Thursday, 13 January 2011

Spinning carried over the New Year

The title of this post refers not so much to what I've been spinning over the New Year period, but to the fact that I have some photos of spinning and an old spinning wheel I'd taken way back in September and the planned blog post kept getting postponed.  So in the best traditions of tidying things up to start a new year, I've finally put down the luscious bit of lace knitting I'm doing at the moment and have sorted out those photographs.

To be absolutely honest there has also been the imperative of realising that a fascinating article in issue 34 of  Yarn Forward Magazine, which includes the photograph of my Grandma and some of her siblings from an earlier post (Musings from my spinning wheel), also includes the url for this blog.  Sudden realisation - I hadn't posted for a few weeks!

So here at last are some photographs from 2010 of an old wheel and a spinner in Tudor dress at Hardwick Hall.
I was really interested to see the wheel in one of the rooms in  Pockerley Manor at Beamish Museum.  Pockerley Manor illustrates the life of a yeoman farming family in the early 1800s, so I presume that this wheel dates from that period.

The first thing I noticed is that the wheel is very large and doesn't have a treadle.  In fact it looks as if it may have been made by someone who made cart or carriage wheels.  I was rather perplexed about how this wheel could be used until I found a couple of groups on Ravelry - Antique Spinning Wheels and Longdraw Spinners.

My original thoughts that the wheel would be turned by a child, have now been replaced by learning of  the impressive feat whereby the spinner manages both the drafting and wheel turning herself while standing.
This photograph from Wikipedia shows  a Spinning wheel demonstration, producing yarn from wool, at Conner Prairie living history museum in Fishers, Indiana.
Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-03

Now while I can see that her right arm could be used to turn the wheel, I'd seen in a modern copy of the book, The Luttrell Psalter, a very different position used by the spinner.
 This link shows the image from the original Psalter, dated 1300-1340,
 and this link shows an image from a film made of the Psalter and most clearly and beautifully demonstrates how this sort of wheel was used. (scroll down to below the ploughing)

What I find most interesting is that the wheel itself, to my amateur eyes, appears very similar to that in Pockerley Manor, although there are are 500 years between them.

The Psalter also shows a woman carding, again in a manner very similar to how it is done today and using carders that look as if they could have been purchased today.

These two further photographs from Pockerley show some of the tools associated with spinning.  On the dresser at the back of the right hand photograph is a niddy noddy and lazy kate, again looking very similar to modern versions.


To have a glimpse back into Tudor times, the day I visited Hardwick Hall last September, they had re-enactors  in the hall, including a lady from the local  spinning Guild who was dressed in Tudor dress.


Although her wheel and spinning equipment aren't Tudor, those of you with sharp eyes will have spotted that the wheel is a little unusual.  From what I remember she said about it, and it was lovely having a chat with her, the wheel was 'rescued' at Chesterfield Market and restored.  She thought it was possibly continental in origin.  The wheel has two flyers and is called a Gossip Wheel, although whether it was really able to be used by two spinners I don't know.

While reading the article in Wikipedia I also found this delightful woodcut image from the early 17th century.  It looks as if she is turning the wheel using a little handle, but also has a distaff and is using a longdraw method.

 This public domain image from Wikipedia is scanned from Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World by Lacey Baldwin Smith, New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1967
Although I am very much a beginner in learning about the history of spinning and spinning wheels (not to forget spindles), what I do know is that certainly before the 1800's, and possibly into the 19th century, my female ancestors would probably all have spun yarn, and for many of those centuries it would have been wool.  English wool - the backbone and driving force of the medieval English economy.

I know that the 3 generations of women before me did not spin, but on my maternal side my great great grandmother, Sarah Armstrong, born in Northumberland at the beginning of the 19th century, may well have spun.  She was the daughter of a farmer, grand daughter of a Shepherd, and she married a farmer who had generations of Northumberland tenant farmers behind him. 

I don't really do New Year resolutions, but one thing that is definitely on my To Do list for this year is to relate what I've discovered about her life, and to see if there is any connection other than geographical with the Blue Faced Leicester sheep.

I'll also do a fuller post about Margaret Jane Walker, the woman who almost certainly knitted the dress in the Yarn Forward article.  Her large family alone tells the story of the early part of the 20th century and were affected by nearly every significant event of that period.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the mention Jane - hope the visit was useful!

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  2. Jane, the great wheels (also called wool wheels, although they aren't used exclusively for wool!) you're talking about are a type of driven-spindle wheel, which predates the flyer-and-treadle wheels by many centuries. Driven-spindle wheels come in a number of shapes, sizes, and configurations. Charkhas (of which there are many varieties) are also a type of driven-spindle wheel.

    Back to great wheels. Some have plain, direct connections between drive (large) wheel and spindle. The top photo is that way. Some have what's called a bat-head support for the spindle (not shown). Others have a Minor's head between the drive wheel and the spindle--the Wikipedia photo is set up that way. It's an accelerator that makes the spindle turn even faster for every rotation of the drive wheel.

    Do you know about Florence Feldman-Wood's The Spinning Wheel Sleuth? Florence has done a great job for years of publishing a newsletter about spinning wheel mysteries and solutions. (Florence is also a great source of recommendations about fictional mystery series that are worth reading.) There are some STRANGE spinning wheels out there!
    http://www.spwhsl.com/

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  3. FASCINATING POST.... I love it. I recently saw that photo on Wiki....

    I am so excited to spin this year. I am working with a drop spindle for a few months. I have some BFL coming in a small amount and some Corridale coming too...

    Happy New Year

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  4. I've seen a Great Wheel in action at a museum in Golcar, near Huddersfield. Interesting, in that the spinning action all takes place at the end of a metal spike, with the yarn dropping off it somehow putting in the twist. Very different to the way we work today. Great pictures.

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