1938 Walter Ashford designed a spinning wheel that could be used to make knitting yarn. It had to be aesthetically pleasing, functional, robust, trouble free and yet a simple kitset that could be posted all over New Zealand. The first model was a double drive model, but Walter quickly realised that spinners wanted to change bobbins with ease. So, with the help of his father the Rev. Dudly Ashford, the Ashford scotch tension flyer was developed and patent pending award for its unique design. This revolutionary idea enabled the drive belt to be left on the flyer whorl and it was just a simple matter of releasing the Scotch Tension to remove the bobbin.
The wheels were in great demand during the Second World War to create yarn for woollen socks and caps for the New Zealand Armed Forces. After the war nylon was overtaking wool and spinning. It was over. For the next twenty years spinning slumbered like Sleeping Beauty.
However in 1965 there was a new demand from home spinners who recognised the qualities of pure wool. A new wheel was designed, the Ashford Traditional. This was made in the original Rakaia premises. Spinning groups mushroomed all over New Zealand and orders started to come in from Australia, America and Europe.
A larger factory was constructed in Ashburton. Now with plenty of space, machinery and skilled craftsmen, the manufacture of spinning wheels and looms surged ahead. Ashford have produced over 500,000 spinning wheels and are exporting to over 40 countries.
The key to success has been Ashford’s devotion to quality, reliability and durability. Only the best of raw materials, including the beautiful native New Zealand silver beech hardwood, are used. There is also a continual process of improvement and innovation in design, whilst retaining the aesthetic appeal of a graceful spinning wheel. Incorporating low to high speed whorls, optional single or double belt drives, or optional bulky or “high speed” flyers, spinners now had the ability to produce fine, bulky and novelty yarns from all types of fibres. As spinner, author and tutor Belle Hochberg has written “among my thousands of students, I have never one who didn’t learn how to spin the kind of yard they wanted if they were using an Ashford. They are low-cost, easy trouble-free wheels, that spin all fibres in a wide range of sizes. They soft twist or high twist yarns, fast or leisurely”.
Ashfords has always been a family business and to-day it is under the late Walters son, Richard, who while keeping up the tradition of good workmanship and customer satisfaction, continues to experiment and introduce new products.