Late last year I mentioned on facebook that I was saving up for a spinning wheel, and some family friends made an incredibly generous offer to buy me one for Christmas. I could hardly believe it and at first I felt that I couldn’t accept their offer as it seemed far too much, but they were insistent. I decided that if I was going to let them pay for a wheel, I would have to do some research and make sure that it was something that I really wanted, and was capable of using. My coordination is not great, and I didn’t want them to spend all that money for me to discover that I couldn’t make my hands and feet work together at a spinning wheel.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a day long spinning class with Diane Fisher of Murmuring Wheel (who I highly recommend). The workshop was held at Blaze Farm, which is an ice-cream producing open farm, cafe and event venue in the Cheshire Peak District. I usually don’t cope well with going to unfamiliar places on my own, or meeting new people, so my husband, Daz, was kind enough to give me a lift there and loiter about all day in case I panicked and bailed. In the end there was no panicking, although I was completely exhausted by the end of the day as I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before. Oh, the joys of anxiety!
I got to try out a couple of different spinning wheels and I took to spinning on a wheel like a duck to water. I came home with a big skein of yarn and the confidence that I could definitely use a wheel of my own.
On Monday, Daz and I went on a pilgrimage across the Yorkshire border and into the land of wool. I had been promised this day trip (and some wool) by Daz as the main part of my Christmas present from him. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the North of England, Lancashire (my home county) is historically the land of cotton spinning and weaving, and Yorkshire, the county to the east, is the home of wool processing and spinning. Although the Lancashire cotton industry is now almost entirely abandoned, Yorkshire is still producing wool, albeit on a much smaller scale, and many of Britain’s large and small commercial yarn companies are still based in West Yorkshire.
Our first stop was Milnsbridge, a rather scenic part of Huddersfield, where World Of Wool is based. They have a factory shop selling almost every breed and colour of wool you can imagine, along with all sorts of rare and unusual fibres from Yak to silk to cellulose fibres made from rose bushes! They also sell undyed yarns spun from a huge range of different fibres along with felt, dyes, books, felting tools… all things woolly craft!
The biggest draws are the huge bins of ‘lap waste’. These contain tonnes (literally) of bits of custom blends and dye lots that are surplus to requirements, and the bins are so much fun to dig through. You can fill a bag full of gorgeous dyed fibres, all for £2.40 per 100g. I came away with 700g including about 150g of a gorgeous purple merino blend, and the same amount of an autumnal blend of merino and a mystery silky fibre, along with a whole bunch of brightly coloured merino. I also got a selection of acid dyes and some wool wash, so as soon as I find a cheap stock-pot at a charity shop, I’ll be dying my own wool. I had a good squish of all of their yarns and a lot of their fibres, so next time I make an online order with them, I know exactly what I’m getting.
From Milnsbridge, we headed 55 miles south-east to Wentworth, home of Wingham Wool Work. The place is an Aladdin’s cave of woolly stuff, housed in a former village undertakers. Alan, one of the owners, showed me to a glass house in the garden where the demonstration spinning wheels are kept, and let my try out the ones I was interested it. I decided on an Ashford Kiwi, and not just because it was the cheapest – I also found it the most comfortable to treadle. It is a sturdy little castle-style wheel made of bare wood and MDF and it is small enough to not get in the way too much in our little two bedroom flat. The wheel came with £15 worth of free fibre, and I was given a tour of the shop’s many little wooden sheds that are all crammed with gorgeous wool and fibre. As I’d already got plenty of dyed merino from World Of Wool, I decided to get a variety of natural coloured British breed wools to try out. I came away with Texel, Massam, Shetland, Jacob, Manx Loaghtan, Southdown, Cheviot and Blue Faced Leicester, a couple of spare bobbins for my wheel and a wooden niddy-noddy for winding skeins.
As soon as we got home, Daz assembled my wheel and I was spinning within an hour. The first skein I made is 108 metres of 2-ply fingering weight yarn. It is made using some of the purple merino blend plied together with a blend of burgundy merino and pink and plum mystery silky fibre. I think it’s beautiful, and I am going to keep it as a skein, without crocheting it, just so that in future I can look back and see how much I have improved.
The next fibre I started spinning was the Manx Loaghtan wool. I bought it because I think that Manx Loaghtan sheep are amazing looking creatures. It turns out that their wool is amazing too! It is a rich chestnut brown, a shade between milk chocolate and a polished conker, and it is so soft. To me it feels just as soft as Blue Faced Leicester, if not softer. I made 123 metres of aran-ish weight 2-ply yarn, and I am planning on crocheting a teddy bear with it. The friends who paid for the wheel really like teddy bears, so I am going to give it to them as part of a woolly thank you gift I am putting together for them.
I am going to get more Manx Loaghtan wool next time I put in an order with Wingham Wool Work because I think it would make a beautiful soft shawl, maybe with some apple green details.