Yarn reels were used until the home manufacture of woven textiles was rendered obsolete by commercial production. The large quantities of yarn typically needed by the homemaker created a demand for a device that would measure and wind yarn into consistent skeins for later use in knitting and weaving. Many reels indicated when a skein was complete by means of a weasel – a contraption of a gear, pin, or wooden spring that would click when the round was finished (hence the phrase “pop goes the weasel”). The circumference of the reel was about six and a half feet. Forty rounds equaled one knot, and ten knots equaled one skein. Reels made in Connecticut often had a vase-shaped splat to which the weasel was attached. The maker of this piece transformed the basic vase into a decorated human figure. By about 1850, home production had decreased substantially, and reels of this type were no longer necessary.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Yarn Reel," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 340.