Special Walnut Spinning Wheel

There's a lovely family yarn behind this black walnut spinning wheel.

by Susan W. Clark, Special to The Oregonian

Family history permeates Mary Ann Moore’s spinning wheel, but the wheel is no antique. A craftsman built it for her in 2005 as the final step in a story that reaches back nearly 40 years.

Moore remembers her in-laws’ home on the edge of Cottage Grove and a large black walnut tree growing between the sidewalk and the street. It was more than three feet in diameter, and in the 1970s the tree roots began to lift the sidewalk. City officials said it had to go.

Mary Ann Moore, dressed in period costume, spins on her Ashford wheel, which is lighter than her custom-made walnut wheel and easier to transport.  Photo by STEVEN NEHL/THE OREGONIAN/2000

Mary Ann Moore, dressed in period costume, spins on her Ashford wheel, which is lighter than her custom-made walnut wheel and easier to transport. Photo by STEVEN NEHL/THE OREGONIAN/2000

Her father-in-law took it down, had it cut into planks and dried at Bohemia Lumber, where he worked. The four children were each given a 3-inch thick round slab of the wood plus three planks. “We packed it around for years, wondering what could be made of it,” she said.

Over those years Moore moved to a farm and learned to spin. In 1989 she talked to Ron Antoine, a local spinning wheel craftsman, about making a wheel. She asked for a fancy wheel that would show off the beautiful wood and be easy to use. Unfortunately it would be another 15 years before she would see the finished wheel.

First Antoine moved his home and workshop, taking Moore’s walnut planks with him. Then he had a heart attack. They met now and again to discuss the features of the wheel, but it took until 2004 and some urging from Moore’s daughter Chris to see the wheel come to life.

Did she like what he had created? “Oh, I love it!” she said, “It is such a pleasure to sit and spin.” It has a Norwegian look, with a thick table and lots of embellishments.

Moore, who lives in Aurora, enjoys occasionally taking the heavy wheel out to schools to tell the story of the tree that became a wheel. She starts by saying, “I’m a spinster,” and then explains. For centuries families needed skilled spinners, who were sometimes prevented from marrying. They became unmarried women who spun, or “spinsters.”

In those days, such a life could be difficult.

But with her beautiful black walnut wheel, Moore is a happy “spinster.”