Thursday 25 February 2010

Full Circle - Irish Traditional Crafts

Chapter 1 - Spinning

We start our craft journey with the basic textile ingredient that was and has been available on most farms in Ireland from earliest times - sheeps wool and its preparation.

The sheep is shorn using hand shears (today many shearers use electric sheers for speed) and the fleece is taken off the animal in one continuous piece. It is then spread out and sorted. Some people will spin directly from the fresh fleece but that depends on the breed of sheep and the quality of the wool. If preparation is needed the fleece is broken up and washed gently so that it does not felt (fuse together). It is then spread out on a stone wall to dry naturally.

When dry it is teased - gently pulled apart, spread out - and any grass, twigs etc are removed. If very dry ( i.e. no natural lanolin remaining = the sweat of the animal) it is greased at this stage to make it easier to spin. Oil, paraffin and goose fat are just some of the substances that have been used. Once greased it is then carded to take out the tangles and rolled up ready for spinning.
The prepared rolls of wool are used to spin the yarn by either using a hand spindle or a spinning wheel. The same principle is used with both. To start you draw out a small piece of wool from the roll, twisting as you go, tie it to the spindle and continue twisting in the same direction drawing out the yarn and winding it onto the spindle. When the roll is used simply add another to the end of it and continue winding.
In Ireland there were traditionally 3 types of spinning wheel in use - the big wheel which was found mainly in the counties along the west coast of Ireland and was used while standing up, the smaller version of this wheel used in the southern counties and the small flax wheel which was introduced in the northern counties in the 1700s by the Royal Linen Manufacturers in Ulster. Not many of these wheels now remain in use. When I was on the lookout for a wheel last year there were none of those wonderful wheels available so I bought a small Ashford Traveller that I have named Jessie after a very special sheepdog that my grandfather had when I was a little girl.
I learned to spin on Clare Island last year with an amazing lady called Beth Moran (thats her husband Mairtin sheering the sheep). She also taught me how to dye the spun wool using onion skins to get a bright orange colour. The results of my first attempts are below......

Today in Ireland we have some amazing spinners and dyers who make yarn by spinning all types of natural and synthetic fibres. and are just two of the CraftyIrelandTeam who are actively spinning and dyeing. You should check out their etsy shops.......
As yet I am a learner and spinning just for my own amusement. I am currently making a waistcoat from my first spun wool - I will show you how it turned out at a later date. For now I am just happy to spend some quiet time with Jessie when I can.
If you are a spinner, either wheel or spindle, and live in or near Dublin, Ireland, you are welcome to join the Dublin Spinners who are meeting next Sunday 28th February in the Powerscourt Balcony in Dublin City Centre. I am sorry I wont be able to make it this month unfortunately so I will miss out as Laura tells me that tea and cakes are also on the agenda.....
More information on the Dublin Spinners group at the following Ravelry page

Thats all for this month. Next topic is Natural Dyeing and Knitting coming end March.
Cheers for now


  1. Thanks for this very interesting article Mo. I read it with pleasure and look forward to chapter 2!

  2. oOoh I want a spiinning wheel - just for the pure hypnotic effect. Its such a beautiful craft to watch.

  3. Mo, great article. Can not wait for the next chapter.
    And I always tell my friends - some people do yoga, I spin ;)


    How wonderful! Spinning is one thing I'd love to learn - I have a small spindle, but haven't tried it yet. But I will!

    Loved the article!

  5. Great article, a lovely explanation of spinning from past to present. I love all the sheep pictures. Love your wheel and it's name.

  6. Loved the article Mo, very informative!