Roy and Ailsa McKnight – Redlands (Brisbane) Spinning History

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.

spinning-wheel-01Here’s a picture of the above wheel (left) and the suitcase wheel (right).

spinning-wheel-05-tileSee 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.

ailsa-mcknight-aus-woolshed-june-1990The similarities are astounding. I think the actual piggy tail orifice/hook is different from what I can see in the photo above.

spinning-wheel-02Ailsa 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-mc-knight-with-melanie-22-11-2016Ailsa 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-ailsa-mcknight-open-day-1991Roy 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.

roy-mcknight-rsw-open-day-1989Ailsa McKnight at Marburg 1984. Note the upright wheel for sale.

ailsa-mcknight-marburg-1984Redcliffe September 1988 – Ailsa McKnight is second from the right spinning on one of Roy’s upright spinning wheels.

redcliffe-sep-1988An article in the Redlands’ local paper regarding the Open Day in 1988. Note the upright wheel on the left hand side.

ailsa-mcknight-open-day-19881984 article from the local Redlands’ newspaper.

1984-landscapeAn article in the local Redlands’ newspaper from April 1987 regarding the upcoming Open Day. Ailsa is on the far right.

rsw-open-day-1987An 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.

dsc09768_resizeI 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 🙂

dsc09761_resizedsc09762_resizeI love the nifty in-built lazy kate 🙂

dsc09763_resizeAnd 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!

dsc09760_resizeI 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.

roy-mcknight-upright-01The 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).

roy-mcknight-upright-02This is the connection where the flyer is screwed on.

roy-mcknight-upright-09It’s a scotch tension wheel…

roy-mcknight-upright-11The driveband tension knob…

roy-mcknight-upright-10This really is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship…

roy-mcknight-upright-03 roy-mcknight-upright-04 roy-mcknight-upright-05 roy-mcknight-upright-06 roy-mcknight-upright-07 roy-mcknight-upright-08And lastly, my own Roy McKnight spinning chair 🙂

roy-mcknight-spinning-chair-01 roy-mcknight-spinning-chair-02 roy-mcknight-spinning-chair-03I 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



My Roy McKnight Suitcase Spinning Wheel

It’s only quite recently that I discovered the existence of this rather quaint and quirky little spinning wheel. It’s quite unique as its contained within a lovely portable wooden suitcase; hence the name ‘the suitcase wheel’. I bet you wouldn’t think a spinning wheel was housed in this suitcase on first glance would you?

Suitcase wheel 14

I am delighted to say that I am now the proud owner of this cute little wheel thanks to Karen on the Ravelry Australian Spinning Wheels online forum. Karen put me in contact with Jean who was selling it. The wheel arrived this week and now becomes my 12th spinning wheel!

As you can see by the measurements, it is extremely compact and hardly takes up any room at all!

Suitcase wheel 01a

The suitcase wheel was made by Roy McKnight from Birkdale (eastern suburbs of Brisbane). From information on the Australian Spinning Wheels site (administered by Mary K from New Zealand), the suitcase wheels only weigh about 4kg (9lbs). Mr McKnight also made wool winders and other spinning accessories; as so often, he was encouraged by a wife who was a spinner. The picture on Mary’s website is of a wheel from 1992 so I am assuming Mr McKnight made these wheels in the early 1990s and possibly the late 1980s. Is there anyone else out there who either has one of these wheels or knows anything about Roy McKnight? I would really love to hear from you via the Contact Me section of my blog (along the top banner).

Suitcase wheel 02

This is the angle (see below) the left  hand part of the suitcase needs to be positioned to enable you to spin. You also need to have a small mat under the wheel to stabilise it.

Suitcase wheel 03

I am assuming the name on the lower left hand inside of the wheel could be the original owner.

Suitcase wheel 05

The bobbins are quite small; as you can see from the number of hooks

Suitcase wheel 06

Three bobbins are held on the ‘lazy kate’. I have five bobbins in total which is a bonus!

Suitcase wheel 07

The wheel is lacquered so there is no need to oil the wood at all.

Suitcase wheel 08

It is a most ingenious spinning wheel.

Suitcase wheel 09

Everything folds in neatly.

Suitcase wheel 11

The flyer (without the bobbin) slips in at the bottom of the suitcase.

Suitcase wheel 12

It reminds me of a dolls house for grown ups!

Suitcase wheel 13

The previous owner had started spinning this orange wool and packed the rest of the wool top in the parcel so I finished spinning it.

Suitcase wheel 16

I am really happy to be the owner of this wheel as it is a part of the history of where I live. It will be perfect to take on my cruise next year. It’s not a wheel I would use for all my spinning as the bobbins are quite small and will only hold a small amount of spinning but for its compactness and portability, it’s the ideal wheel to take away when you want to do a bit of spinning. And, of course, I am sure it will invite lots of interest and comments from spinners and non-spinners alike!

Suitcase wheel 04

If you have a suitcase wheel, I’d love to hear your thoughts about how often you use it and what you think of it.

My wheel has # 56 stencilled in the inside of the suitcase.

Until next time…