Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mystery Item Answer--Weasel

This piece of equipment is used to wind and measure a skein of yarn. One end of the yarn is tied to one of the arms and then it is turned to wind the yarn around the other arms. There are wooden gears inside the box to which the axle is attached. After a certain number of revolutions, the gears will cause a thin piece of wood to slip and produce a loud "pop" or "click". When it pops, you know how many yards you have wound at that point.

I have used several antique weasels over the years and they all pop at a different measurements, so it was evidently up to the maker to decide the length of a skein!

I have heard this item referred to by several different names: skein winder, clock reel, click reel, and a weasel. WAIT A MINUTE! Weasel? Yep! When I was first introduced to this piece of fiber equipment by an elder lady, I was told that it was called a "weasel." Hmmm...weasel. I have also heard that this is one explanation for the song, "Pop, Goes the Weasel".

For a more detailed explanation and some nice photos of the wooden gears inside click here.


  1. Perhaps because of the obscure nature of the lyrics there have been many suggestions for their significance, particularly over the meaning of the phrase 'Pop! goes the weasel', including: that it is a tailor's flat iron, a hatter's tool, a clock reel used for measuring in spinning,[5] a piece of silver plate, or that 'weasel and stoat' is Cockney rhyming slang for 'coat', which is 'popped or pawned' to visit or after visiting the Eagle pub, that it is a mishearing of weevil or vaisselle, that it was a nickname of James I, and that 'rice' and 'treacle' are slang terms for potassium nitrate and charcoal and that therefore the rhyme refers to the gunpowder plot.
    Other than correspondences, none of these theories has any additional evidence to support it, and some can be discounted because of the known history of the song.[1] Iona and Pete Opie observed that, even at the height of the dance craze in the 1850s no-one seemed to know what the phrase meant.[1]
    It is probable that the "Eagle" mentioned in the song's third verse refers to The Eagle freehold pub at the corner of Shepherdess Walk and City Road mentioned in the same verse.[6][7] The Eagle was an old pub in City Road, London, which was re-built as a music hall in 1825, demolished in 1901, and then rebuilt as a public house.[8] This public house bears a plaque with this interpretation of the nursery rhyme and the pub's history.
    Dave K

  2. Dave,

    Thank you for sharing all of the great information! "Pop! Goes the Weasel" is one of my favorite songs from my childhood.

    A few years ago, I was singing this tune to some children at the living history park that I worked at and someone commented that they had never heard the verse that I sung. That opened up a whole discussion with the people who where there. Over the intervening years, I have asked many people which version that they knew and very seldom do I encounter anyone that sings it quite the way I do. (Except for the people from back home!)

    I have lusted after one of these Clock Reels or "Weasels" ever since I first learned to spin. One day, I hope to find one at a good price! :)



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