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This will be the year of the spinning wheel.

Here’s how it’s come about….

Just before Christmas there was a spinning wheel at the local auction. It appeared to be in good condition, if a little dusty. The fact that 2 bobbins were tied onto the frame with string (plus the one with a little wool from a never finished project still on the flyer) was a good sign. A bid (not too high) was left on preview day. And a couple of days later home it came. New wheels cost hundreds of £, this cost £59 including commission!

So far so good. A bit of a clean up, a drive string attached and the spinning wheel was ready to go. Now just to learn how to use it!

These days you can learn almost anything via the internet, and there are lots of tutorials on Youtube. Having fiddled about a little last year with a drop spindle it was just a case of transferring the same principles onto the wheel.

Hmmmm….time to practise

After lots of swearing and sweating and getting decidedly tense, using some wool rovings bought for the spindle try out. Things moved on to some flax, using a camera tripod as a distaff (another internet top tip).

At some point the penny began to drop. It’s about transferring energy (in the form of twist) with control. And the trick is relaxation.  Easier said than done, especially in the early stages of learning. But in the end it come down to muscle memory and hours of practise, especially when it come down to treadling the wheel with your foot automatically, leaving your mind free to think about what your hands and fingers are doing. And – crucially – keeping the hand that feeds out the fibre soft, tightly clutching on to the fibre just does not work.  It should not be hard work. In past centuries the women of many country households were expected to spin all the yarn required for the household, from the flax for bed-linen, shirts and shifts to the wool for outer clothing. Hour upon hour of spinning – it would have been their default setting when not occupied on any other task.

Time to move onto a bigger project – wool.

Fleece to be exact. This is by far the cheapest way to purchase wool. Lots of smallholdings sell fleece from their own sheep on the internet  – you can get you hands on a whole shorn fleece for under a tenner (plus a little p&p).

A Jacob’s fleece was bought. Research declared it a good breed for hand spinning, with the advantage of being black and white. The two colours were carded separately. The hand carders cost half a much as the wheel itself, but neccesary to create the clean, rolags (that’s the technical term) of fleece that you spin from.

Spinning ‘in the grease’ (i.e with unwashed fleece) is a bit of a sheepy affair, with all the lanolin still on the fibres. But it’s great for your hands. And for a novice spinner the general stickiness helps hold the fibres to each other.

The process is this:

  • card the fibre (selecting black or white)
  • spin the fibre into ‘singles’ (one bobbin black one bobbin white)
  • ply the two colours together
  • wind off the bobbin into a skein (using a niddy noddy – look it up)
  • wash the yarn by soaking over night in very hot water (but do not stir about), then rinsed.

A quick note about this plying business: When you spin a ‘single’, when the wheel is turned clockwise, the yarn produced will want to twist back on itself. To make stable yarn you need to twist two or more single together in the opposite direction (anti-clockwise).

Here are the results, unwashed on the left, washed on the right.

Final stage:

  • knit your jumper

This is a work in progress.