When You Spot a Unicorn: Betty Roberts Spinning Wheel

I first saw one of Betty Roberts’ wheels in 2007 in a Google Search. She uses exotic woods to make her double accelerator-wheel style spinning machines. What makes these wheels truly unique is that Betty painstakingly inlays each wheel with beautiful natural flora, insects, and even rattlesnake tails and porcupine quills she finds near her home in Oroville, Washington. Still today there are very few pictures that can be found on the internet of these wheels. There are only 2 short (less than 1min)  video clips that show one of the wheels in action.

Betty Roberts spinning wheels are true unicorns!

I was an instant admirer but I knew there was no way I would get one. There was, and still is no straightforward way to even inquire about getting one. Most people seem to get in touch with Betty, who is reported to be in her late 70’s by email through a friend or an ad posting on Craiglist or Ravelry. According to the Puget Sound Knappers website where Betty is a member she produced at least 5 wheels as recently as 2016. Last month by chance I saw a posting on Facebook for one of Betty’s castle wheels (looked like the Aspen wheel posted on the PSK website) but when I contacted the seller she decided that she did not want to sell anymore. I was bummed but completely understood .

Last month I was checking out the Ravelry Rhinbeck forum sale items (I do this for the fun of it) even though I wasn’t planning on going. Someone made a short post about selling a Betty Roberts Pinwheel wondering if there was interest. This could have easily been overlooked because there were no pictures. I emailed the seller and SCORE!!! I’ve got a Betty.


Betty Roberts “Pinwheel” 2015


It’s a small castle “Pinwheel” signed 2015.


Betty Roberts “Pinwheel” 2015

I am posting this mostly because there are so few pictures on the web of these unicorns. They are true works of art.

Betty Roberts "Pinwheel" 2015 Floral and insect inlay detail

Betty Roberts "Pinwheel" 2015Floral and insect inlay detail

Natural flora and insect inlay detail


There are even Butterflies!!


I did make a few tweaks. I found the double drive take-up to be too finicky for the lacy weight yarn I like to spin so I converted it to scotch tension using some eye hooks and a wooden peg (a golf tee works too stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye).


Converting a double drive wheel to scotch tension is as easy as drilling a few holes and inserting some eyehooks. (use a golf tee as a tension knob if you don’t have a wooden peg)

This set-up works out better because I find that the flyer assembly is more quiet (due to the 2-wheel pully action it is not whisper quiet) and stable with the tension screwed all the way down instead of raised.

I also found that the back of the treadle rubbed a little where it connects to the footman so I sanded it a little to give it a rounder edge.

Perhaps I will post a video of this wheel and action some day.

Oh, and one more thing I admire about Betty Roberts is the t-shirt she wore while showcasing her wheels. On her shirt she sports one of my favorite bible verses Proverbs 31:13 ESV “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands”.

Glory to God! I must say there is something truly special about taking raw material directly from God, the provider’s hand and putting it to use.