Learning to spin has been on my “to do “list for more years than I care to remember, or, for that matter, admit to.
I suspect it started way back in childhood with all the princesses in their towers, merrily spinning their lives away whilst they awaited their handsome prince and his crack skills at riding mighty steads, scaling tall buildings, rescuing damsels in distress and having fabulous hair.
But, for many years, learning to spin has been on the back burner whilst firstly my priority was putting a roof over my own head, then raising our children. However, over the last couple of years I’ve been working with the incredible Emmy Brunner to work through some things. Part of this process was revisiting some of the practices or dreams that had gone by the wayside. Spinning came back into my mind and I searched for a class.
Time for a new challenge
Cathy at LazyKate Textiles offers a wide range of textile workshops from beginners spinning to weaving the most magnificent fabrics. I booked onto her 2 day in person workshop as the venue is only a little over an hour away from home, but it felt like a treat to be going somewhere to do something that didn’t involve sitting in front of a screen. I’m doing a lot of that now I’ve started my Masters Degree.
However if you don’t live quite so local she does have online offerings that makes it super simple to learn from her wherever you are.
Before I even got to the workshop I was so impressed by Cathy and her customer service. I’m having lots of health shenanigans at the moment (part of the “interesting” year I touched on briefly in my last post) and it was touch and go whether I’d actually make the workshop, or would be in hospital for my 5th, and most challenging, surgical procedure in 12 months.
Cathy was empathetic, flexible and supportive. But I was still glad when I pulled up outside the Ryde Cycle Cafe at 9.30 on a rainy Liverpool morning, notebook and high hopes in hand.
Not just for Liver Birds
Ryde is an unassuming venue on the outside, right in the heartland of the brewery district of Liverpool. Inside is a glorious community of cycle enthusiast and makers. There’s a splendid cafe that worked really hard to accommodate my dietary requirements without making me feel like I was being a nuisance. And the log fire was cosy and appreciated.
I had some reservations that after waiting so long for this opportunity, it might be a very damp squib of a workshop, or that I might find that I have no skill at all for spinning. Worse still…that I might actually not enjoy doing it.
It’s also been so long since I did a creative workshop of any sort, and there is an old adage about not meeting your heroes. Even if that hero is an Ashford spinning wheel and a pile of fleece.
Fleece to Fibre
The 2 day workshop I chose was “Fleece to Fibre”. I’m lucky enough to know farmers, and people who know farmers, and every now and again get offered a fleece or two. I’ve always turned them down, but this seemed like a good opportunity. No only to be learning to spin, but also how to actually deal with a fleece straight of the sheep’s back.
Another thing to add to my post-apocalyptic skillset!
As mentioned above I had no idea what to expect, but within minutes of arriving I had a cuppa in one hand, a spinning book in the other, and felt like I’d know Cathy for years as we chatted and waited for the other ladies. I’d got my timings wrong and was early, but still welcomed with tea and open arms.
As soon as we were all there and settled the first thing we did was….spin!
I don’t mind admitting to being a little taken aback. I’d thought we’d get to the spinning eventually. But no. It’s the first thing we did. Which, in hindsight, is a wonderfully clever idea. Cathy got to evaluate whether I have any faculty with a fleece and a wheel. I didn’t have time to overthink things and stress myself out.
So I sat at the wheel, was handed a piece of combed fleece and shown how to draw the fleece and work the treadle. I’m eternally grateful that when I was a child I learned to sew on a neighbours ancient Singer treadle sewing machine. It felt like a gift from past me that I had used a treadle before. It also felt like one of those magical full circle moments. Over 50 years later I was learning to spin on a treadle wheel.
Look, Gepetto, I can spin!
Not elegantly. Not without cursing and muttering through gritted teeth. And certainly not creating anything that could be described as other than “art yarn”. But…I was spinning. And I was turning fleece into yarn. Which is almost as good as spinning it into gold!
Every now we would stop and drink tea and talk about how to skirt a fleece. Or wash it. Then how to comb it. And prep it into glorious combed tops ready for spinning. And then, when you’ve spun the actual yarn, how to ply it and prep a knitable yarn.
I cannot think of a more glorious way to spend two days in Liverpool on my own.
Obviously, when I started, my efforts were rustic. To say the least. And if you’re being very kind.
But by the close of day two I started to produce something that looked like you’d actually use it. And I got to thinking that if I put some effort in and actually gave this a go…it might not be too long before I could produce yarn that I really would be able to knit into something wearable.
Down the rabbit hole
You know what’s coming next…dontcha!
Yup….within 24 hours I’d hunted down a second hand wheel on eBay. 30 minutes from home. In working order and complete with extra bobbins and a lazykate. She was home by Sunday and now just needs me to find a window to give her a good clean up and service and we shall be spinning. I have a basket full of combed top ready to go at World of Wool. The only other piece of equipment needed is a niddy noddy and I’m good to go.
My learning to spin adventure was a roaring success. I’m in love with this craft. And can’t wait to learn more. Like knitting, spinning is mindful. You can’t stress or be distracted, or the fleece just won’t spin. I got better results the second I relaxed and focused on the section between my hands.
There is, however, just one downside to all of this. Spinning is a gateway craft to the abyss of then dyeing yarn and weaving fabric.
Rigid heddle loom anyone? Cathy does workshops for that too!