I was gifted an antique spinning wheel today. It was a family heirloom from the 1800s, and the giver was a woman in her seventies who wanted the wheel to go to someone who would use it.

Thanks to some antique wheel enthusiasts, I was able to discover some information about it. The maker was JOS. These wheels were made in Lindstrom, Minnesota, in the 1860s. Lindstrom was a small town of Swedish immigrants. JOS wheels (I’m guessing it would be pronounced “Yos”) follow the design of traditional Scandinavian flax wheels, and a Swedish friend confirmed there are similar antique wheels in his country.

The woman who owned it gave her info to a member of my handweavers guild, and the info made it into the newsletter. I got lucky and was the first one to call about it. I received this story from her, via email:

My grandmother, her brother, and parents made the trip to [North Dakota] in a Conestoga wagon, seeking a better life than was offered in MN at the time — ND offered homesteading opportunities. Grandma was a second generation Minnesotan born in 1898 (I’ll check the date for sure) and was a young girl when that trip occurred. They lived in ND until she was an adolescent. She spoke Swedish as her first language and had an accent until the day she died.

I suspect the wheel made the trip to ND and back (but I’ll confirm that, if possible). When they returned to MN, they settled on a dairy farm in the Alexandria/Parkers Prairie area south of Lake Itasca and close to a tiny community called Rose Hill. The land was not ideal for farming. They struggled to make a living until my grandfather, Alvin Peterson, died at age 65 in 1958.

My grandmother, Esther Peterson, moved and lived with us in southern MN until her death in 1985. She was a smart, hard-working woman, a master at using every skill she had, only had a third grade education, and read more than anyone I’ve ever known. She supplemented her meager retirement income by using a family loom that was probably as old as the spinning wheel. She made placemats and rugs out of clothing we had outgrown and sold them in a consignment shop. They became very popular (I still use my placemat sets and rugs – some of which are 50 years old – they never wear out). She often said she was more financially comfortable in her retirement than at any other time in her life.


(Pause in documenting for a minor freakout: Holy shit, this is some Laura Ingalls Wilder level stuff. A Conestoga wagon heading west for a land claim??? Wow.)

The dimensions are approximately 41″ wide from wheel to tail; 39″ high; and 21″ across at the widest part of its base. I am unsure as to what wood it’s made from. I am curious how to find out without damaging the wheel. I’ll be asking around.

The wheel is in excellent condition, and only needs one fairly minor repair. The top of the footman is broken, as you can see in the photos below. (The footman is the stick that connects the wheel to the treadle.)

If I can’t get the footman fixed, I will store it safely and use a dowel with a hook on the top. Ugly but functional. Let’s hope it’s fixable!

Otherwise it’s in working order, and just needs a good cleaning and oiling. I have ordered some linseed oil for the latter. I need to look into the best way to clean antique wood.

The wheel is missing its distaff. That’s fairly common for this model of wheel, as the distaff was removable. Luckily someone in the Antique Wheel group posted a picture of what theirs looks like, so hopefully I can find someone to make a similar one. Otherwise I might make a plain one myself — just a dowel with some shapes on top to hold the flax in place. But like the footman, I’d rather have one that matches.

Ravelry – MuskieGuy’s mom’s wheel

I can say fairly certainly that the wheel was primarily used for flax and wool. The flyer shows no evidence of cotton spinning. (I was told by a knowledgeable guild member that there would be grooves in the edges of the flyer if cotton was spun.) This makes sense, as cotton was a Southern fiber.

Having someone make more bobbins would be expensive. It occurred to me that 3D printing some might be a good option. A spinning acquaintance who’s printed bobbins for her e-spinners gave me the link to a Fusion 360 schematic (created by Maurice of Electric Eel Wheel fame) where all I’ll have to do (probably) is put in the measurements of my existing bobbin. I’ve ordered an inexpensive digital caliper for this purpose. Ideally I can use the existing bobbin for demos and the 3D ones for actually spinning on the wheel.

Because I do have weaving projects planned for the JOS wheel once it’s functional again. I want to make a small amount of wool tapestry yarn in a few colors, to create a small art piece. A knitter friend gave me the fiber for it, as she happened to be getting rid of a bag of multicolored wool. It needs carding, but I have carders, so that’s fine.

The second project will be an overshot wall hanging based on the wool coverlets of the 1800s. Coverlets were the standard American bedspreads at the time, typically done with undyed wool for the background and indigo-dyed blue wool for the design. I have no doubt I can find overshot drafts from the era. I also plan to find out what breeds of sheep would be appropriate for the wool. Because, yes, I am that kind of nerd.

(Another personal note: If my father and I were on speaking terms, I would love to tell him about this wheel. My great-great-great grandmother — I think that’s the right number of greats — was listed on a census as being a professional spinner. Back when he was talking to me, he was tickled that I was doing something an ancestor did for a living. He could probably even do the woodwork to repair the wheel. Sadly, we are estranged, and it’s up to him to get in touch if he wants to.)

As I said, I’ll post more as I know more. Expect followup posts once the wheel is working and cleaned up. I’m so excited!

First followup post is here

1 Comment

Barbara · October 13, 2023 at 10:21 am

Loved your Blog! SO happy you inherited the spinning wheel. Textiles and the tools to create them come with such great stories.
Thank you, Grayson, for sharing.

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