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Something old and new; something new and blue

November 9, 2009
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The Alpaka tunic (by Deborah Newton, from Interweave’s fall issue) is finished.

It’s huge. It’s about 32 inches long from shoulder to hem and I am only 64 inches long altogether. It fits nicely around the chest and shoulders (I got about a 39 inch chest circumference with the yarn and needles I used) to go over a long sleeved t-shirt. But it’ll need to be worn with leggings or other skinny pants, or it’ll just look frumpy I think.

The color is a little washed out in these photos, it’s a heathered navy.

It was a fairly easy knit. I used size 7 needles instead of 8 or 9, so that I could get some shrinkage – the original pattern would have had something like 9 inches of ease on me.

There were weird things about the pattern. The bottom edge was just weird. After you finish sewing up the entire thing you pick up all around the bottom, knit two rows, and bind off. WHY?? If I had read all the way through I would have knitted some kind of edge right when I cast on, but I didn’t, so I knitted a row and purled a row, trying to minimize roll, and then cast off. It still rolls but it looks more intentional… I did cast off at the top of the body and pick up again for the yoke, I figured the reason for that was to reduce the sag factor of the weight of the tunic, so I kept it although it seemed counterintuitive. I also narrowed the neckline a little because there are few things more annoying in a sweater than having it fall off your shoulders. I like how that turned out.
It’s nice and light for its size, I only used 5 full skeins of Ultra Alpaca plus enough from the 6th skein to knit a teeny sleeve. I have seen a lot of people on Ravelry knit this out of the recommended yarn, a soft spun singles, and I am just DYING to know how long they wear it before the entire seat of the thing falls apart. You definitely will be sitting down on this one.

Meantime, I was ambushed on eBay by an adorable antiique flax wheel that was of Canadian provenance. It was in really good shape and quite attractive, so I didn’t even put it on my watch list, thinking it would go for its Buy It Now price which was a bit high for me. A few days after the auction ended, though, I remembered it, and retrieved the link from where I had posted it to a Ravelry forum, and checked. No one had bought the wheel. Yikes. I emailed the seller and told her my tale, and she said she was going to relist it with a lower BIN price. I watched it for about a day and a half after she relisted it, and when no one jumped, well, I did.

The story of the wheel was that the seller had purchased it about 30 years ago, somewhere between Windsor and Toronto in Ontario, and had it refinished and refurbished, and the distaff was a reproduction as well as one leg but I’m not sure which one. Upon reviewing all the photos, the estimable Alan Ramer said he believed the wheel was originally made in Nova Scotia or eastern Quebec and was a fairly typical example of flax wheels from the region.

The following photos are all in my flickr set of spinning wheel photos, and you can see more closeups of the wheel’s parts over there.

The seller had very carefully labelled each piece with a letter, and placed the same letter at the place where the piece attached to another piece, so assembly was easy.
The table had this pretty fluting on both ends, which I find so appealing.

The table itself was a SOLID slab of wood. You can more clearly see the signs of handwork on the bottom of it.

The mother of all assembly.

The flyer (yes, with the whorl on backwards…).

These flax spinners must have spun really fine. The orifice is tiny and I had to make my own hook out of a paper clip to find something that would fit through. The hooks are so close together that I can only use every other one on the test bobbin I’m spinning, and I am not a fat spinner.
The bobbin end with its cute turnings.

The obviously hand made end of the crank.

The way the wheel rim is put together.

The two ends of the bobbin are not attached to the core and will have to be glued. Luckily the fit is smooth and tight and there is no old glue to be removed.

As you might be able to tell in the first photo, there are some slight quirks with the treadle and footman. The footman is clearly a retrofit and is both too wide and too thick – it rubs on the crank, and it bangs on the back leg and the side of the table. I’ve bandaged with rags until I can get this dealt with. This may be telling me which leg is the reproduction… Also the treadle bar does not look as if it is long enough in the back, it doesn’t stick out from under the table as much as it should, which probably contributes to the footman issues.

There is also a hole for a peg to hold the mother in place once you’ve adjusted your tension, and I have a quarter inch dowel shoved in there for now – I will need to shape that a little better so it does its job properly.

All put together, even despite these issues, it spins readily and smoothly. The wheel is heavily weighted by the crank, and when you stop it turns till the crank is resting downward, but once you are expecting this it does not take you by surprise. In one end of the treadle bar, there is a fixed pin, and in the base of the opposite leg there is a fixed pin – there is no way to put this together wrong. The pins were a bit rusty but I rubbed them with steel wool, cleaned them with WD40, and greased them with lithium grease, and they are very smooth. This is the third antique wheel I’ve sat in front of in the past month, and it amazes me how ready they are to work – nothing balky about them, they were made for a purpose and they just go when they are clean and oiled and assembled.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie permalink
    November 9, 2009 3:40 pm

    What a pretty wheel, and such a find! I wish you many happy hours together. Your tunic is lovely and will keep you nice and warm this winter.

  2. Jan permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:39 pm

    Gorgeous antique wheel! So glad you took the plunge! It will be a nice companion to your Prelude. You are fortunate to find one in such good condition, and to be able to get a perspective on its origin. I like your sublimely simple footman fix!
    The tunic is lovely. The fit through the shoulders is especially nice. It gives the whole tunic a classy drape. Nice work on a big project, as always.

  3. November 11, 2009 4:49 pm

    Wow, such a lot of interesting good stuff at once! I really appreciate all the thought and work you put into the Alpaka tunic…thanks for posting about it. It’s also wonderful to see it on you first! (I know you’re a lot taller than I am, for instance…)
    Use the wheel in good health. It looks like a marvelous addition to your household! Enjoy!

  4. November 14, 2009 1:33 pm

    Very cool wheel and tunic, Ms. Caroline!

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