I bought my own.  I had no idea she spun but I had mentioned that I’d be looking for a used one in the new year so if she heard of one – to please let me know.   A few days later, she emailed me with her offer.  The wheel came with the warning that it was about 40 years old and hadn’t even had a drive belt or brake band on it for at least 10 and definitely needed oil, etc.

Borrowed Traddy and a “Dax” photobomb. 😉

With the wheel came a box of hand cards and also fiber – “use it all!” I was told.  Cashmere, mohair, silk, alpaca – oh MY!  I also had a couple of pounds of raw Llama land on the doorstep when word got out that I was learning to spin.   Thanks Elaine! 🙂 Most of this fiber is unprocessed and not ready for spinning in its current state as well so there’s a definite learning curve for the tools needed there too.

I spent a couple of evenings doing cleaning and maintenance on the “traddy” and generally learning how it worked.

With Lorna’s permission, the borrowed traddy and I attended a 2 day beginner class at the end of November.

Oops.  Now I really wanted a wheel.  The new wheel I’ll save up for will still be next year – even later now thanks to the “furnace fiasco” – but the borrowed wheel had gotten me thinking.  I do all things vintage when I can anyway…

So, we hit the antique malls and thrift shops.

At one antique shop, I spotted a “weird” spinning wheel – it sort of looked like a butter churn or something with this boxy frame but it was definitely a spinning wheel with an odd non-wood flyer – on a riser in a dark corner of the store window.

The other thing I spotted was a drum carder with no price on it in one of the vendor booths.

I opted to wait and think about it overnight.  The drum carder was most interesting to me because I know what a new one costs and there was all that raw Llama that needed to be processed at some point. Plus I’d sort of set my heart on a Lendrum double treadle after my beginner’s class.

We went back the next day and asked about the drum carder. The price was well within what I’d mentally decided I’d pay for one, despite not knowing what the brand was (and thus parts availability). Sooo,… I asked about the wheel too – is it functional, what’s it priced at, etc. They didn’t know offhand but opened the window display and let me investigate.

I could read “Spin-Well” on the label. Not a name I knew but it was vintage, so that wasn’t surprising.

Spin-Well Mfg’d by Spin-Well Woolen Mills (Not W. Allen Mills as I briefly thought. Uhm,… I’ll blame that one on excitement. 😉 )

I pressed the treadle with my hand and it turned smoothly. There were 4 bobbins and it looked like no pieces were missing. A leg needed some attention and it needed everything tightened but otherwise, it would probably spin.

Checked the price. Hmmm. The owner asked who the vendor was and the price. I told her both. She said she could do better than that, it had been there a really long time and to make an offer. I asked if I could check it over first and then I’d offer. She nodded and wandered away then a minute later she came back and said “How about $50?”

Ryan yelled “Done!!”

Done and done. Both came in lower than what I’d decided I’d pay for the drum carder.

It rode home somewhat unceremoniously in the back of the Mustang:

When we arrived home, as usual, I started the research. But first, I was curious. I put a new drive belt on, gave her some oil and tied on a leader to a bobbin. Wow. Just wow. That merino roping (long backward draw) I was so struggling with on the Traddy was a breeze on this wheel!

She’s not the sleek streamlined wheel I was coveting but she sure is a serious little workhorse!  Built when she was (I’ll get to that later) – that was her purpose:  Dependably produce lots of yarn.

First Spin on the Spin-Well – Traddy in the background draped in spun singles.

Researching the wheel was fairly easy. I found the sites that lead to a Ravelry group. Then I found a blurb about Spin-Well making drum carders too and looked at Ryan and said, “What would be the odds? Two different vendors in the same antique mall and I end up with the same manufacturer for both wheel and carder?”

Googled pictures of the Spin-Well drum carder.  Ha!

Since the wheel arrived home, she’s been cleaned, oiled, some of her joints tightened up, a good couple of coats of Howard’s Feed’n’Wax and a good coat of paraffin wax on the treadle bar to make it stop squeaking like the stairs in a horror movie:

“Reee-thump-Reee-thump-Reee” *shudder*

The frame needs a new portion “grafted” onto the one leg.  So, back to some woodworking for the sake of working vintage stuff.   I’m working up the nerve to tackle this one.

