Bobbins, boards, pegs, and a new year beckons!

Been a manic few weeks in the run up to Christmas so apologies for another medley post.

Spinning Wheel Bobbins

My new antique spinning wheel is up and running and not in small thanks to some new bobbins. The Cellar Project is a Yorkshire based charity which helps people with mental health problems back on their feet and into work, not least through ‘skill shops’ where service users can participate in woodworking, horticulture, IT, conferencing and catering. The woodworkers make and sell garden furniture but they also make bespoke items and as every spinner/weaver knows, their best friend is a good carpenter. As well as reproducing the bobbins for my wheel they’ve also made me a warping board (which you can see hanging from the wall below) and all at a great price; we used this plan, it took a bit of tweaking but we got there in the end. They’ve also done me a spool holder although I could do with a bit of a proper creel, perhaps in the new year.

Warping Board

There is some possibility that my wheel may be related somehow to those made by recovering soldiers after World War I; although astoundingly useful such ‘therapy’ is not so fashionable as it once; The Cellar Project is one of the few places where it still goes on – the workshops give people an opportunity to get some practical skills, start rebuilding their confidence and see a palpable result at the end of a day’s endeavour. I should just mention in the interests of full disclosure that I am one of its trustees and very proud too!

I’ve also paid a visit to Don Porritt’s studio in Menston (alas no website) and treated myself to some shuttles and a new reed for my four-shaft table loom; it was lent to me by a friend but it did need some doing up and the reed was too rusty to save, so I’m looking forward to getting it going and doing some more experimental textiles. Don really was terribly friendly and helpful and it’s nice to know there is someone so close for all the bits and bobs one needs. He is the main supplier for Texsolv and I got some anchors and they have been life changing – no really! I never wanted to mess around with my tie ups too much as it was such a faff but they make it so much easier. I was worrying needlessly that my loom’s treadles and lams were too worn to take them.


I don’t know if this will work or even makes sense, but one of the hardest parts of weaving for me is keeping track of where one is when treadling, however many post-it-notes I plaster around. For some reason I got it into my head that a cribbage board  might be the answer. I can attach it to the beater and stick the treadling plan down the centre of the board and move the peg down each time I beat – well we’ll see, I haven’t tried it yet!

Painted Pegs

I’ve also updated my blog theme and header – something a bit more cheerful, some painted pegs I’ve made for a Christmas present for some friends. It seems a bit odd to give someone a bunch of pegs, but they have been going down very well and are a great deal of fun to make.

Anyway this is what I’ve just taken off the loom, the second of some designs inspired by the interior of the United Reformed Church here in Saltaire. It’s the first time I’ve taken something concrete and turned it into something abstract so I’m feeling quite smug with myself. It helped browsing through the Saltaire Daily Photo blog as she has some great pictures that really helped me see differently what is, after living here seventeen years, so familiar. Anyway I am now bursting with ideas for the coming year.

2012 has been an amazing year for me and that’s down to the support, belief and friendship of some amazingly talented designer-makers in the Yorkshire area as well as those of you who have been kind enough to check in, comment, or get in touch. I’m really looking forward to 2013 and have heaps of plans and can’t wait to get started. So, Merry Christmas one and all, and very best wishes for the New Year x

Antique Spinning Wheel

My Haldane Hebridean was the wheel I was taught on and it was my first wheel but in truth I’ve been having quite a bit of trouble moving on from the basics with her. And with weaving having taken over my waking existence, I wanted to be able to spin thin strong warp-able yarn. So I’ve known for a while that I needed a bigger wheel.

Alas while I love spinning I don’t do twee so it is not often that a wheel crosses my path that I actually like. I know that Ashfords are popular for many a spinner (I think I saw a statistic somewhere that over 95% of spinners have one), but I like the old and the battered; if I am going to spend my days with something, I want it to have character and soul, something that has lived.  So when an elegant looking grand dame popped up in my Facebook feed, off I went to check her out.

It was clear from the outset that she shared a number of features with an antique wheel featured in fibre2fabric.

