If you’re a spinner and you’re familiar with what is known as ‘the Roy McKnight Suitcase spinning wheel’, this story will be of real interest to you.
Ever since I first got my hands on a Roy McKnight Suitcase Spinning Wheel, I’ve been intrigued and fascinated by the fact Roy lived not far from me and was a member of the Redlands Spinners & Weavers, along with his wife Ailsa.
Well, in November this year (2016), I was lucky enough to meet his widow, Ailsa as one of our members brought her along to one of our spinners’ meetings. I really wanted to have a chat to Ailsa about one of my unidentified spinning wheels which I believe is a McKnight wheel because of the finishes on the wheel.
Here’s a picture of the above wheel (left) and the suitcase wheel (right).
See the similarities of the parts used? Ailsa could definitely see some similarities but she believes it’s probably made by another wheel maker who maybe copied some of Roy’s techniques. So, at this stage, my wheel’s maker is still an enigma!
I feel quite fortunate to have met Ailsa. I believe it’s so important to try and capture some of the history of Roy’s wheels as they are quite sought after today and this is an important part of Redlands’ history which I believe should be captured for future generations to enjoy.
Here’s a picture of Ailsa using her upright wheel made by her husband, Roy. She was demonstrating at the Woolshed (Brisbane) in June 1990.
The similarities are astounding. I think the actual piggy tail orifice/hook is different from what I can see in the photo above.
Ailsa is now 94 and incredibly sharp-minded and interesting and I just felt quite privileged chatting to her as she told me about Roy and his wheels. Apparently, the suitcase wheel is actually called the brief wheel! So we need to now start referring to it as ‘the Roy McKnight Brief wheel’!
Ailsa and me with my unidentified wheel.
Ailsa brought along a couple of her old photo albums which she kindly allowed me to take home so I could scan some of the pictures. I felt so excited to be able to capture a piece of the McKnight’s spinning history and to share it with everyone!
Roy was a salesman and spent some time on the road and it was during these periods that Ailsa took up spinning to fill in her days. Once Roy had retired, he taught himself woodturning and started making wheels, bobbins and accessories for Ailsa and other club members. Roy also made beautiful furniture and woodturned bowls.
Here is the man himself: Roy McKnight (6-1-1920 – 6-3-2011) at the Redlands Spinners & Weavers Open Day in 1991. Look at all those stunning wood turned spinners’ goodies. Ailsa had the suggestions and Roy made them! Apparently if it wasn’t quite right Ailsa would ask Roy to refine it until she was happy 🙂
I can see a squirrel cage swift, a brief wheel, a skeiner, bobbins, niddy noddies and other bits and pieces.
Roy McKnight at the Redlands Spinners & Weavers Open Day in 1989 with a display of his woodturned goods: a brief wheel (I wonder what number this one is?), squirrel cage swift, spinning chair, skeiner, niddy noddies and other wooden items.
Ailsa McKnight at Marburg 1984. Note the upright wheel for sale.
Redcliffe September 1988 – Ailsa McKnight is second from the right spinning on one of Roy’s upright spinning wheels.
An article in the Redlands’ local paper regarding the Open Day in 1988. Note the upright wheel on the left hand side.
1984 article from the local Redlands’ newspaper.
An article in the local Redlands’ newspaper from April 1987 regarding the upcoming Open Day. Ailsa is on the far right.
An article in the local Redlands’ newspaper from 1987. Ailsa is third from the left (standing). There’s a clearer photo directly below this article.
What makes this story really exciting for me is that when I chatted to Ailsa she mentioned that she wanted to sell her remaining spinning equipment. I immediately knew that I wanted everything she had so I could keep Roy’s legacy alive among the local and online spinning fraternities.
Today (5/12/2016) I visited Ailsa’s son and daughter-in-law who live quite nearby to collect her gorgeous collection. I am so excited to be able to own this lovely package.
I am now the extremely proud owner of the very first Brief Wheel made by Roy. I can say it has been well and truly ‘road tested’ by Ailsa 🙂
I love the nifty in-built lazy kate 🙂
And what makes it even more special is that Ailsa hand painted this beautiful picture on the lid of the case. Now that is certainly unique!
I just adore this stunning upright wheel made by Roy. As you can see, it is quite different from the one Ailsa is spinning on in the pictures above and to the ones sold at the various Open Days so I can safely say that Roy made two styles of upright spinning wheels.
The flyer screws off completely (just like the Brief Wheel) and is stored behind the middle bobbin holder on the in-built lazy kate (you can see the hole in the picture above).
This is the connection where the flyer is screwed on.
It’s a scotch tension wheel…
The driveband tension knob…
This really is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship…
And lastly, my own Roy McKnight spinning chair 🙂
I must thank Ailsa for taking the time to talk to me and for giving me the opportunity to own these lovely pieces of spinning history and to Ailsa’s son, Ron and his wife, Carolyn for chatting to me and sharing some of Roy’s story with me.
I would encourage anyone in Australia who has knowledge of Aussie wheelmakers to record their history by contacting the administrator of the Australian Spinning Wheels website. It is so important this history is not lost but kept alive for future generations.
Roy’s suitcase (brief) wheel is also featured on the Australian Spinning Wheels website.
Ailsa has given her permission for me to publish these photos and newspaper articles online so I will also contact the Australian Spinning Wheels website to see whether they’d like to link to this story or use some of the photos of Roy’s upright wheel and chair.
I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Redlands’ spinning history as much as I have had putting it together for everyone to access.
A BIG thank you to Roy, Ailsa, Ron and Carolyn 🙂
5 December 2016