February 5

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A Guide To Antique Yarn Winder

An antique thread winder is the ancestor of the handy modern tool designed for the purpose of making thread winding much easier! The history of these goes back many years.

It is important to learn about our past to better understand the present and plan for the future. Plus, it's really fascinating to discover a bit of this part of textile history.

If you want to know a little crochet history, some crochet facts, or are just interested in how older patterns work, you've come to the right place.

Table of Contents
What is an antique yarn winder?
Types of antique yarn winders
How does an antique yarn winder work?
Facts about antique yarn winders
Your questions answered

What is an antique yarn winder?
An antique yarn winder is simply a yarn winder, but a much older model than those available on the market today, dating from as early as the 19th century.

They are priceless pieces of heritage and history, as well as a very functional tool for crocheters, knitters, spinners and yarn dyers alike.

Well, really anyone who works with yarn!

(A yarn winder is also known as a ball winder, clockenhen, watch spool, knitty knitty, niddy niddy, nostepinne, weasel spinners and a skein winder).

They are generally classified as coming from the late 1800s to early 1900s time period.

(Remember that these are very similar to the old spinning wheels, so the two machines tend to be easily confused).

They are made almost exclusively of wood and sometimes metal, as those were the materials available during the time they were built. Even the gears were made of wood.

There was usually only one main wooden gear, and the gear shaft was always completely covered and protected.

They were not made of many other materials because after all, plastic and nylon did not exist.

Although some fancy or expensive models were made of things like whalebone, ivory or iron.

Some of the common types of wood they were made from include.

Ash (most commonly shaker ash).
Birch
Chestnut
Cherry
Maple
Oak
Pine
Poplar
Yarn store good yarn

Types of older yarn winders
The niddy-noddy is the most common type of older thread winders. The base has a pole in the center that is attached to the base, with two pieces attached to the top of the pole in a crisscross fashion.

The poles have knobs (called wooden pegs), which are used to hold the thread, and you can adjust the size to put different sizes of threads on them.

Another style is quite similar, except that it has four arms, wooden pegs on each end of them, and has a tripod base.

Other styles resemble a ship's wheel, some sit flat when mounted on a table or surface, others resemble an umbrella. Like a quick umbrella, but they were still thread winders, not thread swifts.

New tools from The Hook Nook. An assortment of Hook Nook tools and hooks on a blue background.

How does an antique yarn winder work?
An antique yarn winder works by creating loops with a circumference of about 72 inches. The yarn winder spins approximately 40 times to create a skein or as it was called in those days a bundle.

When it completes this, the person operating it tied a small knot or twist in the yarn to hold it together.

This process was repeated seven times, until a skein of yarn containing approximately 560 yards of yarn was the end result.

Note that there were many different versions and some may work slightly differently than the method described here. Some did not wind it onto a skein, but rather spools, bobbins, or even a ball.

It wasn't just yarn winders involved in the process, there were also yarn swifts at the time. Used in combination with a yarn winder just like the modern method.

The swifts were usually made of wood, spinning horizontally and lay flat when placed on a table or surface.

Since skeins of yarn or hanks often did not vary much in size, there was limited adjustability of the arms. After all, there wasn't really a need for that at that time in history.

Often, the process of winding the yarn was accompanied by spinning, as different spinning methods created a different texture, tension or tightness to the yarn.

If a specific quality was desired, they often spun the yarn first and then wound it to create a ready-to-wind skein, hank or ball.

Facts about antique yarn winders
It is speculated that the origin of the nursery rhyme "Pop Goes The Weasel" comes from the process of how the yarn was wound. The spinner on the winder, or the weasel as it was once called, makes a popping sound after winding it for a certain period of time. Amazing, isn't it?
They were often brightly colored and the more expensive models had decorative borders and other features.
In the poorer or lower classes, people often made their own yarn winders, spinning wheel yarn winders, as they were quite expensive. Antique handmade yarn winders are rare these days.
In places all over Europe, such as Romania, the old ways are still very much alive, with textile manufacturers carrying on the tradition and spinning, winding and weaving their yarn on antique, handmade machines.


Your questions answered
How much is an antique spinning wheel worth?
Depending on what it is made of or how old it is, it can easily fetch thousands of dollars on the antique market or an auction.

There you are, I hope you learned something to do with the interesting history of the yarn. It is always important to stay connected to our past to learn and move forward into the future.

Have you ever heard of these machines from the past before? Do you know anything about them that would be great for others to know?


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