Like Dot’s wheel the turning is simple and elegant – like chess pieces as she very aptly described them. The wheel also shares the rather unusual layout of the bearings, the one on the right maiden being horizontal. Both maidens are fixed in place and there is just enough ‘give’ to get the flyer out.  The leather is obviously dried out, but stitching is still visible.

The orifice is very small, as are the flyer hooks; there are only six on each side, whereas Dot’s had seven.

Unlike Dot’s the whorls are of different sizes. Fortunately there is a bobbin (a thing of utter beauty in itself) and I’ll be getting some copies made.

The footplate is ornate and similar although not exactly the same as Dot’s and there is a very simple decoration of the saddle, lines on the side and small indents at the ends.

Again the hub shares some similarities with Dot’s wheel, not least the double and single lines to aid proper replacement of the wedges.

Unlike Dot’s, she also has a strange peggy type thing between the mother-of-all and tension knob, I don’t know if it has a function or if it is just a knot in the wood. She is a very sturdy well-built thing. There is some recent and superficial woodworm in one of the uprights but I’ve treated that and with a bit of wax they are now virtually invisible, apart from that she is in very good condition.

There was a suggestion that she might be one of the post World-War I Dryads, built by recuperating servicemen. But she is made of different woods (and that is as far as I can go I’m afraid; I have a carpenter cousin who I’ll ask to identify them), and according to Dot the Dryads were usually more homogeneous. A clue emerged as soon as I got her out of the auction room and into the daylight – she actually has a stamp “The London School of Weavers 3 Bryanston Street W1”.

Not a little Googling ensued but there wasn’t much out there until I come across an article in a Canadian newspaper which stated the LSW was established in 1898 and amalgamated with the Kensington Weavers in 1919 where they were indeed involved with servicemen making spinning wheels. Presumably as this wheel has no mention of the Kensington Weavers, and Bryanston Street was in Marylebone, it was built before 1919. It seems the LSW built wheels to sell and this could well be one, but presumably they also had wheels to teach on and which might have been older and the stamp merely to declare its home. So I suppose really, I remain none the wiser. But what I do know is that she spins exceedingly fine and so very, very easily. Time to unpack the half dozen fleeces that have been hanging around since the spring me thinks.

My First Woolfest

5.45 am kick off; I walk into Shipley to  catch a train into Ilkley, conscious that  the man walking his dog with a mug of tea in his hand must think I’m doing the Walk of Shame. I hold my head up high, I’m going to Woolfest you berk.

At Shipley the man behind the counter tells me the trains have been cancelled; I wasn’t too surprised, it doesn’t take much rain/flooding to bring the trains on our line to a halt, but apparently there was a tree on the wire or the tracks, can’t remember which as I was already calling for a taxi expressing with some urgency that I had toi get to Ilkley PDQ. The taxi driver had started work at 7 the evening before, was about to go home, had not a single speck of white to be seen in his bloodshot eyeballs and seemed to take my sense of urgency rather too literally, and how I made it to Ilkley alive I do not know, but fought hard the urge to kiss the ground as I got out of the car. I was there picked up by my friend Heather who runs the Knit and Natter at Shipley College and we made our way to Headingly where we got on the coach organised by Baa Ram Ewe, a lovely shop I hadn’t heard of before but which now holds my unflinching fealty. It was a stunning journey through the hills up to Cockermouth, there was some concern over flood-induced delays, but obviously there is little in nature’s arsenal that would stop a coach load of middle-aged ladies getting to yarn.

The event was held at a livestock auction and the 277 were exhibitors set up in the pens. I made my way straight to the top corner where there was the fleece sale. Can I just say that moderation was always my intention and not least because I knew I would have to get the train back from Ilkley. When Heather picked me up (hereafter refered to as The Enabler), she said she wanted to be clear that she was driving me home and had emptied her boot. Hardly my fault then is it?  I couldn’t let her effort and generosity by swiped aside so ungratefully? I had an obligation really. And I didn’t break the record. But I was pretty damn close. So, ahem,  a Berrichon du Cher, Blue faced Leicester x Swaledale, Polled Dorset, Portland and a Texel later, I headed off – with some assistance – to the crèche run by the Air Ambulance to deposit my lovlies. I suppose it is rather bad when even they are shaking their heads.

