Captivating Antique Fiber Tools: Yarn Winders

Serendipity bestowed treasure upon us this week.  While visiting a distant daughter, and exploring a vast antique mall, my husband and I happened upon ~ not one, but TWO ~ lovely old fiber processing tools:  a ravishing Yarn Swift and an intriguing Yarn Weasel.   First, THE SWIFT:


Eleven inches tall, with luminous, polished wood.   The center cups puzzles me…….. I have only ever seen this concept with a top finial, not a cup.  Does one rest the ball in that cup if taking a break from winding?  Maybe… it’s a place to park my gum (ha, ha….you just gasped, didn’t you?!)


The base has a band of the tiniest marquetry.  Intricate workmanship, that.  However would you cut & assemble slices of wood so very small?


fullsizeoutput_2114The arm caps have sort of mushroom caps with bone beads.

Although the swift does have old repaired damage (don’t we all?)  this beauty still functions smoothly.  I am not deterred by the cracks, repairs and bruises of time.  This swift will live on, continuing to delight the eye and wind many more yarn skeins.

I’ve searched for a makers mark, and sorta think I see “JSS” or at least for sure “SS” embossed there.  Anyone else see that?



The base has a heavy metal ring embedded under-neath, to provide stability during yarn winding. IMG_6107

Adjustable arms slide out outward to 24″ wide, or at least 69″ circumference, and are topped by cute mushroom caps & bone bead finial.

fullsizeoutput_2113The cup top unscrews above the sliding arms, snugging them into slotted position, or loosening to allow expansion.  Here is the cup totally unscrewed, upended.


The center carved body lifts easily off a inner rod.  Caution is required because you instinctively reach to pick up the swift by the middle, and find yourself lifting top half separately.  Gotta be careful about that….it could turn tragic if I’m not constantly vigilant.

This swift is a gorgeous piece of workmanship and Iwe have a happy future together.  If I care for these items well, they’ll be passed over to new generations of fiber enthusiasts.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

NEXT, the YARN WEASEL.   According to Wikipedia:  a  Spinner’s Weasel or Clock Reel is a mechanical yarn measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with gears attached to a pointer on a marked face (which looks like a clock) and an internal mechanism which makes a “pop” sound after the desired length of yarn is measured (usually a skein).


Eagle-eyed husband (also a spinner in our guild, so he’s learned stuff) had both the height – and wandering attention – to scrutinize taller shelves.  We were dawdling in the mall aisle debating whether to depart.  Glancing upward, HE spied the winder first.  Whatever that thingamajig was, he recognized it had to be a yarn tool.

I took a photo when he pointed it out, in case we needed employee assistance.  Then, as hubby reached to fetch this yarn weasel, he says “Oh, there’s another here, and it’s prettier.”  The lovely swift (top of page) was amidst other objects (out of photo frame) to left of this reel.   I was eye-level with the teapot.  See what I mean by distracting clutter?


fullsizeoutput_2106Choosing between 2 treasures is a torment, but beauty won over “interesting yarn reel” and I walked off clutching my yarn swift prize.  A few aisles over, husband declares “we should probably get both.”  Whoo hoo! Keep a poker face….don’t jinx it…hasten to cashierGO!       Once there, hubby wants to haggle while I suffer imaginary disaster (I’ve never been comfortable haggling).  He has cashier call owner and our (lower) offer was accepted!  OMIGAWSH!!  We grinning silly fools in the parking lot felt like looters who emptied the gold vault and got away with it.  I get heart palpitations just remembering the thrill.

More pics of the curious Yarn Reel Winder Weasel.  Cog wheels with teeth that have seen better days on the small cog at least.  The middle & larger cog might need a diamond-shape replacement tooth insert to function their best.  I’m not at all knowledgeable about this tool.  I understand the concept; just have never seen one in person before.  Have zero experience, so husband & I are still sussing it out.  Likely I’ll bring winder to a spinning guild meeting for a gathering of the hive mind opinions.



The wheels themselves do not intermesh.  Instead there are a couple metal pins sticking out the side of each cog which interlock with the teeth of the cog below.  Differing cog size and pin spacing provide the ratios.  That’s as scientific as I can get at the moment.


Though I’ve read descriptions of “clock faces” there is none visible.  No apparent spot where it went missing, if such existed.  While turning the arm, there IS a point where after a few turns you hear an audible “click” (pop goes the weasel).  Except no button, knob, or anything pops out.  Just the sound.   Other than a wedge of paper towel for photo’s sake, I haven’t figured out how to keep the arms spread.  They want to flop loosely.  No hole where a peg may have gone missing, so this is all a mystery yet.


I didn’t buy an old conglomeration of nonfunctional sticks.  I purchased an antique handmade yarn reel-weasel-winder.  I took the leap of faith the condition was fair and am confident it can be brought to full function again.   Antiques appeal to me for their storied history, complete with dings and dents.  I imagine a lady once spun her wool and watched with satisfaction as she reeled the plied yarn off the spinning wheel bobbins onto this weasel, counting the clicks.  Perhaps her thoughts wandered to the sweater she’d knit for the sweet husband who cut the wood and built this winder for her.  Maybe she smiled to imagine her winder one day in the hands of another spinner.  And, if I care well for these treasures, eventually I’ll pass them over to yet another delighted spinner, counting her miles of yarn.  I like to think so…   It makes me smile.

4 thoughts on “Captivating Antique Fiber Tools: Yarn Winders

  1. Yes. The cup on the swift is for holding your wool ball as you wind a ball. From a skein. I inherited a similar one from my grandmother, and used to watch her use it. You wind the balls before knitting from a skein, as it prevents knots and tangles forming. I still use mine! Check out photo on Instagram @mycoffeebeanlife. Mine is in much poorer condition though. Years of abuse! My kids used to play Barbie and action man on it. 😁

    • Well I just thought the cup meant to hold a ball-in-progress would be obvious considering how often life predictably interrupts fibery pursuits. You’d have to park that yarn ball somewhere to go answer the phone / feed the dog / make dinner / fold the laundry / etc…
      I peeked at your photo! Your own swift is really lovely, with it’s acorn finials and the wood grain at base…I’m guessing maybe walnut? As for condition, your’s doesn’t appear in poor condition. I’ve spiffed up our wood with a wipe down of Howards Restor-a-Finish; my favorite restorative for wood projects. Hasn’t let me down yet.
      I am delighted to have found my swift; so decorative and yes, totally functional too. Thank you so much for sharing your own swift photo.

  2. The antique yarn swift is an absolute treasure! Many decades from now, should you wish for it to go to another person who would cherish it as much as you, please do contact me! It would be such an honour.

    • Thank ewe Lisa, I’m so glad you like the pretty yarn swift. Isn’t the design marvelous? I wonder why we don’t see more of these pedestal, revolving, expandable type of swifts? I suspect they are more of a European design… but I’m not certain. I love it. And you never know…. treasure might come your way in unanticipated ways… Stay well and safe. Thank you for your comments.

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