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Antique Flax Wheels

July 14, 2009

Since posting about my first antique spinning wheel, I have had the good fortune of buying several eBay flax wheels. My little flock now numbers nine. As they are restored and come into use I will tell their individual stories in more detail. For now, I would like to introduce seven of the nine to you, and place them in the context of three great American spinning wheel traditions.

Eastern Pennsylvania style — The area around Philadelphia was a center of spinning wheel manufacturing from the mid-1700s to the mid 1800′s. Wheels from this area have an upright stance; “shotgun shell and olive” spoke turnings; and richly rounded turnings on legs, maidens, and finials. Some makers used vertical braces to support the wheel uprights; some decorated spokes, legs, and maidens with bands of colored paint. As settlers spread into the midwest and mid-south, they brought elements of this style with them, and developed it according to local taste.

Hannah – New Jersey, near Philadelphia.

Lydia – Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Lady Jane – Missouri Ozarks.

Granny – southeastern Michigan. Closely resembles some very old eastern Pennsylvania wheels.


Northern New England style — The flax wheels of Northern New England are vastly different from Pennsylvania wheels. They have an elongated stance; widely splayed legs; broad-rimmed wheels with many spokes; sinuous curves, straight lines, and plain turnings. Their design springs from the Shaker philosophy of simplicity and practicality. It was used by both Shaker and non-Shaker wheel makers in the 1700s and 1800′s. This characteristic Shaker style also spread into the Midwest as new territory was settled.

Sweet Annie…my first wheel – Southeastern Michigan.

H. Thomson wheel (signed) – Southwestern Maine.

Mr. Thomson was a non-Shaker who made fine wheels in the Shaker style.


Roots in the Old Country — Immigrants have come to America from pre-Colonial times right up to the present, bringing their precious possessions and priceless heritage with them. As communities have grown, heirloom wheels brought by settlers and new ones made by kocal craftsmen following the old ways have found a place among America’s spinning wheels. Every locale has its history and its distinctive wheels…whatever their style, however old. They are a treasure.

Liebchen…my Little Sweetheart – Southeastern Missouri. A magnificent Lower Saxony bride’s wheel, tour-de-force of the woodturner’s art and stacked double flyer for an expert spinner. The yellow ruler is twelve inches long.

With “a little love and a lotta oil” my wheels are beginning to spin again. They do beautifully with silk.

Sweet Annie in the morning sun.

Sweet Annie’s skein.

Hannah’s first bobbin.

Hannah’s skein.

And in the event that I get too besotted with the wonder of it all, they do not hesitate to pull rank, age and status on me.

Teacher, the dog ate my homework!!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2009 10:10 pm

    Superior blog post!! Beautiful wheels, all. But, it does my heart good to see you spinning on Sweet Annie again.

  2. July 15, 2009 12:31 am

    Interesting reading the history! Love the little treasures, though Hannah is my personal fave.

  3. July 15, 2009 9:07 am

    That’s an impressive collection. You know quite alot about them. Thanks for sharing them with us:)

  4. Jen permalink
    July 15, 2009 11:27 am

    Wow, what a lovely collection you have!

  5. LisaK permalink
    July 15, 2009 11:52 am

    Gorgeous. That is some serious eye candy. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Kendra permalink
    July 15, 2009 2:23 pm

    Gorgeous. Now I want a wheel.

  7. July 15, 2009 3:22 pm

    Ooh I like Lady Jane. What makes a wheel a flax wheel anyway? or maybe I mean, what makes a wheel NOT a flax wheel?

  8. Mel permalink
    July 15, 2009 3:46 pm

    Jan, you have a beautiful collection and your dedication to discovering the heritage of each wheel does them proud. It warms my heart to see these old ladies in working order again, producing lovely skeins of yarn. I can only imagine the wonderful sense of connection you must feel with the spinners who came before us as you use these beauties.
    I am seriously smitten with Hannah.

  9. Angela permalink
    July 15, 2009 5:22 pm

    Beautiful and heartwarming.
    My favorites are Lydia and Lady Jane.

