That’s the short story.
Imagine a hall that could hold perhaps 120-150 people. Thirty-odd (I didn’t think to count, but it was at least 30) chairs are arranged in a huge ovoid around the walls. There’s a fibre person in every chair. Most are in their late 40s or older, but there are several who are perhaps in their 20s. There are knitters, there’s a rug-hooker, there’s a display of table-top weaving from tablets through inkle to rigid heddle (that’s today’s demonstration). But most are spinning on a wide variety of wheels; there are Lendrums, there are Louets, everywhere you look there’s at least one Ashford ‘Joy’, there are traditional wheels with plain or ornately turned twiddles in every shade from gold to brown so dark it appears black. There’s a club wheel and wool sitting ready for a learner. There’s a steady buzz of conversation as chairs and people move together to form groups which over time disperse to become new groups. There is a beautiful alpaca roving in every natural shade being spun into a soft heathered yarn, lots of blue-faced leicester becoming yarn of almost every thickness. There is merino becoming laceweight on a wheel spinning so fast it seems to be flying and indeed that spinner had to wedge her previous wheel against a wall to stop it running away. There is alpaca fleece in the grease becoming almost laceweight next to fat brown rolags of something incredibly sheepy becoming a fat and characterful brown homespun. Every face has a look of pleasant concentration breaking frequently into beaming smiles as someone brings a tray of tea and biscuits through to a group of chairs.
Because I asked for an opinion of my yarn and had specific technical questions about spinning and knitting singles I was sent to Jean, who has been spinning for 35 years. My alpaca/silk singles were officially graded ‘good and even'(!) and we discussed the knitting of singles. I was able to produce my sample of fabric knitted from energized singles to show someone who’d never thought of it how the twist sculpts the fabric, and describe how I’ve treated the yarn I’m working on to set the twist to reduce or prevent this movement. Somewhat nervously I pulled out my Bosworth and began spinning, aware that I was being watched, albeit kindly and with approval. And then… I was asked if I’d thought of acquiring a wheel. And I said I had, because while I was learning to love the ritual of the hand-spindle, I had been intrigued by my brief experience with a wheel and the notion of producing larger quantities of yarn more quickly, not to mention more accurate plying. Had I any particular wheels in mind? I tentatively advanced my arguments in favour of either a Louet or Lendrum, and said I had heard good things about the S95 ‘Victoria’ but would wait until I’d had a chance to try one. “Would you like to try mine?” said someone who’d overheard me. So I did. I had trouble co-ordinating two feet and the wheel went too fast, so I used just one. The wheel was happy. It started rotating with a single push of the treadle, no need to rotate the wheel by hand. I was happy. Within a couple of minutes I was relaxed, sitting back in my chair and watching with absolute delight as my handful of wool became a lovely, even singles only slightly over-twisted for plying. Jean was pleased with me. I was pleased with me. I was pleased with the wheel. I’ve ordered one. I’m pleased with the entire universe, even if he’s got my car today and I have to sort out the repairs to his because he’s in meetings all day, and I’ll be on my bike for the next week. It’ll do me good.
There’s a spinning group meets every Tuesday evening about 10 minutes from here. I never knew. I begin to wonder if there are spinners everywhere, meeting quietly in village halls or private houses to forget their cares and become pleased with the world. Even if it’s only for an hour or two. Count them all, add the knitting groups, the weavers in back rooms or sunlit studios… all working to bring order out of chaos. From wool to yarn to garments. It’s magic, real magic.