Looking out of my Shop Window at the incredible view across the fields of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the shadow of Pen-y-ghent and Sheep out of every aspect I started to wonder if there were any local Spinners. I googled to see where the nearest were located and found none.
I started to wonder, who was the last person in my family who last hand spun yarn using a Spinning Wheel for clothing out of necessity and because it was as common place as a Sewing Machine was in nearly every home during the 1930s and 40s. Who was that? Where did they live? How long ago was it? Who taught them?
I am fascinated by the Age Old Arts and Crafts and have a curiosity to explore them. Point of reference being my starting place of having more enthusiasm than ability and Know How. However, the time was right and I am definitely in the right place so liberally apply enthusiasm and let’s get Spinning. As a lovely lady at Spinning group Doris gave me a lovely encouraging smile and said “you have got lots of enthusiasm”.
I placed a post on ‘Crafters Soup’ facebook page for local Spinners and the reply was Wesley’s Mom is a Spinner. Wesley’s Mom is a lady called Josie and lives in the next town to me 7 miles away, rurally speaking practically next door.
I telephoned Josie the next day and Wesley drove Josie to meet me at the Shop and we had tea and a chat about Spinning and she looked over my Spinning Wheel which I had bought on line and placed in my Shop window. This was bought as a decorative piece for show as it was small, antique and has pride of place. Josie was very kind and commented that it was very nice although it does have a few issues and things missing. In fact, it has also been ravaged by wood worm here and there too. Let’s just say that it is a Character piece.
Pictured here are two of Josie’s sheep. One of which (Drifter seen below chilling in his stable on a fresh bed of shavings he shares with a few other sheep and Donkeys) was being drove down the lane among a flock of other sheep (mules a cross breed between a Swaledale and a Blue faced Leicester bred for the meat trade) on route to fulfil their destiny of a relatively short lived life prior to being served at table when he decided as a career choice he had other ideas.
He jumped over the wall to join Josie’s sheep instead and has never looked back. Josie alerted the local farming fraternity as to the eloper but no-one came forward to claim him. One very lucky Sheep indeed. He resides with three Donkeys and three other Sheep and enjoys the odd polo now and then and has lived a very long and privileged life.
Josie invited me along to the Local Spinning Group based in Settle! Not everything is on Google, who knew? I was welcomed into the Group and as a Newbie found it invaluable. Josie provided me with a Spinning Wheel on loan as well as everything I needed to get started. This also included some lovely batts of washed and carded (combed into a light and fluffy wool candy floss) for spinning from her own pet Jacob sheep tended and raised by Josie in Settle.
It is quite an art just getting the Wheel to spin. I very excitedly exclaimed to my Husband “Look, I’m doing it, I’m doing it”. (No fleece or yarn involved at this stage) He looked over and said “No, you are not, you are going the wrong way, you are spinning the wheel anti clock wise and not clockwise”. Getting terribly frustrated he helpfully explained to a woman who still struggles with left and right never mind clock wise and aniti clockwise “Righty tighty / lefty loosey” Light Bulb Moment! Made all the difference in the world.
Having overcome the mechanics of spinning the wheel in a desired direction I was then further challenged with bits literally flying off across the living room. Bobbins at first, until I realised that the string attached to a spring (tension) had fallen off. Then the flyer (a two pronged fork construction with hooks attached) started to take flight and was also flung far and wide. I was in despair as despite its name that was definitely not the function. It was fine whilst the wheel was motionless but as soon as the wheel started to spin it took flight. I had a sleepless night worrying about how I was going to explain to Josie that I had broken her Spinning Wheel. The next morning I just happen to place my hand on an upright wooden part of the wheel and it moved! Ha Ha! Phew. I told Josie about it and she just smiled and said “It’s alright, you can’t break it, it’s all just about adjustment”.
My next challenge was trying not to let the whole fleece disappear into the orifice in it’s entirety and me with it and wrap around the bobbin. There were many hours of grappling with it rather than as I had observed people doing at Spinning group feed it effortlessly and often whilst chatting and not even looking whilst doing it.
Another light bulb moment I was trying to pull and tease the wool forward when actually it is the complete opposite! It is pulled back (drafted), and the tension released by index finger and thumb allowing the twist to travel along and from then onwards Spinning was a lot more relaxing and pleasurable.
Pictured below my first knit from my first hand spun yarn made for my Husband and I went on to make three more for the men in my family for Christmas. Could well come under the Category of “You can’t buy these in the Shops” and thank goodness for that! But Hey, we all have to start to somewhere, right? I wonder what my ancestor the last Spinner in our family would make of it?
So, that was the process and end result but…
The journey and experience totally took me by surprise. The people I met I found inspirational, encouraging and fascinating. Not only that, but now I have half an eye on weaving as well as this seems to be a natural addition to Spinning. There are countless techniques to the yarn and wool that can be spun and weaved.
I attended a meeting at the local Guild for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers www.wsd.org.uk and intend to become a member. I received a very warm welcome. I was very impressed with the show and tell and the items which had been made by some of the more experienced members. I kept my hat under my hat, as it were.
I still have a lot to learn and to perfect in the art of Spinning. My Spin nosediving in freefall with flying debris is thankfully behind me and I guess my output now is towards the end of Utilitarian but I can build upon and improve on that. On driving around I now find myself looking at the various sheep in the fields and saying to myself “Oh, I bet that fleece would be good to spin”. It is not at all unusual for me to acquire the odd fleece here and there and can be seen driving around with them in the back of my car. I had to draw the line though when a lady at Guild was downsizing and asked me if I was interested in a couple of Alpacas.
I have been known to return home on occasion and casually inform my Husband of a Giant Rabbit, cats, dogs, a pony and a couple of horses, although not all at the same time (except the horses). Sheep and Alpacas, well never say never.
Josie firmly denies having been any kind of Mentor saying that she only got me started and I taught myself. However, she is my Mentor as well as everyone at Spinning Group and Guild and I a Mentee. A Mentor helps you to see the destination but not necessarily provides you with a detailed map of how to get there was the definition. Which is arguably the best way to learn and grow. So to everyone who has helped and encouraged me, from loaning of equipment, books, smiles and words of encouragement to jumping on my wheel for a few moments and sorting out my tension and applying some much needed oil from their tool box to alleviate my laboured wheel and squeaky treadle peddle thank you.
Did I ever think that I would live in the middle of no-where, at the foot of a mountain and find myself Spinning? No, of course not. Well, you don’t do you?