Once, I didn’t know that spinning wheels communicate with us. Since then, I’ve realized that they give off happy vibes that make me feel good and that they feel sad when they aren’t being used. I learned this from an antique walking wheel who kept nudging me until I could no longer believe that I was imagining things.
In 2016, while I was home visiting high school friends, my friend Heather was cleaning out her mother’s home and asked if I wanted the spinning wheel. I barely remembered it from my youth, but I found myself weak in the knees. Heather’s aunt told me that the wheel had been in the farm’s barn and that her Scottish immigrant parents had bought it in the 1920s and that no one had spun on it. Its one-hundred-year vacation ended with me.
It was when my husband and I went to get the wheel after it had been repaired that my discovery of spinning wheels having unsuspected ways of communicating began. The wheel looked proud, happy even, and ready to get back to its job—spinning fiber. It seemed to be smiling directly at us. My husband, whose spinning involvement had been limited to holding my fleeces at fiber festivals, said that he, too, felt that it was more alive.
As I spun on the wheel, the feeling that it had its own personality and was happy to be working deepened. I never told anyone else my suspicions because it just seemed too strange. Then I met some women who rescued and restored antique wheels and blurted out, “Spinning with it is so different. It’s alive and has a personality.” I had to say it but felt anxious about their reactions. They both matter-of-factly said, “Oh, yeah.” Phew, it wasn’t just me! Since then, I find that everyone I’ve met who spins on an antique wheel has discovered the same wonderful energy.
Antique wheels were built to last. When I turn my great wheels by hand, I’m touching the wood in the same spots other spinners have touched for centuries, making yarn to clothe their families and create textiles for their homes to keep them warm. When I put my foot on the wooden treadle of my flax wheel, I am putting it in a slightly worn indentation that came from years of feet pushing it down to spin. These simple motions physically connect me to past handspinners, and the wheels radiate back happy and loving energy to me and my home. I can’t rationally explain it, but I’m so lucky to have these wheels in my life.
For more information about antique wheels, visit Exquisite Machinery, exquisitemachinery.wordpress.com; The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, spwhsl.com; and the Facebook group Antique Spinning Wheels, Looms and Fiber Equipment, facebook.com/groups/antiquewheels.
After growing up on the coast of southeastern Connecticut, Betsy Burnham Alspach knew she had to return to the water someday. She now lives in beautiful Mid-Coast Maine where she spends as much of her time as possible looking at water with wool in her hands.
This article was first published in Spin Off Fall 2021.