Sunday, October 16, 2011

In Praise of Spinning - Mary Glendinning

A few years ago, when I was in Canada, I found an antique store in a small town not far from our cottage. There, tucked in the back of the store was an old spinning wheel. I couldn't believe my luck! The owner of the store didn't know anything about spinning and she told me that a gentleman had brought it in telling her that it belonged to his grandmother. No one had used it in years he said. The drive band was missing but it treadled fine and everything else turned like it was supposed to. She was asking $100 for it and I happily paid her.

It is not a beautiful wheel by any stretch of the imagination. It is very “homemade” looking, stained a dark color. The wheel itself is quite large - compared to my Lendrum and Schacht wheels. There is no tensioning device. It had one bobbin that seems to have been broken at some point and fixed with wood bond. The wheel itself is rough, a few small notches out of it where I expect there were knots in the wood. Whoever made it did make the spindles in the big wheel slightly decorative but overall it is very plain.

When I got home I was very anxious to try it. I made a new drive band with some strong string and started treadling. Now, I am not a terribly experienced spinner. Iʼve done a bit on the two wheels at home and taken a few classes, but not pursued this hobby in a very intensive way. I had some roving with me and tried in vain to turn it into spun yarn. Try as I might the wheel just pulled the roving out of my hands onto the bobbin faster than I could draft it. Since there was no obvious tensioning device I couldn't figure out how to slow the thing down.

Four years later (this past summer) my dear friend, Elly, was visiting my cottage. Elly is a fabulous spinner and a spinning teacher.  Karen learned how to spin from her.  After playing with the wheel for a little while Elly was finally able to spin yarn. The “tensioning” came from moving the mother of all either closer to the wheel or further away. The problem was that the ratio between the wheel and the whorl on the bobbin was very large so that the wheel took up the yarn very quickly. I have come to find out that the wheel is probably a Quebec wheel made for production work and more than likely for linen and not wool.

Not wanting to give up I took the wheel with me to a spinning group. Another friend gave me an Ashford bobbin with a larger whorl to try. Believe it or not I was able to actually spin! And there I was, slowly treadling, listening to the old girl click, click, click along and actually spinning some wool. Mind you, slightly (truthfully very) over spun yarn but yarn none the less. I felt wonderful!

I left the wheel at the cottage and look forward to using it again next summer. In the meantime I am inspired to work more on my wheels here at home and get more experience under my belt before tackling the old girl again.

I can't help but wonder how many women used this wheel in the day. Did it encourage them the way it encouraged me? How much yarn was produced on this wheel and who were the knitters or weavers that ended up using the yarn it produced. It makes me feel connected in some strange way to all the women in its past. And, even if I never actually get a skein of spun yarn out of it - that connection is more than I could ever
hope to get.

Mary Glendinning

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