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Highland Crafts

8. A 'saxony wheel'

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This photograph shows a woman operating a saxony spinning wheel outside her house in Knoydart. Spinning wheels were common in the eastern Highlands in the late 18th century though it was nearly a hundred years before they became prevalent in the west and the Hebrides. There were two kinds of spinning wheel - the "muckle wheel" and the "saxony wheel".

The early spinning wheel, the muckle wheel, had a simple design. A drive belt linked the large wheel to a small spindle (usually a thin iron rod) to which the teased wool was tied. A slow turning of the large wheel with one hand while holding and twisting the wool with the other would cause the spindle to quickly draw more wool from the bundle. The wheel could then be reversed so the spindle wound up the wool that had just been spun.

The muckle wheel was eventually replaced by the Saxony wheel which had a number of advantages. It was smaller and had a drive-belt system which turned not only a spindle but also a bobbin. This allowed the wool to be twisted as it was wound on the bobbin. This type of wheel was turned by a foot pedal which let the spinner sit down. The "saxony" type wheel is still used today by the handcraft wool spinners.

Click to enlarge the image, read the text then answer the following questions.


  1. Name two types of spinning wheel?
  2. What does the word 'muckle' mean?
  3. How was the wool/yarn wound up on the 'muckle wheel'?
  4. What were the advantages of the 'Saxony wheel' over the 'muckle wheel'?
9. Thatching