Spinning Wheel Types

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Spinning Wheel Slueth Spinning Wheels come in a variety of types and there are good reasons for that.

Remember that they are nothing but wooden machines designed to make the work of twisting fiber into stronger thread, easier.

Early on we had spindles, until some bright  person realized that by turning the spindle on it’s side and attaching it to a wheel via a drive band, the revolutions of the spindle were increased significantly, and the process of creating thread/yarn was made faster.

Spinning Wheel Slueth shows a spindle assembly at the bottom of their ” Current Issue” page. Scroll all the way down and you will see an assembly complete with “accelerated” head.


This first wheel is what we know today as a Great Wheel. It predated the smaller treadle wheel by alot, and was the only way to make yarn for a looooong time.

Obviously the large drive wheel was designed to increase the spindle revolutitons as much as possible.

While the Great Wheel was an improvement over the drop spindle, it required some skill, technique and finesse to use well. The operator of the wheel stood alongside the drive wheel facing the spindle. With her right hand, she spun the Great Wheel from it’s hub ( not a spoke, however tempting that is )which began the spinning of the spindle. As the fiber twisted, the spinner walked backwards and a bit sidewards drafting her fiber out as she backed away. This gave a long filament which was long enough eventually to cause the spinner to loose contact with the drive wheel  – even if she used a small stick (wheel finger is the technical term) to reach it after she lost her reach.

At this point, the spinner reversed the turn of the Great Wheel causing the now twisted yarn to be wound onto the spindle as she again advanced and moved closer to the wheel simultaneously, returning to start position.

For a someone not familiar with a Great Wheel it can be frustrating to get the hang of a one-handed draw which is why many people don’t even bother. Not alot of folks use Great Wheels but prefer the easier and less space consuming treadle wheels.

Back in the day when Great Wheels were the only game in town, women “walked” the equivalent of miles during spinning sessionns. I’ve heard all kinds of numbers quoted, none of which I believe to be accurate so I’ll just say miles – that’s impressive enough.

While the process of spinning with a Great Wheel is slower than a treadle wheel to be sure, I don’t think it’s all that slow. If it were we’d never have made any textiles at all. Further, imagine how slow a drop spindle is! And people managed to make cloth out of yarn spun on those! So I suspect that women spinning on Great Wheels were fast about it. They employed skill and industriousness to the task because they didn’t have the luxury of relaxed, meditative spinning. They were providing much needed fiber for weaving and many persons were dependant on that cloth.

Here is a video :


but there are several flaws in her technique.

First she is using the spoke to turn the wheel…..bad bad bad.

The HUB is for turning the wheel, though admitedly they don’t always fit your hand comfortably.

Also, in reality she would be cranking that drive wheel with a good deal of speed to spin as much and as fast as she can. Many modern day spinners don’t get that speed was a factor on either a great wheel or treadle wheel. Today it’s all about relaxing.

Heres’ a second video:


I have issue with this one because her technique is to move straight backwards as oppossed to backwards and sidewards away from the drive wheel. For the most part though she does a smooth job as did the first spinner. I’m just sorry that historically correct technique is lost.

In the upper left hand corner of video #2 you can see the wheel hub which is where the spinners hand should be to turn the wheel. She too uses the spoke to rotate the drive wheel. That’s how spokes get broken!

Great Wheels are great to have and use. Due to size I believe they suffer from being unpopular and due to having to learn a new way to spin, the Great Wheels are overlooked, neglected and frequently missing working parts when you are fortunate enough to find one at all.

They range in price from reasonable to being outrageously overepriced and have no real monetary value unless they are popular collectors rare-to-find signed wheels with known provenance.

Feel free to ask questions.



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5 Responses to “Spinning Wheel Types”

  1. cyndy Says:

    Hi Kathryn-

    I am the spinner that is pictured in the second video that you have referenced in your above post!

    I have never heard of spinning the wheel by the hub, but would love to know more about it! Could you elaborate, or point me to a reference where I can read about it??

    Also, what would be the use of a wool finger (or stick)? I understood that they were used to drive the wheel, but they would have to turn the spokes, and not the hub….right?

  2. Grace Hatton Says:

    The notion that the great wheel should be turned by means of the hub has been long since de-bunked in the Spinning Wheel Sleuth.

    It would be hard to use a spinning wheel finger on a hub!

    • kathrynmcmahonconsultant Says:

      That is true, spinning wheel fingers were used on the spokes. BUT…..I still keep the theory that at least some people used the hub versus the spokes or the notion as you put it, wouldn’t have made it this far. There was a norm, but then plenty of deviations from that norm and this may well have been one of those. Personally, I find spinning from most hubs difficult, but I also don’t care for lose or broken spokes either 🙂

  3. peg Says:

    I have a great wheel, but it is missing the spindle. Where can I purchase one or how do I make one. What do I use for the drive belt? Thanks.

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