This site collects spinning wheels and ethnographic data about spinning wheels in Estonia, primarily using the collections of the Eesti Rahva Muuseum (Estonian National Museum; ERM), as well as other Estonian archives and museum collections.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this site is currently being built remotely using digital museum collections data, but onsite research into the physical artifacts is also taking place when it is feasible and safe to do so. Additional information is provided by a 1938 questionnaire and a 1940 thesis on spinning wheels and spinning, as well as ethnographic archival records.
While spinning is no longer a common skill throughout Estonia, it does survive in some peripheral locations where traditional culture is strong and vibrant, particularly Setomaa and Kihnu Island. However, even in areas without a living spinning tradition, intact spinning wheels are common and frequently appear for sale on auction sites. As of the 1938 survey, many spinning wheel makers and repairers were still at work, and many extant wheels are labelled with dates from the 1930s.
Vokk is the generic term for a spinning wheel in Estonian. Estonian spinning wheels can be classified in three broad categories:
A spinning wheel that has the drive wheel placed to one side of the flyer mechanism (often called a "Saxony" wheel by English-speaking spinners) is known as kaldvokk (singular). An upright spinning wheel that has the drive wheel placed directly below the flyer mechanism is known as püstvokk. A third type corresponds to great wheels or walking wheels in North America and parts of Europe. According to Josefin Waltin, they are called "långrock (long wheel), fabriksrock (factory wheel), bomullsrock (cotton wheel) and dukrock (cloth wheel) in Sweden"; in Estonia, this type of spinning wheel was known as pikk-vokk, but the two known examples in the ERM collections are now lost. These terms can be used to search this site and the ERM collections online. For this reason, I have not translated these names in individual entries, but I have translated the description for each item.
I have excluded spinning wheels from this database that are explicitly not Estonian according to an inclusive definition, either because they were imported or because they were collected on expeditions abroad. I have included spinning wheels from Estonian diaspora communities and from areas that were part of Estonia in the early 20th century and then were no longer Estonian territory after the country regained independence. I have also excluded spinning wheels when they are so damaged that there is not much left, as often happened during WWII, and those that have no visual data associated with them. The latter category may be addressed later with in-person research, if circumstances permit.
The goal of this site is to provide a comprehensive record of the extensive legacy of spinning wheel production in Estonia. The information here can be used to draw general conclusions about the morphology and distribution of spinning wheels in Estonia, with the ultimate goal of being able to align this information with the distribution of spinning wheel makers and spinning traditions in Estonia. This will result in a better understanding of this important chapter in European textile history.
Mathilde Frances Lind
Upright spinning wheel with unusual spokes
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