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This Spin-Well wheel was made by the Sifton Wool Products Company in Sifton, Manitoba. These wheels were first designed in the 1930’s by a local blacksmith named John Weselowski. He later partnered with Willard McPhedrain in building a mill – Spin-Well Woolen Mills Co. Ltd – making all the mill equipment from scratch, looking at photos and drawings to figure out his designs. Aside from marketing the wool from the mill, the company offered spinning wheels and drum carders.
The wheels and carders were sold locally and by mail order throughout Canada and the USA. They were very popular during the Depression years; at one point in 1938, the company was shipping 20 wheels a day, a mind-boggling number for that place and time. The Spin-Well label on my wheel indicates that it was made sometime between the mid-1930’s and 1946; after that, they were marketed by the Make-Well Manufacturing Co., which continued in business until sometime in the 1970’s.
The Spin-Well’s boxy, chair-frame form makes it easily recognizable when you spot one in the wild. The drive wheel (diameter: 38 cm) is made from solid wood slabs laminated together with the grain oriented crosswise to prevent warping; the hub is cast aluminum. It’s a single-treadle design, but the plank is wide enough to get both feet on for comfort and efficiency.
The metal flyer has hooks on only one side. The generous arm-width allows you to pack an astonishing amount of yarn onto the over-sized bobbins. Did I mention that the bobbins are huge? They easily hold twice the amount of yarn as other wheels of that era, and most modern wheels don’t even come close.
The wheel is designed for double drive. Tension is controlled by a clever little sliding tablet on the rear maiden. The available range is very wide.
The wheel originally came with a clamp-on lazy kate that could be attached on the front of the wheel (or anywhere else convenient) for plying. Three bobbins were supplied: two regular ones, and a high-speed. The difference between them is in the bobbin whorl diameter – the regular ones have a whorl diameter of 4.8 cm and the high-speed one has a diameter of 3.8 cm. The high-speed bobbin is very useful for plying.
Note the widely-disparate diameters of the two grooves on the flyer pulley – the bigger one is 5.5 cm in diameter, and the smaller one is 2.5 cm. Wow! This means is that the wheel can be set up to run either flyer-lead or bobbin-lead. Combining this feature with the different bobbin whorl diameters gives you an operating range wider than any other vintage or modern wheel that I know of, with a spindle/bobbin ratio between 1:16 and 1:0.71.
The Spin-Well is a very cool example of clever and flexible wheel design. Its modestly simple and funky appearance hides some truly imaginative engineering that stands up well against anything manufactured today.
Historical Note: John Weselowski’s partner in the woolen mill, Willard McPhedrain, was in charge of the marketing side of the business. In an effort to sell the bulky, fluffy woolen yarn produced by the mill, he founded the Mary Maxim Company – the mail-order source of all those Cowichan sweater kits and iconic picture-sweater kits fondly remembered by Canadian curlers, hockey players, and little girls lucky enough to have someone knit them the one with the figure skater on the back. (I was not one of those little girls, and I’m still a little bitter about it.)