This image of a family of Zuiderzee (a historic region of the Netherlands and now part of North Holland) is a hand-colored print from a steel engraving drawn and engraved by Rouargue Frères in 1857 in Paris.
Sunlight floods through the leaded glass window as the child plays in the background, the man concentrates on lighting his clay pipe, and the woman, keeping an eye on the artist, industriously spins flax on her flat-rim treadle wheel. All is not labor for the dear lady, however--note the glass of a little something close by on the sideboard to her left. Some things do not change. She looks like good company, doesn't she?
I like how the woman has tilted her stool forward on the front legs to reach the wheel more comfortably and how the wheel sits on a small patterned rug to keep it from skidding across the floor. I also note the simple distaff with the line flax tied in a knot at the top. Although it is tempting to put this down to a lack of accuracy on the part of the artist, I have seen a few other images of spinners with the flax tied in just this way.
This photograph, probably a tintype, was taken in Wales in 1885 by a traveling photographer.
The dear lady, in her traditional Welsh lady's headgear, is clearly fond of pattern in her personal attire.
The spinning wheel is interesting in that the only "fine" part of it is the drive wheel, itself; the rest of the wheel is quite rough-hewn. This makes sense as legs can get broken or wet and rotted, the tension mechanism can become worn, and the spindle mount can wear out. All can be easily replaced by any fairly competent wood-worker. But the drive wheel--the hub, the rim, and the spokes are a very different matter; they require a skilled woodworker to produce. If a move is necessary, all one needs do is bring along the drive wheel and spindle; the rest can be produced on the spot later.
The wool is also interesting. It is clearly mill-produced rolags. See the unspun rolag hanging from her left hand and the ropey bundle on the handle of the tensioner? Those are rolags that could only have been produced by a mill. See my previous entry addressing wool mills here. Although that discussion addresses wool mills in the US, the situation in the UK at the time would have been very similar.
I don't know how many times I've watched this video, but each time I do, it continues to enchant me.
Note how fine she spins the brown wool on her support spindle and with what care. Note also her technique for winding on, starting at 2:40--after spinning and winding a goodly length, she unwinds it, butterflying it onto her hand, then rewinds it onto the cop.
This is the video that started the popularity of Tibetan-style support spindles a couple of years ago. I know that many of you have already seen it, but I felt a need to include it in these pages after watching it this morning for the umpteenth time.
Spinnrock dubbelhjul in Swedish, or double wheel/rim spinning wheel in English.
It occurred to me recently that these pages have been scanty on spinning wheels. To make up for the absence, I give you these extraordinary Finnish and Swedish wheels.
Finnish Wheel (Click to embiggen)
I love how the inner spokes are aligned with the outer finials rather than with the outer spokes
Swedish Wheel (Click to embiggen)
Swedish Wheel (Click to embiggen)
And the most amazing wheel of all:
Finnish Wheel (Click to make huge)
Can you imagine the momentum you could achieve with this wheel??
My best attempt at a name for this wheel in Finnish would be "rukki [spinning wheel] kolminkertainen [triple] pyörä [wheel]". If this is incorrect, please let me know. (And you can blame Google Translate.)
It is a wonder to me that an object can appear so sturdy and delicate simultaneously. If you look closely at the last three wheels, you will see that each has teeny tiny semi finials inside the inner wheel. Since such small finials could hardly add an appreciable weight, they must just be for beauty.
Could any of you resist trying to count the spokes on the first spinning wheel above? I couldn't. What? That doesn't surprise you? I made it 48 outer spokes and 24 inner spokes.
The Rest of the Haymakers, 1872, Jules Breton (1827 - 1906).
Jules Breton was a French realist painter who produced many romanticized paintings of rural peasant life.
Here we have a young field worker who is spinning flax during her rest period from making hay. She's working with a hand spindle, holding and twiddling it in her right hand as she drafts the flax with her left hand. Note how her distaff is inserted behind and through her apron bib and waistband to hold it in place.
I love the splashes of red at her turned up cuffs--hinting of something wild and free behind her somber, tired face.
Can you imagine the wife of a US President sitting down to spin at a charkha?
Can you imagine a country putting an image of the wife of a US President sitting down to spin at a charkha on a postage stamp?
This stamp of Eleanor Roosevelt (activist and inveterate knitter) was issued by India in 1963 to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Roosevelt's role in its passage.
Roosevelt was such a knitter that the official White House portrait of her includes an image of her knitting hands.