This is my “for now” fix so I feel comfortable using it:

I’m thinking I will change the maiden leather as well.  It’s worn, hardened and gnarly – and not good gnarly. 😉 :

And then the other outstanding thing is what to do about the drive wheel. The wood shrunk something fierce – almost 1.8cm (or about 2/3 of an inch) on one axis so my wheel has ears. 😉

Last night, I glued those ears back in and clamped them.  Now that they’re dry, I need to decide if I want to dock its ears and touch up the stain or leave them as is.  The fear is that I will chip and chunk the ears and make them worse.

The carder has been cleaned and partly adjusted but the drum wheel has shrunk, so now I’m deciding on how or if I need to handle that.   I will be working on this one over the winter.  I will eventually try to upgrade the drive mechanism (parts are here) and change out the carding cloth to something a little more suited to the fibers I expect to be processing. I want the carder up and working first though because the carding cloth costs more than 2x what I paid for the carder – so I want to know it’s working first.

I’ll try to post photos of that and the progress on the wheel as I go along.


One thing we often do with vintage sewing machines is wonder:

How old is it?

This is where the fascinating (to me) part comes in.

There are blurbs all over the internet about this wheel.

This wheel was based on a wheel from the Ukraine. It was made by John Weselowski – a blacksmith in Sifton, Manitoba (Canada) at the height of the Depression – starting in the 1930s until about 1946 when the wheel portion of the company was bought out and renamed “Made-Well”.    It was sold mostly by mail-order and sold for about $7.75.

In 1937, Spin-Well expanded their business into a small milling operation called Custom Woolen Mills. As an aside: Weselowski partnered with a man named Willard McPhedrain who started the Mary Maxim Company – partly to sell the wool that the mill was producing.

This whole story becomes a weird “six degrees of separation” thing too because some time later, Custom Woolen Mills (at that point owned by one of the descendants of John Weselowski) in Sifton sold off their equipment to a company in Carstairs, Alberta.   The company in Carstairs also took their name.

This is the Custom Woolen Mills that made the wool roping (roving or carded woolen prep ) that I couldn’t spin un-lumpy for anything with the traddy a week before I found the Spin-Well.  The Spin-Well just loved it up upon arrival here at the house.

I hear you:  “So…. how old is it?” 😉

The label on the wheel says Spin-well, so that means no newer than 1946.  It also mentions their wool mill – so it’s also no earlier than 1937.

1937 to 1946 is my guess on the date for this one.  A 9 year range.  That’s not too bad for a wheel with very little documentation to go with it. 🙂

The drum carder is a little harder to date because there’s less information about it and no markings on it.    It is however a predecessor to the Patrick Green drum carders.

Now that I have the experience with using and rehabilitating 2 wheels , I will also be fixing up the Dodec with a few upgrades that should make it quieter and smoother to spin with – bearings in the wheel and upper receiver and a different axle.  I already have the parts – it’s just a matter of time now. 🙂

My regular readers will know that I usually use a pop culture reference as my post titles.  Today’s post being so Canadian, I wanted something from a Canadian band.  Originally, I was looking hard at the obvious Manitoba connection – the Guess Who, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, etc.  Then while I was listening to songs trying to find a connection, Skeletons (one of my favorite songs) came on.

Unwed Mothers are an excellent indie band from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – The closest city to where I live.  They just released their second album – Workhorse (<- you can listen to the whole album and purchase it here if you want.  I make nothing off this and I’m not affiliated with them at all.  I’m just a fan and want to support a hard working band. 🙂 ) – this year and one of the songs on it is: Unicorn.

She is a unicorn, baby I’m a workhorse.

This is them performing it live on a local TV station.

I’m off to go buy their new album.

Happy Holidays everyone!

4 thoughts on “Workhorse – spinning with a Canadian connection”

  1. Tammi, the spinning wheel and drum carder sound like a great learning experience. I would just remember that winter shrinkage turns into summer swelling with regard to wood. We live in Central Ontario and the antique ding room table’s legs shrink to the point of falling off if lifted every winter, but unable to pry the thing out in the summer. lol This Canadian exvironment has a lot to answer for. I am glad you were able to rescue these items, and better still, get to use them. I hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas. Best wishes for the new year.

    1. Definitely a good learning experience! One thing about our climate here in Alberta is that it’s not as humid as yours in the summer. We’re pretty dry all the time – technically, we’re an arid climate here – relatively speaking anyway. My table shrunk and stayed that way. LOL!

      Happy New Year to you and yours too!

  2. I wish that you lived next door to me so that I could learn about spinning . I’m a vintage sewing machine collector & for some time now , I have been interested in spinning .

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