Stitching, Sleuthing, and the Cuckolds


It is sunny now, but much of January was cold, cloudy, and icy.


Not inviting for outside activities.  But there were wild turkey tracks,


brilliant skies,


windy blue water breaking up the ice,


bluebirds in the apple trees,


bluebirds checking out the swallow boxes,


and I was happily engrossed in sewing baby quilts for my niece’s twins.  Transforming fabrics I love into fox and hedgehog faces.


Those faces greeted me every morning for weeks and I admit that I felt a pang when I wrapped up the quilts for their new home.



I finished the quilts just in time for my niece’s baby shower in Connecticut. There were several quilters at the shower (including my niece) and I know the quilts will be well-used and well-loved.   Twins.  My best friends when I was young were twins.  How sweet to welcome twins into the family.

After handing off my quilty creatures, I stayed overnight with my brother and sister-in-law and came home with a new treasure–another antique spinning wheel. This wheel is personal. It has been in my mother’s Connecticut family for generations.

IMG_1131.jpgWhen I was growing up, the wheel stood at the corner of the living room, a decorative antique curiosity. It was a petite, pretty wheel, with black striping and a whorl of flax. When I was 16 or 17, I became interested in spinning and weaving. The wheel must have been in decent shape then because I set it up with a drive band and learned to spin on it. Soon after, I left home, went off to college, and then Alaska. The wheel stayed behind. I continued to spin with a drop spindle, but that also was left behind on one of our cross country moves.

I went decades without spinning. So, it seemed serendipitous that after retirement and our move to Maine, we spotted a neglected old wheel in our town’s only antique store. Cleaning that grime-encrusted wheel to bring out her lovely, glowing wood was rewarding on its own. But to get her sweetly spinning again was a real thrill.


The Maine wheel has similar, but simpler, lines than the Connecticut wheel.

There is something about these old wheels that captivates me. I am not the slightest bit “spiritual,” whatever that means, having apparently received the skeptic gene instead. Yet, in the tactile, soothing, rhythmic occupation of spinning, it almost seems as if the wheel has a personality, infused from the generations of people–probably women–who touched and worked it before me.


And, in fact, the wheel’s quirks and feel today may be a result of the way those women spun.

To me, spinning is a lovely, soothing occupation. I imagine women, maybe old, with weakening eyesight and muscles, gently working the wheel, grateful to sit with the musical whir and clutter-tap sound of a task so familiar as to be second nature. But who knows. Maybe the spinners, old or young, were gritting their teeth in frustration as they had to sit inside, housebound on a glorious day with hours of tedious, endless, mindless spinning. Whatever they felt, I will never know. All the spinners are long dead, but the wheel remains.  And the imprint of their feet.


My brother and his wife have taken good care of the old family wheel. I had been thinking of getting it spinning again. I took a look at it while I was staying overnight with them in Connecticut. A flyer arm had broken off, one of the leather maiden bearings was missing, but it seemed to otherwise be in good shape.


So, we decided to get it fixed and spinning again. I wrapped the wheel for a trip to Maine. It is probably the first time the wheel has left Connecticut in 200 years.


Once I got home, I decided to see what I could find out about the wheel’s maker, “J Platt,” whose name is prominent on the front side. What followed was two days totally immersed in internet research up and down various family trees–my own and those of Connecticut spinning wheel makers.


I immediately found a Pennsylvania woman with an antique spinning wheel blog, who several years ago had restored a J. Platt wheel almost identical to mine. She had tentatively concluded that the wheel was made by a Josiah Platt, who married Sarah Sanford in 1758. Sarah’s brother Samuel made spinning wheels.

My sleuthing–I became obsessed for days–turned up another possibility. There are a few well-documented Connecticut spinning wheel makers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Samuel Sanford, John Sturdevant, Solomon Plant, and Silas Barnum, for example. I looked at examples of their wheels and found that the lettering and placement of Silas Barnum’s name on the wheel was almost identical to J. Platt’s. Interesting. Silas Barnum’s mother was a Sturdevant and his sister married wheel-maker John Sturdevant, so there was a family wheel-making connection. And Silas’s wife, was–BINGO–a Platt. Martha Platt, with a brother named James Platt, who was born in 1775, just a year after Silas, and living in the same town. So, my bet is on James.


Cleaned and beeswaxed.

I discovered that antique wheel obsession is not an uncommon malady. There is a Spinning Wheel Sleuth newsletter, a similar group on Facebook, and various other on-line resources. I have also been trying to find out more about my Maine wheel. It has simpler lines than the Connecticut wheel, a result of Shaker influence. But I don’t think it is a Shaker wheel. The research continues …

Yesterday we carefully wrapped the Connecticut wheel again. I unwound the wool from the bobbin. I had spun that wool “in the grease,” meaning that the fleece had not been washed, over forty years ago. It was pretty stiff and crusty now–more like a dense twine than yarn. I removed the distaff with its flax, which is brittle and musty-smelling, likely a hundred years or so old.


