Crochet & Fiber Arts, Domesticity, Spinning

Round the Spinning Wheel

One of my newest hobbies, something I’ve wanted to learn to do for the longest time, is spinning wool into yarn on a spinning wheel.  I’ve always been fascinated by the history of these wheels, and it’s amazing to look back and know that except for perhaps the past 100 years, almost all fabric has been made (most often by women’s hands) on spinning wheels.  They would laugh, those women of the old days, to see how utterly amateur I am with one of these.

Spinning Wheel - wheel
This one is an Ashford Traditional

My goal today was to spin a lighter yarn.  Up until now, all my spinning has alternated (sometimes inch by inch!) between worsted and bulky (and erm, super-bulky).   I think part of the challenge of spinning will be to let go and let the yarn happen by itself.  I realized, as I spun, that when I relaxed and felt the yarn twist itself, rather than trying to keep in mind everything I am supposed to be doing, the yarn became more even, the spinning became almost meditational, and the yarn sort of spun itself.  Not so easy for someone who’s a little OCD about these things, of course, but it’s a process.  A lot of that is going to depend on having the yarn ready to go before spinning, rather than trying to even it out while spinning.  I still haven’t figured out that “triangle” that that you’re supposed to have in your other hand while spinning, and I keep changing my lead hand, but I feel like, today, I actually spun some yarn instead of lumps and threads.

But it’s not even so much the act of spinning the yarn that fascinates me; it’s the connection with so many of my foremothers.  Here was a chore as daily to them as loading the dishwasher is for me; an act of absolute necessity for the survival of their family (with no fabric, there were no clothes to wear, no warmth of blankets to keep warm, no socks, etc).  And it’s so ironic to think that what was probably often seen as a tedious burden to them is now viewed as a fun hobby today.  But in a way, it also brings my mind back to simpler times when there wasn’t a need for walk-in closets or credit cards at department stores.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful to be living in today’s modern times.  But it’s these little links through history that tie the present and past together.  The sort of links that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Spinning Wheel - wool

 

There’s a whole sensory experience when it comes to spinning the yarn as well.  Even though I have never owned a sheep in my life – or known anyone who has – the rich, earthy smell of the barnyard comes through the wet wool when setting it.  And as I hang it up to dry, it holds the promise of a project to come.   It’s definitely not perfect, but I’m at the point where I’m comfortable enough with it to say I’m actually in the process of learning to spin.  My mind is flooded with all sorts of ideas for yarn – colorways to dye, materials to use, weights to try… but baby steps will get me there.

Right now, it will take practice, practice, practice.   And so I’ve been setting aside time each day, just as so many women of history have done, to spin on their wheels.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Carrie says:

    Oh, love this wool! I was thinking of getting an Ashford too. Spinning is definitely a lost art. Post some of your finished yarn stuff. :)

  2. Mary says:

    I’m a newer spinner too! I’ve had my Ashford Kiwi for a month and am spinning daily to get better.
    Other than geeking out that I’m actually making yarn I adore that connection to the past. :)
    I’m just now hand processing a whole Shetland blend sheep fleece. We are lucky here in the greater Indy area to have local resources for these things. :)

    1. mellie says:

      Ah! The Kiwi was on my short list before I settled on the Traditional. I know, it’s amazing isn’t it? We have some farms not too far from here, but my mother-in-law’s brother breeds alpacas in Texas, so he sends boxes full of fiber here and there, too. It’s just like yarn, I can never get enough :)

  3. Hi! Saw the photo on Flickr and had to chime in. I’ve been spinning for almost 30 years and got my start on an Ashford Traditional too. It’s a great first wheel. I now also own a Schacht Matchless and a Ashford Country Spinner for doing my crazy art yarns. Have fun on the journey!

    1. mellie says:

      Oh, how wonderful! It was a process of elimination (and also of luck!) since I had no wheels nearby to try before I purchased one! I’m not too familiar with Schacht, but the Country Spinner looks like such a neat wheel – I’d love to try one of those someday. And just to satisfy my old-fashioned love of fairy tales, I hope to eventually find myself a Great Wheel of old. I wonder how many of them are still functional?

  4. I have wanted a spinning wheel for a long time, they are pricey though even used ones. I cannot afford to purchase one, they can run hundreds of dollars! They remind me of Rumpelstiltskin, and I really like antiques just something I find cool about connecting with the past and to be able to make your own yarns is fascinating, though I don’t own sheep or lambs so have no clue where one would purchase the wool at a reasonable cost.

    1. mellie says:

      yes – they are pricey. I was lucky enough to have friends and family members pitch in for mine, and got it as a gift during a sale. I got it with unfinished wood and stained it (eventually) myself much later. I’ve seen them from time to time at flea markets and secondhand stores, though, and would probably pick one up there if I didn’t have this one! As for the wool, oh I’d love to have my own sheep some day. I have a relative who has a llama farm in Texas who will occasionally send me boxes of wool, and if you’re willing to get your hands (very) dirty, farms – around here anyway – will sell raw, unskirted wool for $5 a for a garbage bag full. But my local yarn store will often sell local sheep wool for a fair amount of money, and there are a good amount of alpaca farms nearby me as well that I think would have fair prices. Also, if there are any spinning guilds nearby you, they often have resources on where to get or at least look for wool near your area, too! :) I hope you get yours one day!

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