My Spinning Wheel’s Ancestry

In early December the woman who taught me how to spin wool gave me a copied cutting from some newspaper or magazine article that featured an Irish woman sitting at her spinning wheel in front of a croft building in county Donegal. The photo was taken in the 1880s by Irish photographer Robert Welch (1859-1936) who travelled Ireland in order to capture various aspects of Irish life.

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As you can read in the text when enlarging the picture, Welch’s photographic subjects were arranged rather than showing scenes of life as they actually happened. The spinning wheel in the photo is a Dutch or low Irish wheel and resembles very much the one that I bought from my spinning teacher when I started learning how to spin about two years ago.

The low Irish or Dutch wheel was imported to Ireland from Holland in the 17th or 18th century (I found different sources saying it came to Ireland in the 1630s or in the 18th century). It was originally designed for spinning flax and later adapted for spinning wool.

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My spinning teacher bought it in the 1990s and was told it was made by one of the last makers of this type of spinning wheel in county Donegal, Ireland. Searching on the internet, I found the link to a film from 1991 about James Shiel and his son Charlie (Link to a website called Hands) and the website of Johnny Shiel, who now carries on making these wheels. I am not entirely sure whether James Shiel was the maker of my wheel but looking at the pictures of the ones he made and mine it looks very much like he was.

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