Those of you who know me will understand how much this means to me. However, it is also time to say good bye to my old Ashford spinning wheel which has been my good friend and comforter for nearly 30 years.The Ashford came as a great boon to me at a very difficult time in my life. I had just parted from my first husband, Hugh, and was at home most of the time, single parenting, with two very small children and little opportunity to get out of the home.
My dear friend and neighbour, Eileen Seddon (then President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers), saw that I needed distraction, and taught me to spin – and found me a spinning wheel. It came from another member of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who was forced to switch to an electric spinning wheel because of arthritis.
I had a brief lesson from Eileen, and I was away! – couldn’t stop! – up until the early hours of the morning spinning and spinning! I had to stop eventually because I had filled all the available bobbins and didn’t know how to ply.
I was so very enthusiastic that I would take my spinning wheel everywhere with me. Here I am spinning in the hot Devon sun in my Shobrooke garden. Nice basket of fleece – I think it is probably one of the first complete fleeces I ever purchased, a lovely Shetland sheep called Charity, who was raised most lovingly in the glorious pasture land of Stockleigh English.Here is James having a go at spinning in our Shobrooke home. A great basket of Welsh Mountain fleece to get through there, James!The wheel has accompanied me through many travels. Perhaps its saddest time was when it was run over by our car at the Border Union Show. Stephen hadn’t realised where the spinning wheel was standing as he straightened the car into the parking spot, and reversed straight over and into it – crunch, crunch, crunch.I was demonstrating at the show, so the wheel had a hasty fix to make it spinnable – you can see the masking tape holding one leg together, and more masking tape binding the mother-of-all in place.
While my Innerleithen spinning wheel is the Emperor of all spinning wheels, the Ashford is a work-a-day wheel, and showing signs of wear and tear. The very good news is that a beginner spinning enthusiast has given it a new home in the Borderland wilds of the Ettrick Valley. She plans to collect fleece on her walks (as I used to). Most conveniently her wood cabin is insulated with wool and cashmere purchased from the last mill in Selkirk when it closed down. Not only does it provide fantastic insulation, but it has been dyed the colours of the rainbow! How wonderful to think of those layers of colour wrapped round her cottage. No need to worry that she will ever run out of fleece – she has only to prize a little out of the building structure! I am sure my old spinning wheel has gone to a new home where it will be much loved and enjoyed – and become part of the furniture.
I’m spinning some pretty multi-coloured fleece myself. Last summer I dyed a local Jacob’s fleece these amazing pinky purpley colours. (I’ve always wanted to dye fleece this fantastic fuchsia pink! I took it with me to demonstrate at the Border Union Show, and it attracted much interest, both from sheep farmers, and little girls who rushed to handle my pink wool!) I’ve added mohair and silk to the mix, and a few bits of other coloured fleece for extra effect. Out come my old carders…Rod Grant has made me a fine ash Lazy Kate to accompany the new spinning wheel. It’s not just a very elegant piece of equipment, it’s brilliantly designed. You may just be able to see the tension string stretched over the bobbins to make sure they release the yarn evenly and smoothly. To help thread the yarn through the holes at the top, he’s added a specially designed hook which is resting in the central orifice. Here’s a basketful of my finished product. So tasty, it’s almost edible. Are you wondering what I’m making? So am I! I’m just spinning away for the sheer pleasure of spinning. One day this yarn will find it’s purpose.A final spin then of the old wheel with my new wheel waiting in the wings. Ave atque vale.