Canadian Production Wheel

Also known as a CPW, this kind of wheel was made in Quebec in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its main features being a large drive wheel, iron fittings, and a tilt tensioning system. These old wheels are all over, mostly binge used as decorations, but if not warped or missing any parts they can quickly be spruced back up to working condition. There’s of course a lot of them in Quebec, with a fair number in Ontario as well, as it was a kijiji ad that alerted me to the existence of this one in the GTA:

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had spent the past forty years as an accent piece in the home of a couple who had originally picked it up at an auction. Now downsizing their antiques collection, the couple had it priced to sell and when I saw the photos I couldn’t resist going to take a look at it. Depending on where you are, it can be relatively easy to get a CPW, but to find one in working or easily repairable condition can be a lot harder. When I saw the great shape it was in, it was about two minutes before the money was handed over and the wheel was loaded up in my car.

I’ve learned most of what I know about CPWs from the Ravelry group dedicated to discussing them. The extremely knowledgeable spinners in that group have amassed a wealth of information about these wheels and their makers. From casual reading I’d learned to tell the difference from a real CPW and a “spinning wheel-shaped object”–a useless decoration mass-manufactured in the 1970s and occasionally being sold as the real thing. I also knew to look extra carefully at the flyer/bobbin, as it’s the most likely piece to have been lost on an antique and the most expensive to replace. This wheel had its original set-up, right down to the leather bearings for the flyer rod:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hooks on the flyer arms are a bit bent but truthfully it doesn’t affect the way it spins. And all the originally cast-iron fittings are still there and in good shape as well. The use of iron seems to be pretty unique to these old Quebec wheels, which were clearly made with durability in mind. Most eye-catching is probably the treadle, which you can imagine being used for decades without wearing out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another sign of a CPW is a maker’s mark. This can be easy or hard to locate, depending on if the wheel has been refinished, or if the maker was subtle about where they left their mark in the first place. This wheel happens to be a Desjardins, with an unmistakable mark sloppily stencilled in red paint across the table, letting you know in no uncertain terms who made it and that it came from Saint-Andre de Kamouraska. The Desjardins also numbered their wheels. Mine’s 205:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some CPWs can be quite ornate, with flutes and beads and scallops and all kind of other fancy woordwork. Desjardins wheels… don’t really fall into that category. Don’t get me wrong, this is an engineering thing of beauty, and I think it’s certainly pretty on the aesthetic side too, but here’s a typical Desjardins decoration:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, that’s red paint dabbed on the spokes. At first I thought it was the work of whoever bought the wheel way back when, but the Ravelry group informed me it’s original. Something to replace the turnings that would be seen on the spokes of wheels by other makers. I actually kind of like it.

So, how does it spin? I made a drive band from a length of cotton string and let me tell you, this is not a wheel for a beginner. There is a very narrow range when it comes to tensioning, between “too loose and the drive band flies off” and “too tight and the barely spun wool is ripped out of one’s hands.” If you’re in the right place, though, it spins beautifully. It’s smooth, efficient, and powerful. And clearly made for spinning large amounts of fine yarn, probably as supplementary income when the textiles industry was booming in Quebec. I like the fact that it’s clearly been used for its original purpose–there’s even something scrawled in cursive French on the side of the drive wheel that I can’t quite make out. I’m going to look a little more closely to see if I can read what it says.

 

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7 Responses to Canadian Production Wheel

  1. Nice score on that wheel.

    Your cat is totally adorable.

  2. Leslie says:

    Thanks! On both counts :)

  3. Lena says:

    I just bought what turned out to be a Canadian production wheel and I would love to know where I can find out who made it. Mine has FM engraved on it with not other stamps or marks. I bought here in Quebec from a lady whose mom spun some yarn on it. The lady also said her used to use a great wheel. Where do I find the ravelry group? I love your cat in the pictures, it so reminds me of my cat “helping” me spin.

  4. Pingback: Curbside find | Leslie Ordal Fibre Arts

  5. Mirra says:

    I just bought one off of Kijiji today in my home town. It was well worth the risk of going out in the craziest snowstorm of the year. I’m sure mine is CPW because it fits most criteria, but there are no stamps or marking that I can see. Mine has the same beautiful cast iron treadle, iron fittings, and tilt tension. With a little TLC and a new drive band, this honey will be working in no time. I already named her Betty lol. This is my first wheel, and I know they are touchy, but I love a challenge. I figure, if I learn on a difficult wheel, then all wheels will be a breeze. I’ve been a knitter for the last 15 years, and making my own yarn has been something I’ve been dying to do for a long time. I’m a proud Canadian, and if this is in fact a CPW that is awesome. So my question is, if there are no marking or stamps, how do I know where it came from?
    Thanks!

    • Leslie says:

      Hi Mirra! Congrats on your wheel purchase. It can be difficult to identify some of the unmarked wheels, but there are so very knowledgeable people on Ravelry who might be able to ID for you based on the style and small details. Try out the “CPW Lovers” group on Ravelry–if anyone can figure who made it, it’s them :-) They also have a lot of information about how to get your wheel up and functional (and a few hacks to increase versatility).

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