  10. July 15, 2009 6:26 pm

    Love it Jan! I love H. Thompson the best tho. I have personally had my homework eaten at times too, so had to laugh at that one! :)

  11. July 16, 2009 8:02 am

    jan, what an excellent post! those wheels are so so lucky that you are adopting them! are you doing all the restoration yourself?
    what kind of finsh are you using on the wood? it looks fabulous :-)

  12. July 16, 2009 4:26 pm

    Jealous! Seriously, you have collected some real beauties. It does my heart good to see them restored into action again – as they should be.

  13. July 16, 2009 5:41 pm

    Beautiful collection!
    Thanks for posting them!

  14. Dot permalink
    July 18, 2009 5:14 pm

    Lovely wheels! I saw your note on Ravelry and came for a peek. I’d give my vote to Mr Thompson’s wheel, I love the simple lines.

  15. Sharon Peterson permalink
    February 12, 2012 7:46 pm

    I just found your site and I am looking for any information that you could give me about my wheel. It is signed H Thomson and that is all the information that I have about it, would you know the age, value etc. The wheel is about 44″ and looks like it has square nails holding the spokes.

    • February 14, 2012 2:41 pm

      Hi Sharon; WOW!! This is special. I urge you to write to Florence Feldman-Wood (the Spinning Wheel Sleuth, email addy on website) and tell her about this. The only thing I have is a comment in Penningtn and Taylor (Antique Spinning Wheels and Accessories) to the effect that H Thompson made wheels that looked very Shaker, but his name doesn’t appear in Shaker records. They show a pirn winder that looks like a mini Great Wheel as I recall. If you are not there already, hop on the Ravelry Antique Spinning Wheels group, and check my posts there. I’m janclark on Rav. Also search that forum for Thompson. There may be a second maker, or just a variant spelling. Another chapter in the sleuthing begins…

  16. August 17, 2013 7:39 pm

    I recently purchased a flax wheel that closely resembles the granny wheel. Where could I find more information about that particular type of wheel?

  17. August 18, 2013 8:13 pm

    The book “Antique Spinning Wheels and Accessories” by Pennington & Taylor (I think that Amazon currently lists the authors in reverse order) is the best and broadest reference book we have on American spinning wheels. The “Spinning Wheel Sleuth Newsletter ” has many articles on this type of wheel…check the Back Issues page of the website. If your wheel has initials picked or stamped on it, both of the above have extensive maker’s mark list. And if you are on Ravelry, you should drop in on the Antique Spinning Wheels forum for lots of photos and great discussions of all kinds of antique wheels. Congratulations on you new wheel…may you spin many happy miles together.

    • Jean Young permalink
      October 19, 2013 4:59 pm

      A maker on my purchased wheel is: D. SGH. ??H?? sHER. Please translate if any literature about this person. Thank you.

  18. Jean Young permalink
    October 19, 2013 5:01 pm

    The name is partly unreadable. I inserted question marks to indicate missing letters.

  19. October 22, 2013 6:18 pm

    I don’t find a combination of letters like that in any of my references. It could be a maker’s mark, or could be an owner’s mark. If you are on Ravelry, you might want to stop by the Antique Spinning Wheels group and post your inquiry there. Photos are very helpful, in determining a wheel’s origins. Do you know anything about your wheel’s background?

  20. Melissa Marvin permalink
    June 17, 2014 2:22 pm

    You have a beautiful collection of antique wheels. I inherited my first wheel from my grandmother. It is a Daniel Miltimore most likely crafted in Antrim, NH around the turn of the 19th century. I recently acquired my second wheel from an antique shop here in the Florida Panhandle. It is from Berkshire County, PA from what I’ve been told on Ravelry and now having seen your wheel. Does your wheel have a reeling pin? Or a hole where the pin would’ve resided? I got lucky and my wheel still has the pin. Unfortunately it is missing the footman though. Is it possible for you to email me a picture of your wheel’s footman so I can get a accurate reproduction made? I would love to take this wheel with me when I demonstrate at the local living history museum.

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