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Garnås wheel still spinning after 200 years


Fri, Sep 13th, 2002
Posted in

February 4, 2002

Inheriting a 200-year-old Garnås family spinning wheel from my Grandmother, Stella (Bårdsgård) Nelson, was exhilarating. Having myself been an avid handspinner for years, I could visualize what the assembled spinning wheel would look like from the cardboard box full of blue colored parts.

The three-legged Saxon spinning wheel is a double-drive type that can be easily disassembled, transported and reassembled. While reassembling the wheel, I discovered that "OSSB" had been pressed into each individual piece of wood.

I visited the Hallingdal Folkemuseum in Nes, Norway last summer hoping to determine what the "OSSB" represented. A staff researcher found that the initials belonged to Ola Syverson Breie, a carpenter in Ål i Hallingdal that built wheels. According to the Ål Bygde Soge, a district history book, the spinning wheel was constructed in the late 1700's or early 1800's.

In 1833, my Great-Great-Great-Grandparents, Bjørn Olson Sata and Sidsel Nielsdatter Nubgarden most likely moved the spinning wheel from their farm in Ål to the Gårnas farm near Nes i Hallingdal. They lived on the Garnås farm for 20 years until they immigrated to America in 1853, where they used Garnås for their last name.

The spinning wheel came to America in Sidsel Nielsdatters Garnås family trunk. The trunk was painted by famous Norwegian rosemalers, Herbrand Sata and his son, Nils Herbrandson Bæra, who were relatives of Bjørn Sata. Across the front are the words "Sidsel Niels Datter Fod (born) 1803 Malet (painted) 1823." This distinctive Hallingdal trunk is owned by my Aunt Glorianne Knox of Mabel, MN.

Sheep to shawl

Until about 1300, yarn was spun on a handheld spindle. The spinning wheel made its European appearance during the 14th century. The Saxon wheel was introduced about 150 years later and became an important part of everyday living in Norway.

The Saxon spinning wheel was built for productivity by enlarging the drive wheel. A normal day's work can yield about 8,000 yards of single ply yarn. The blue paint on the treadle (foot pedal) of my spinning wheel was extremely worn, indicative of years of spinning by my ancestors.

I was fortunate to receive a picture of my Great-Grandmother, Sidsel (Bearson) Bårdsgård plying yarn. Plying is a process of re-spinning two or more yarns together. The yarn can then be used for knitting, crocheting, or weaving.

To get the wool from the "sheep to the shawl," the wool is first sheared from the sheep and then sorted to remove the undesirable fleece. Wool is usually washed and then air-dried. It is then carded, which separates, fluffs, and aligns the fibers. The carded wool is then spun into a single yarn. The author has taken part in several "sheep to shawl" spinning team exhibitions that included shearing, carding, spinning, plying, and weaving the yarn into a shawl.
Garnås farm saga

According to ancient sagas, Hallingdal became a kingdom about the year 800. The first king was "King Hadding," who lived at Ål in the northern part of Hallingdal. His son, Hadding, married a daughter of the Chieftain of Garnås and succeeded him as king. The younger King Hadding lived on the Garnås farm near Nes, giving him an incredible view of the southern part of the Hallingdal valley. The name Hallingdal thus came from King Hadding, the name changing over time from Hadding to Haddingjadal to Hallingdal.

In 13, about one-half of the Hallingdal population died from the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) that had spread from Asia to Europe. In 1359-1360, there was a smallpox epidemic that was followed by two more deadly epidemics. During this time in history, spinning and everyday life, as the Norwegians knew it, came to an abrupt standstill. Crops withered in the fields, farm animals wandered unattended, and panic prevailed.


The discovery of iron in Hallingdal brought explorers to settle and farm the valley. With the production of quality iron, these Hallings could make farm tools and begin trade with other areas. In exchange for salt and fish, the Hallings also supplied iron to the Vikings, who hammered it into their tools and weapons.

Iron and coal were extracted on the Garnås farm leaving deep pits in the ground. Utilizing their resources, the Hallings then used these empty pits to trap wolves, reindeer, and moose. The pits were in use up to the 1400-1500's on the Garnås farm.

Garnås meteorite

About 650 million years ago, there were dramatic events that took place on what was to became the Garnås farm. A meteorite, with the diameter of about 800 feet and a speed of about 600 miles an hour hit the area. The explosion was enormous with an equivalent power equal to several thousand bombs.

A meteorite crater was formed with a diameter of about threemiles. The meteorite itself was vaporized and the rocks below the floor of the crater were shattered. A type of rock called breccia was formed due to the fragments being pressed and welded so hard together. Most of this new solid rock was full of angular fragments.

Over the next millions of years, the rivers and glaciers changed the topography exposing the breccia far below the base of the original crater. However, it wasn't until 1941 that a geologist noticed the unusual breccia rock and named it Gardnos breccia after the Garnås farm it was located on. It was called Garnås breccia in the local area.

The ancestral wheel has been been passed down many generations from Bjørn and Sidsel, to their son, Engebret (Garnås) Bearson; to his daughter, Sidsel (Bearson) Bårdsgård; and finally to her daughter, Stella (Bårdsgård) Nelson, my grandmother. The Garnås wheel has been spinning for more than 200 years and still no generations have spun straw into gold. Pehaps that strange little medieval man, Rumplestiltskin, will appear and help this Garnås granddaughter with her spinning.

Deb Nelson Gourley is a layout editor at the Journal. She was raised in Amherst, and is writing a book about her Norwegian heritage. She can be reached at Gourleydeb@aol.com

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