12 April 2012

Grandma Shirley gets back to work

Grandma Shirley is the great wheel that came to live at Apple Jack Creek about a year ago. She’s had her restoration work, acquired a new spindle with accellerator head courtesy of a kind Raveller, and I did a little bit of spinning on her .. though not much, really just enough to confirm that the wheel was put together properly and that I had a basic idea of what to do.
You see, to spin on a great wheel you use just one hand to control the fibre supply – the other hand is driving the wheel. Now, I do something very similar when I spin on my Canadian Production Wheel, but not quite the same: on Jacqueline the CPW, I do a supported long draw, and my forward hand is available to provide an extra nudge of pressure whenever needed. You can do this on a great wheel, but it slows things down and is frustrating if it happens all the time.
So, Grandma Shirley hasn’t gotten much use in the year she has been here.
Recently, though, I acquired a Russian support spindle and I’ve been doing a lot of spinning with it. Of course, with a support spindle, you only have one hand free to work with the fibre as well: the other hand is twirling the spindle in the dish. To use one of these ‘fancy Russian sticks for making yarn’ you put the pointed and weighted tip into a bowl of some kind (I found a couple of nice crystal dishes at the thrift shop) and spin it like a top. While it is twirling, the yarn that is twisted around and up off the pointy top end is getting more twist put into it, because of the spin of the spindle, and as you draft out the fibre with your non-spinning hand, you make more yarn. When it’s as long as your arm, you wind on. I’ll post more about this soon, I promise, it’s a wonderfully restful way to spin.
Anyway, as I was working on my spindle yesterday morning, I realized that the technique I was using would be the same thing I’d need on the great wheel, and I decided to give it a shot.
What do you know … it worked!
I was able to spin up a fair bit of yarn on the great wheel, using the skills I have practiced on my Russian spindle. In the picture below you see the Lazy Fred: it has two storage bobbins at the back containing yarn I spun on the wheel and the one bobbin lying across the stand is the first spindle full of suri alpaca / mohair blend – I wound it off the spindle and onto a Fred storage bobbin yesterday morning so I could spin some more. The Russian spindle is the pointy stick laying on the stool with more black yarn on it, and you can see the white yarn I made on the spindle of the great wheel.

Pretty neat, eh?

One of the effects of being under stress for a long time is a syndrome sometimes referred to as adrenal exhaustion. Basically, your body has made stress hormones for so long the manufacturing capabilities are all out of whack, meaning your ability to adapt to even ordinary stresses is shot until you take some time to recover. One of the recommendations for people suffering from adrenal exhaustion or recovering from long bouts of strain is to exercise gently … no hard workouts, no marathons, just gentle exercise like walking and yoga. Hard exercise (or going without food for too long, or getting overly heated or chilled) may trigger the body to think that there is a crisis, tripping the old fight or flight responses again, which is not helpful (PTSD is essentially a hyperactive fight or flight response – any little thing can send you into full blown reaction, which is not helpful when you aren’t actually being attacked). So you want to avoid tripping the crisis response, meaning you want to stay in a predictable, safe environment where your body can let go of the hair-trigger responses. Gentle exercise is part of this, and while walking back and forth while spinning on the great wheel isn’t something most people would consider exercise, it’s more than I have been doing. You take five steps back then five steps forward for every length of yarn you make, turning the wheel with one hand and reaching the other up and back and over your head then bending forward as you wind back on to the spindle. All that movement does add up … and it’s more exercise than I have been getting, so it’s an improvement even if it isn’t much of a workout. As the weather starts to improve I’ll be out in the garden and doing more, but it’s still too soggy to go for an enjoyable walk so for now, this is how I’ll walk: the same five steps, over and over again, making yarn.
I love spinning.
Yesterday, I finished two cops of singles and wound them off onto storage bobbins. Today, I will probably get around to plying them into my first real yarn spun on the great wheel.

Cool, eh?


  1. Lovely spinning! I found the same thing - learn to spin on a supported spindle and then the great wheel is immediately easy. My tools though are a brass tahkli and a tiny little book charkha. Same principle! I do admire your Grandma Shirley and you're right, it's great exercise.

  2. I'm just shocked at how easy it all is ... now. It was tricky when I started, and that surprised me, but I think long draw from the fold was the key technique I hadn't mastered before the spindle.

    Just finished plying: 152 m of *balanced* (it is so easy to get a balanced yarn on the GW!) 2 ply! It's drying, I'll measure WPI and so forth once it's finished recovering from the usual post-spinning abuse (cold/hot/cold, whack, snap, dry).


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