#1year1outfit: spinning in time


Spinning progress has been rather steady and slow here lately, in no small part due to the fact that I have taken on a second day job. The new job involves travelling over 8 hours a week, but on a train, which I saw as a perk of the job when I took it: Beyond marking essays, lay the promise of some rare uninterrupted  sitting-down-time for knitting part of my outfit. However, the timing of this wasn’t best synchronised with the loan of an Ashford single drive spinning wheel from the Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers. Excited as I was at beginning my career at the wheel, I slowly realised that all that train travelling is eating into my spinning time. In order to get to the knitting-on-the-train stage of my project, I have a lot more carding and spinning to do. I’ve worked out that I take about 5 minutes to card a rolag and 20 minutes to spin each rolag. There are about 40 rolags to each plied skein… and I don’t know yet how many skeins to a jumper but I guess at least 10, which takes me to 166 hours before accounting for plying time! I guess I’ll get a bit faster, but ‘jumper time’ is surely notching up…

…so I debated using a drop spindle on the train. There’s a woman I met at the Guild who scoffed when I lamented my lack of spinning time. She has six kids at home and simply keeps a drop spindle in every corner of the house in order to harvest yarn at even the shortest opportunity. Another lady told me she specifically took her drop spindle on long haul journeys in order to spin in airport queues. But drop spinning while actually in motion on a train is a different matter, particularly for a beginner…

The itchiness of my idle fingers on those bi-weekly train journeys began to mount… that is until I discovered that the University I work at has a library with a particularly well-appointed textiles section. Suddenly, all those books I’ve been stalking/saving up for on Amazon/Abe are mine for the stretch of 2 months, not to mention the raft of intriguing titles I didn’t even know about. So rather than knitting on the train, I’ve been reading about knitting, stocking knitting in Wales to be precise, as well as lots of books on natural dying, Welsh quilts, intentional spinning…and on… the fruits of which I will share here soon.

I was astonished to read that:

"A woman may card, spin and knit four pairs of stockings each week, one pair of stockings weighs nearly half a pound, which at 10d a pound is 5d out of the 8d for which they are sold at market. ... hence the woman has only 3d for carding, spinning and knitting these stockings or 1/- a week." Davies, Walter, (1815), General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, Vol 2., (London, 1815), pp. 442-43

Not only is someone as geeky as me about numbers, but those women clearly shifted some yarn. We may think our modern lives leave us little time for handicrafts – but don’t think our forebears had it any easier… no, they were seriously hardcore grafter-crafters, presumably by necessity:

"I have a hundred times seen a woman carrying a pitcher of water on her head, a child or loaf in this wrapper [a long piece of woollen cloth wrapped around the waist] and knitting as she walked along." Catherine Hutton's letters to her brother when visiting Aberystwyth in July and August, 1787

…so I’ve hardly felt that I have any excuse, and in the time that I have free at home, I’ve been doggedly spinning a rolag or two when I can. I finished plying my first nasturtium dyed skeins (below) before Christmas and have spun and plied a couple more since. My yarn is getting progressively more even as I go!


It is quite the most satisfying thing to twist a plied handspun skein from your neighbour’s sheep, dyed with the produce from your garden. I fully intend to knit it up, but all in good time…

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