Monday 18 November 2013

Yarn winders

 Last week, a Guild member I have been corresponding with sent me a long letter in a package that also contained a little box.  The box, labelled "Signpost" Centre Thread Ball Winder, can be assembled into a contraption that you wind yarn onto.  

The yarn winder consists of a spindle, in some sort of early plastic, and two steel cross pieces that go through holes in the spindle at right angles.  Unfortunately the spindle is broken in two, at the place where the holes for one of the cross pieces are.  (I have stuck the two pieces together temporarily, just for the photographs.)  It is not very surprising that the plastic has broken there - the cross pieces are a tight fit in the holes, and the steel is much stronger than the plastic.  

The assembled Ball Winder

The yarn winder came from a charity shop, so it's not a family heirloom.  But Vera, who sent it, says in her letter that she thinks that it was for winding artificial silk or rayon, and that her mother described the problems of handling such a slippery yarn (which I can attest to, because I've tried it, as I described here).  If you wind it into a ball in the same way as you would wool, it's likely to collapse into a horrendous tangle.  She says "It is a bobbin to hold silk.  You will know that originally all thread was sold in skeins.  Wool was comparatively easy to wind into balls, but when artificial silk came in, it was hopeless.  My mother, who was born in 1903, said there was a vogue for knitting with silk, especially after the first world war.  She had a holder which was made of a very strong cardboard type of material in roughly the shape of a Maltese cross but with the arms with rounded ends.  ... However, obviously wealthy ladies wanted something better.  I have never seen anything like it and neither had my mother or her sisters. ... I have always been fascinated by the fine engine turning...  When you think how plain and workmanlike our things are today, it always amazes me, the time and trouble our predecessors took."

I agree about the detail on the plastic spindle, and the ends are I suppose intended to look like amber (unless the plastic has discoloured with time).

I'm not quite sure how it was meant to be used when the yarn was wound.  You could leave the yarn on the winder, which would help to keep it under control (and I have seen yarn holders where the yarn is wound onto cross-pieces in a similar way).  But alternatively, you could extract the steel cross-pieces and then the spindle when you had finished winding the yarn.  That would give you a centre-pull ball (if you had kept hold of the start of the yarn), which would be consistent with the name "Centre Thread Ball Winder".  I don't know - in the absence of an instruction leaflet, I'll have to hope that we might find an informative advert.  Meanwhile, it will be added to the Guild collection as Vera wanted.

Vera also mentioned a cardboard holder for art. silk in the shape of a cross, and drew an outline of it from memory, which I recognised immediately.  We were sorting out some odd balls of rayon recently, and one of them was wound around a very similar holder, which  I retrieved.  

Felix yarn holder

It's made of plywood, and the yarn is wound in two directions across the centre part of the cross, leaving the ends of the arms sticking out.  You then knit with the yarn still wound around the cross, so that it can't get into a tangle.  That's perhaps why cheap materials like plywood and cardboard were used, so that you could afford to have more than one in use at a time.  I initially thought that it maybe dated from the 1950s. But Vera's description of holders of exactly the same shape being used when rayon was popular in the 20s and 30s made me think again. And Felix the cat was a cartoon character from the silent film era, so I now think that maybe it is a lot older than I thought.

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