Antique Yarn Winder

Terry Hurley
Orange yarn

Whether you spin, knit or simply love the look of antique yarn winders, these utilitarian items of the past are fun to collect and functional to use.

Antique Yarn Winders

Perhaps you have browsed through a flea market or searched through rooms at an estate sale and came upon a strange looking wooden item. As you look at it, you try to figure out its purpose. As you wonder what it was used for, you might find yourself saying softly. "What could this be?" If you have, you are not alone as many people ask themselves the same question the first time they see one of these primitive tools.

Popular Names for Yarn Winders

Although there are several different styles of antique and vintage yarn winders, antique dealers and collectors generally classify them all in the same category referring to them as yarn winders or using one of the other many names of these useful antiques. Yarn winders are also known as:

  • Niddy noddy
  • Knitty Knotty
  • Nostepine
  • Spinners weasel
  • Clockenhen
  • Clock reel
  • Swift
  • Skein winder
  • Ball winder

Common Types of Antique and Vintage Yarn Winders

A niddy noddy is the simplest and most basic type of yarn winder. It is made up of a center post and two attached cross pieces, one at each end of the center piece. The yarn is then wound around the niddy noddy by hand.

Another type of yarn winder resembles a ship's wheel. This type of yarn winder has:

  • A base
  • A vertical shaft
  • Multiple arms or spokes with winding spools on the ends
  • Wooden gears
  • A clock, counter or clicker

A folding yarn winder resembles the insides of an umbrella

Wood Used for Yarn Winders

  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Ash
  • Pine
  • Birch
  • Poplar

Antique and Vintage Yarn Winder Images

Clicking on the following links takes you to images of different types of yarn winders.

How an Antique or Vintage Yarn Winder Works

Although different types of yarn winders varied somewhat in how they worked, a common style measured the yarn it wound in loops with a circumference of seventy-two inches. It took the yard winder forty turns to make a bundle, or knot, of yarn eighty yards in length. When the yarn winder completed forty turns of the wheel, its spinner made a little knot in the yarn. This process was repeated seven times, making one skein of yarn measuring 560 yards in length.

The Popping of the Weasel

It is believed that the children's nursery rhyme, Pop Goes the Weasel, came about as the result of the popping sound of the yarn winder's weasel. According to the story:

  • The spinner on the yarn winner was called the weasel
  • The metal pins on the wooden gear was the monkey
  • The monkey chases around the wheel until the proper number of revolutions took place and then it crawls out of site under the wood.
  • When it releases it makes a POP sound.
  • Children stood and watched as the yarn winder spun the yarn and were surprised when it made the popping sound.

Decorative and Useful

Many modern day knitters and spinners use vintage or antique yarn winders that they found at auctions, flea markets or antique shops. Others use reproductions of olden day yarn spinners, preferring them to the modern versions often made of plastic. However, you do not have to be crafty to love these unique antique collectibles. Displaying a yarn winder from yesteryear in your home makes an interesting and unique addition to your home's décor. If you are a collector, then as you know, you can never have too many niddy noddies.

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Antique Yarn Winder