Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Spinning Workshop

Last weekend I went to Lucca to take part in a workshop on spinning which was run by Deborah Gray, a Scottish spinner.  I was so relieved that it was taken by someone who speaks English because otherwise I would have had no hope at keeping up with what was happening.

In the morning, we dealt with a really dirty fleece from a sheep from Abruzzo.  It started off like this:

It was really dirty, but I didn't bother with gloves - the lanolin in the wool is really good for your hands.  Once we'd rolled the fleece out flat (that's just 1 sheep's worth in the photos) it got divided into three different qualities based on which part of the sheep it came from.

To clean up the fibres, we used two different ways.  The first was combing.  It's very simple: you take a small bit and comb it like you've got a tangle in your hair.  It brings out a lot of the dirt and the shorter strands that you don't want.  This is a before and after shot.  You can see that it would take ages to do a whole fleece like this!

Another method is called carding where you do more wool at a time, but it's a bit more fiddly and I didn't really get the hang of it to be honest.  It's like having 2 giant hairbrushes and by barely rubbing one against the other you somehow get a nice roll of clean wool ready to spin.  I kept applying too much pressure and the wool kept getting stuck in the carders.  Not that I let that get me down!

Then finally before lunch we had a look at silk and how you get that from pupae to yarn.  I really couldn't believe how strong that stuff is.  You open up the cocoons and soften them in water and then you can spread them out and draw the fibres out.  The individual strands are so long and so tough, it was really hard work.  I'm glad we didn't do any spinning with those; it would have been incredibly difficult!

After lunch we moved on to the spinning part.  We were learning with bottom-whorl spindles which look like this:

(I really don't know why I decided to wear a skirt)

As you can see, there is a round fat bit at the bottom and this leads up to a loop near the top of the spindle.  It's from here that you draw out the wool to spin it.  You can see me having a go with some of the wool that I'd cleaned that morning.  There wasn't very much so I quickly had to resort to the (clean) things Deborah had brought with her

You can see there my first ball of hand-spun yarn.  It was totally uneven and utterly useless for anything, but I felt a great sense of pride!  I also spun some darker shetland wool

And finally I got to ply the two strands together!  Here is my very first skein of wool!

It's only about 2m long, but I am so proud!  I haven't had the chance to give it a final wash yet, but I'll try and do that this weekend in case it starts to smell!  Hurrah!

I had such a fun day.  I want to thank Deborah and also Donna who organised it.  I definitely want to keep practising with spinning, although not necessarily starting from the fleece straight off the sheep's back.  I might leave that bit to someone else or a machine!  It was fabulous to learn the process that people have been doing for hundreds of years and really made me appreciate the work of people who do do this all by hand.  Amazing!


  1. Wow! You made your own wool!! Amazing :) xx

  2. Emma! you did a wonderful job of explaining how the day went, the processes we learned and the great sense of achievement we all had at the end .. not to mention how much more we appreciate the generations of women who came before us and HAD to do all of this by hand!
    Thanks for coming and being a part of our little spinning family!!