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Antique Yarn Winder Guide – The Amazing History & How They Work.

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

It’s important to learn about our past to better understand the present and plan for the future. Plus it’s truly fascinating to discover a little bit of this part of the history of textiles.

If you want to know a bit of crochet history, some crochet facts, or are just interested in how the older models work, you’ve come to the right place.

Table Of Contents

What Is An Antique Yarn Winder?

An antique yarn winder is simply a yarn winder but a far older model than the ones available on the market today, dating from as early as the 19th century.

They’re 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, clock reel, knitty knotty, niddy noddy, nostepinne, spinners weasel and a skein winder.)

They’re usually classified as coming from the time period from the late 1800s-early 1900s.

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

They’re almost exclusively made with wood and sometimes metal, as those were the materials available during the time they were constructed. Even the gears were made from wood.

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

They weren’t made from many other materials because after all, plastic and nylon didn’t exist.

Although some luxury or expensive models were made from things such as whalebone, ivory or iron.

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

  • Ash (Most commonly Shaker Ash)
  • Birch
  • Chestnut
  • Cherry
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Pine
  • Poplar

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Types Of Older Yarn Winders

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

The sticks have knobs, (called wooden dowels), used to hold the yarn, and you can adjust the size to put different sizes of yarns on them.

Another style is quite similar, except 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 tabletop or surface, others look similar to an umbrella. Like an umbrella swift, but they were still yarn winders, not yarn 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 around 72 inches. The yarn winder turns about 40 times to create a hank or as called in those days a bundle.

When it completes this, the person operating it made a little knot or twist in the yarn to keep it together.

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

Keep in mind there were many different versions and some may work slightly differently from the method described here. Some don’t wind it into a skein, but rather bobbins, spools or even into a ball.

It wasn’t just yarn winders involved in the process, yarn swifts existed at that time as well. Used in combination with a yarn winder just like the modern method.

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

As yarn hanks or skeins didn’t often vary too much in size, there was limited adjustability of the arms. After all, there wasn’t really a need for it at that time in history.

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

If a specific quality was desired, they often spun the yarn first, then winding it to create a hank, skein or ball ready to use.

Facts About Antique Yarn Winders

  • It’s speculated 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 you wind it for a certain amount of time. Incredible, right?
  • Often they were brightly colored and the more expensive models had decorative edging and other elements.
  • In poorer or lower classes, people often made their own yarn winders, yarn swifts of spinning wheels, as they were quite expensive. Handmade antique yarn winders are rare these days.
  • In places all over Europe, like Romania, the old ways are still very much alive, with textile makers carrying on the tradition and spinning, winding and weaving their yarn on old, handmade machines.

Your Questions Answered

How Much Is An Antique Spinning Wheel Worth?

Depending on what it’s made out of or how old it is, it can easily fetch thousands of dollars in antique market or auction.

There you are, hopefully you learned a little something to do with the interesting history of yarn. It’s always important to be connected to our past to learn and advance for the future.

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

Let me know down in the comments, and I can add your knowledge for everyone to learn from.

If you have a question, please reach out to me here or message me on Twitter.

About Jodie Morgan

Hi. I’m Jodie Morgan, owner and creator of Crochet Penguin. (Yes, I’m a real person :) )

Thanks for being here. I created Crochet Penguin to help show 1,000,000 people the benefits of crochet & highlight alternatives to fast fashion.

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