Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Love Affair on Flotta

The day started quite normally.  Anita and I started knitting with some cobweb lace in the morning and with Liz's help got on very well adjusting to this very thin yarn.  We're doing one of Liz's small lace shawls so when we've finished the centre triangle we can learn how to add on the lace borders and pick up stitches sideways as we knit - I think that's the process.

Then after a lovely lunch with yet another variety of home made soup (I may have to let out my belt as the week goes on with all this gorgeous food being cooked for us) Liz said we could go with her to visit Granville Swanney who lives a bit up the hill.  Liz explained that he is the only person left on Orkney who is still making spinning wheels.  Not any old wheels mind you, but traditional Orkney wheels.  This little outing seemed interesting enough that the men came along with us.  We are very fortunate at home in having a very talented cabinet maker, Stephen Robinson Gay living in Northumberland and we live with some of his wonderful work in our home, so Paul was particularly interested to see the work of another talented wood craftsman.

I was delighted to find that Granville and his wife Jean have a retired Guide Dog living with them so that was an extra treat meeting him.  Then on into Granville's workroom - what a sight.  It's one of those workrooms where everything has its place.  There were some pieces of turned and polished mahogany lying on the bench and in a flash Granville had assembled them to reveal a nearly finished wheel.

I wasn't at all surprised to hear that it takes 60 hours to make one of these beautiful wheels.  Liz explained what features in combination made this an Orkney wheel and it was a fascinating time in the workroom.

Then we went on into the house where Liz found a wheel in the corner.  We learnt that this was a sloping bed Orkney wheel that had never been used since Granville finished making it.  A tiny bit of fibre was found and Liz managed to attach that to the spindle and start spinning - well, the noise!  Some oil was urgently needed.  Next thing I knew Liz invited me to sit down and have a try while she went back home to get some oil and more spinning fibre.

Now I'd already decided that I prefer double treadles and I definitely like scotch tension - double drive sounds much too complicated and difficult to adjust to me.  But if Liz said to give it a try - well I was sure that I'd receive confirmation of my feelings about double drive traditional wheels.  So I sat down at this new, creaky, wheel that ticked every box for what I didn't want in a spinning wheel. Needless to say I spent the next few minutes with the thread breaking every time I touched it.

Then something totally unexpected happened - and I still don't know what.  Suddenly, despite the noise, the wheel and I connected and I experienced the wonderful character that had awakened in the wheel.  Equally suddenly I was spinning beautiful laceweight yarn with no effort or thought.

I've never wanted to name any of my other wheels - but I was already wanting to give this wheel a name - despite the fact that she belonged to Granville or had already been sold to someone else.  That was a very strange experience for me.

Then Liz arrived and the oiling started.  Within a minute or two the wheel became smoother and quieter and I started working through the lovely Shetland top Liz had bought.  She was still singing to me though - just a happier and quieter song.

Then it came time to leave.  I didn't know where in the world this beautiful wheel was destined to be sent.  I'd felt very privileged to be the one spinning when Granville's craftsmanship was brought to life, but very sad to be leaving her.

It ended up with Paul and I walking back while the others came in the car and Paul must have sensed what I felt about this wheel because he brought up the subject.  I had absolutely no idea what the wheel would cost or if she was even for sale.  For all I knew there was a long waiting list and this wheel already had an owner.  Paul suggested that we have a chat with Liz.  Earlier this afternoon Liz phoned Granville and came back with the wonderful news that the wheel was for sale and we immediately said 'yes, please'!

So, when we leave Flotta, Jeannie will be coming with us.  I really wanted to give her a name that had a link to her roots here on Flotta and Granville's wife is Jean, so the name was as obvious as my feeling that this was 'my' wheel.

So, that is the story of my extremely unexpected and surprising encounter today.  I'm still in shock a bit - I'm really not used to this sort of thing happening, but in the house up the hill Jeannie is soaking up her oil and waiting to sing and spin with me again.  I'm very happy.


  1. I have a big grin on my face just for you!

  2. How lovely! The wheel and the story. Some day I'll have to meet this wheel in person.