Spinning, Uncategorized

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.


10 thoughts on “When You Spot a Unicorn: Betty Roberts Spinning Wheel”

    1. IKR, I’m just about finished with my 1st spinning project on it. It’s fun to watch the 2 wheels going. My poor loom has been neglected lately. I need some of your weaving mojo. lol

    1. If she is still producing wheels it is very sparingly. The best way to find one is to join the Betty Roberts group on Ravelry. Enthusiasts post any sightings there. A wheel got posted last month and it was scooped up in a matter of hours. You may also post an ISO.

  1. I have a Betty Roberts wheel, as well as a custom spinning chair from Betty. (I live outside of Oroville, WA) I have photos and videos of it on my website and FB page. I also am lucky enough to borrow her books on spinning and natural dyeing, and get to visit and chat with her pretty regularly. I’d highly recommend getting in touch with her, she’d love to know where her wheels have gotten to, and see what you’re spinning on it!

    1. How Cool! I could not view from the website but am now following on Instagram!!! Your work is so beautiful and that gorgeous wheel!! Thank you so much for stopping through. Mrs. Betty is such a legend. I hope to meet her someday. Her artistry is a true gift to the world.

  2. I just discovered Betty Roberts’ beautiful wheels this morning … I am smitten, fascinated, and totally in love! Thanks for posting this article, Melvenea … I hope to find one of her wheels now! ❤

    1. I know that feeling ☺ I hope one pops up for you soon. These wheels are breath-taking. Be sure to subscribe to the Betty Roberts Ravelry group and do regular Craigslist searches in the Washington area. That’s how many are found.

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