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The objects to which I cling: the yarnwinder

Image of a four-armed wooden antique yarnwinder, with a handle to wind the arms, which sit on a shaft.
The yarnwinder sitting in my dining room

This is another antique in my house, a beacon to a bygone era, when clothes were created from scratch. It’s also one of those items my husband sees no use for, and it takes up precious space in our dining room. I can’t use it for anything, except maybe to hold a plant on it.

It stands about four feet tall, and has four arms on it that turn from a hub on a shaft. It’s made of wood, a copper-toned wood. Most yarnwinders appear to have five or six arms, while this antique only has four. This one is so old, the joints are loose and it could do with a bit of restoration.

The yarn winder would have stood beside the spinning wheel (my sister has this in her house), so as the wool got spun from the big wheel, skeins would result from the lengths of wool going around the winder. Most had a clock counter that clicked as it turned so the skein measured the right amount of yarn. It must have been a two-person job.

There’s no value, except historical and sentimental, in these old tools of the past anymore.

Why do I keep it? I don’t spin or knit, although I know people who do. It’s a family heirloom, for one. I think it must have been used by my great-grandmother and my grandmother. I imagine many sheep had their wool spun on the wheel and wound on the winder. Scarves, hats, mittens, underwear, sweaters, linen for dresses and shirts – hard work, every piece.

The arms reach out to the present, from a hardworking past. The yarnwinder, and the other antiques in my house, remind me that society has come a long way – life is much easier for us (while it’s much harder in other ways). Life then was simple, straightforward. You grew or raised what you ate, you spun or sewed what you wore. But it was hard work, there’s no question about that. We don’t even know how to work that hard anymore, do we?

Are we better off for the ease by which we purchase goods and throw them away as soon as we’re tired of them? Perhaps if we’d had to work as hard for our food, the clothes on our back and the things in our houses, we’d place so much more value on them. We’d hold on to them longer, and fight harder against trends and whims.


I think our planet would be better off, if we’d kept using yarnwinders and spinning wheels and hand tools, horses and buggies. We’d be walking so much more gently on the earth. The price of progress has taken its toll. The yarnwinder tells me that stripped-down expectations and priorities are hard work, they’re possible, and that they may also be necessary, if we are to turn the tide on consumption and the climate crisis.

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