So, the stalls. My plan of attack was to do a sweep through the aisles and then a more detailed and targeted strike. At the last Knitting and Stitching show I did find a lot of the stalls quite commercial, a little bit samey, lots of kits and all that. Woolfest is entirely different, more makers rather than just shops, everything of amazing quality, sold by people who love everything to do with woolcraft as much as you do and who are more than happy to help and explain. I got a a wrap-per-inch guage from Woodland Turnery, and it was lovely to see them getting back on their feet since the fire that devastated their workshop. He had some very beautiful wheels and I do think I deserve some credit for not succumbing. Elsewhere I also picked up a swift and nostepinne, all essentials, obviously. I have wanted a peg loom for a couple of years, so when I saw one at Hedgehog Equipment I could not resist, nor a new Lazy Kate made of Welsh Oak and both very well priced. This was the joy of Woolfest, meeting the makers face to face, knowing you are supporting their business, livelihood and skills. There were some exhibitors I wanted to meet in particular, not least Daniella of FeltStudioUK who I think of as Morag’s godmother because she read I was after a Haldane Hebridean and got in touch to tell me a friend of hers was selling one. Her dyed batts and yarns were simply stunning, the whole place was visual overload. There were also a couple of big names in rag rug making there, Jenni Stuart-Anderson and Cilla Cameron. The latter I knew through a rag rug facebook group and it was great to finally meet her.

Dyeing is the next step for me really, and there were plenty of stalls selling acid dyes, but I am quite keen to use natural dyes (obviously; why do things the easy way?) and at DT Crafts and Design the lovely lady there talked me through it all and I cannot wait to explore my starter pack and the endless possibilities therein. There was a stall selling all things Shetland, and yes, I picked up another fleece. I was too embarrassed to go back to the crèche so  lugged this one round with me. Funny thing is, the lady who sold it to me looked rather familair and as it turned out I went to university with her twenty years ago. Jolly small world. I think that is it, oh apart from a wee bit of Wensleydale fleece, oh and a giant 25mm crochet hook; first saw these at Harrogate and always regretted not getting one. So there we go, nothing too naughty, it’s not as if I brought a loom or anything is it?

As well as stalls selling their wares, there were lots of different breeds on show; as the day progressed something strange happened, they morphed from being fleece machines who rather rudely hogged onto coats that rightly belonged in my basket, into, well, rather beautiful and rather cute creatures. I found myself looking at sheep earings, and sheep mugs, and sheep posters all in a new light. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of Woolfest. There were of course stalls and stalls of yarns and batts which I have to say I never got to see, there was also live music, a number of talks and demonstrations, but how I could have packed more into my day I simply do  not know.

There were also several guilds and societies represented. A couple of weeks ago much maniacal cackling emanated from my home when I suddenly found myself doing long draw spinning. This was a bit of a holy grail to me, and the technique used on the first Medieval spinning wheels. The world was now my Great Wheel oyster. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Guild of Long Draw Spinners in action. I had a few questions about my technique and they were more than happy to help me and I even got to have a go on their Great Wheel and I don’t mean to boast (and obviously I do) but I pretty much got the record and drew the thread at least twice the length of the grating in the photograph, ending up walking backwards into the crowds yelling at people to get out of the way. I was declared a natural, much to my beaming pride – BEAMING – I tell you!  I am now a member of the Guild and have a swanky badge to prove it. I want a Great Wheel. Which reminds me of a t-shirt I saw someone wearing in the cafe – ‘I saw, I wanted, I threw a tantrum, I got’.

At half-five we set off home, me slightly embarrassed that I was the only one who needed to use the luggage compartment under the coach. Everyone showed off what they had brought, The Enabler had got some lovely yarns and other bits and pieces. I got home after nine, knackered but thrilled, and had an early night.

I would now be terribly grateful if the rain would stop long enough so I can make a start cleaning these fleeces; it is a good job I have become rather fond of the smell of wool as my living room smells like a farmyard. Hopefully the pong will deter visitors so I can get on with some spinning and, ahem, my search for a Great Wheel.