We loaded up the wheel and Capp and drove to Wiscasset to drop the wheel off with Mudd Sharrigan for repairs. Mudd is a master and I feel fortunate to have him nearby.

Since we were in Wiscasset, we decided to explore the Boothbay Region and to check out a supposedly dog-friendly beach. The beach was a disappointment–short, narrow, and right on the road.


Capp was entranced with the smells.


Lots of stinky stuff.



He started to venture into the water, and then danced back.


The water was frigid, so we we didn’t encourage him. Plenty of time for swimming come spring.



Boothbay Harbor is charming. Really charming. And it has the feel of money. Some Mainers refer to the “Volvo line,” a north/south demarcation below which the Volvo/BMW/Mercedes/Audi-driving tourist and second-home people from lower New England states tend to cluster. The area below the line just feels different. More money on display, more high-end shops and restaurants, more people who exude entitlement, and more impatient horn-honking drivers. Boothbay is right about on the line. Midcoast, where we live, remains above the line. Just barely.

From Boothbay Harbor, we drove to Southport Island and Cape Newhagen. Off the Cape, with its tricky waters, lies the Cuckolds Light. Such a name. The light sits on the Cuckolds, two small rocky outcrops in a string of reefs and shoals.


The name supposedly comes from a point of land on the Thames River granted by King John to the cuckolded husband of one of his lovers. Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised, with the Maine dry humor, if there wasn’t more to the name than a longing for the Thames River.


Name aside, Cuckolds Light is notable for the rockiness of its underpinnings. Nothing there but the light and the rock. It must have been a limiting world for the lightkeeper and his family. The light was decommissioned as a working lighthouse in the 1970s. Now it is the Inn at Cuckold’s Light, a place of “pampered luxury,” which is available for about $1500 a night. I guess that puts the Boothbay area firmly below the Volvo line.




One of the reasons we moved to Maine was because it had “weather.” No monotonous parade of days, one just like another. Instead, here we are treated to wildly careening weather moods, a bipolar medley, where an afternoon can seem to change seasons in just a few hours. These past weeks have been weather-filled, shaping our days around the world outside.


We had too many days with low-ceiling clouds, reminding me of Anchorage winters, dark and gray. It’s my least favorite weather, making me feel a bit gray myself. Even the starlings looked a bit depressed.

img_0819Of course, being Maine, the gray didn’t last long.  The skies cleared, with brilliant sunrises, acting like rose-colored glasses on the morning.


On winter solstice, the sunrise was particularly spectacular, with a light pillar, created by ice crystals in the air.


It started smallish and very red.  Soon the pillar grew much taller and turned golden, with the ice making a partial rainbow over to the left.


Then a jet, with its contrail, appeared to fly right through the pillar.  A nice way to mark the return of light.


The clear days brought frigid temperatures.  Too cold for photographs. I tried in vain to get pictures of the cardinals, brilliant on the snow and all fluffed up red against the cold. But my fingers gave out before the camera-shy birds ventured close.

img_0909We had several heavy snow dumps, silencing and softening, challenging our snowblower, and making lace of our fence.


One night brought a nor’easter, a stormy turmoil of warm Atlantic and cold polar winds, making the house creak and groan through the dark hours and leaving, mysteriously, caterpillars on the pristine morning snow.


Where they came from, I don’t know. But some were still alive and crawling futilely across the frigid crust. Capp was fascinated. He may have eaten one. **Update** the caterpillar mystery was solved by arlingwoman.  They are Noctua pronuba, or winter cutworms–a nasty garden and agricultural pest.  Yuck.


The snow was followed by rain, then a quick temperature plunge, which transformed twigs and berries into icy works of art.



More gray days, more frigid days, and then–boom (the winds actually were somewhat booming) –today we had a January thaw. In Alaska, we called the warm southern winter-melting winds Chinooks. I don’t think the thawing winds have a specific name here, but they feel like Chinooks, transforming winter into a brief spring in a blink.


My walk today was warm, blue and blustery overhead, mud-filled at feet level, and lichen-filled at eye level.


Somehow the warm weather and sun seemed to make the lichens and moss pop with map-like landscapes and fractal faces.


As we roll with the weather outside, we remain busy–too busy actually–with hunting for another dog, pup-training, quilting, spinning, tree and seed ordering, library volunteering, spring planning, snow-clearing, fire-wood gathering, cooking, and winter maintenance.  Maybe, just maybe, we will slow down for a month in February.