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Log Cabin Living: Spinning Wheel

Artifacts from 19th Century Life

Written by Madeline Teddy, Museum Intern

Edited for publication by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

The Log Cabin Living: Artifacts from 19th Century Life exhibit at Job Carr Cabin Museum encourages visitors to take a closer look at more than 20 objects in the museum's collection.

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A close-up image of the horizontal spindle on the spinning wheel at Job Carr Cabin Museum.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, most households had a spinning wheel, and many women engaged in the household chore of spinning wool to create yarn for knitting. Some families raised sheep for wool, with men shearing the wool and women cleaning and carding it. Carding involved combing the wool to separate and align the fibers before twisting them into yarn. The drop spindle, comprising a spindle and a round disk with a hook at the top to hold the wool, was an early tool for spinning wool into yarn. The spinner would rotate the drop spindle, and the twist would move up the fibers, creating yarn. While drop spindles were portable, they could have been more efficient.

Watch how fibers can be created using a spindle.

Around four or five hundred years ago, the spinning process became more accessible by adding a wheel to the spindle, extending the spinning time. Larger wheels, known as "great wheels" or "walking wheels," could turn faster. Using a walking wheel, the spinner had to stand and move back and forth while spinning. One hand turned the wheel, and the other held the fibers at a specific angle to ensure proper twisting on and off the spindle, creating yarn. Despite its size, the great wheel was lightweight and easy to dismantle, making it suitable for transport on the Oregon Trail.

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The Great Wheel on display at Job Carr Cabin Museum.

The spinning wheel in the cabin, donated by Michele and Dan Heidt in 2013, was built between 1809 and 1814 in a rural religious community in Alfred, Maine. Up to 700 similar wheels were made in the Shaker community. The spinning wheel's arrival at Puget Sound is uncertain, but family lore says that it came by wagon train across the Oregon Trail.

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A volunteer demonstrates a spinning wheel at a Job Carr Cabin Museum community event.

Spinning wool was lengthy and repetitive, prompting women to recite rhymes and sing songs to alleviate boredom. With urbanization and the rise of factories in the United States, fewer women began spinning fibers to create yarn.

Take a closer look at the Museum's spinning wheel in this short video:


Coleman, Lynn. “Spinning Wheel .” 19th Century Historical Tidbits, Historical Tidbits, 24 Sept. 2016,

Flagg, Nancy, and Mary Bowlby. “Women’s Work: Textiles at the Museum.” Job Carr Cabin Museum, Job Carr Cabin Museum, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Flagg, Nancy. “Women’s Work: Creating Textiles on the Frontier.” Job Carr Cabin Museum, Job Carr Cabin Museum, summer 2012,

“Great Wheel.” American Centuries, Memorial Hall Museum Online, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Wells, Kathy. “Kathryn of the Hills’ Spinning PageE.” Kathryn of the Hills, Kathy Wells, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

About the Author

Madeline Teddy completed an internship with Job Carr Cabin Museum in Fall 2023. She was a graduate of University of British Columbia majoring in history and classical Near Eastern religious studies. She hoped to take her studies further and become a museum curator.