Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Birnam - been there, done that, and had fun!!

One of the aspects of running workshops that I really enjoy is meeting new people who share an interest in yarn and spinning, but its also nice to have one or two kent faces. Last weekend I ran three spinning workshops at the Birnam Institute in Perthshire. On Saturday there were two ladies that I already knew through the knitting group at Elena Costella's delicious new yarn shop in Perth, and on Sunday two with whom I had enjoyed a lino-printing workshop a while ago. On both days there were also some new people to add to my tally of spinning friends.

After introductions all round we got to grips with a lovely springy white cross-bred fleece. As we sorted the wool into different qualities we discussed choosing and storing fleeces, the pros and cons of washing before spinning, and admired the woolly 'poster boys' chosen as prime examples of 66 distinct pure breeds of sheep, each with different fleece characteristics (as well as some fairly hilarous facial expressions!!). Everyone tried carding and combing the raw wool, remarking on how much dirt is removed in the process -mostly ending up on some people's lovely new, purpose-made spinning aprons! We tried out a few other types of fibres, blending different colours of raw wool, or wool with mohair or alpaca, and also looked at commercially prepared wool and preparing silk cocoons into roving ready for spinning or blending.

By the time we had prepared a supply of wool to get us spinning in the afternoon workshop we were all more than ready for the lovely lunch that we had downstairs in the BI cafe.

Suitably re-energised, and reinforced by one additional learner, we spent the afternoon spinning with drop-spindles. Using the 'park and draft' approach to start with really helps slow the process down to let people understand what happens and learn to control the twist with one hand while controling thickness with the other.

(note the take-away coffee - spinning in the 21st century!!)

Soon everyone developed the confidence to stop 'parking' the spindle, and the first balls of handspun yarn were proudly displayed:
Once a second ball of yarn had been spun there was time to ply the two 'singles' yarns together and make a skein. Nobody tied themself to the niddy noddy, which is unusual, and by the end of the workshop thse who were not joining us on Sunday  were able to take  their skeins home to be washed and displayed with pride.

On Sunday we were joined by three more learners, and had a total of seven spinning wheels with an opportunity to try at least two types.
Two people had brought wheels that needed a bit of attention to get them working really well, I will be getting a couple of small parts for one of them but the other now just needs regular use to keep it running smoothly.
Transferring the skills learned with the drop spindle to spinning with a wheel is pretty direct - the hands do the same things, and it is a matter of learning to control the wheel and co-ordinate it with what the hands are doing. The learning curve was a bit steeper for those who had never spun with either spindle or wheel before, but everyone was able to produce very creditable yarn over the course of the day.
Concentrating hard on learning a new skill takes a lot of energy and again we were glad of a good lunch in the BI cafe. By the end of the afternoon everyone had a skein of 2-ply yarn to be proud of, and a strong sense of achievement.

I enjoyed spending two days in the company of such a nice group of people, and I'm looking forward to seeing (even if only in photos) their yarn once it has been washed. Hopefully I will spin with them all again and help them to further develop their skills.

There's always a lot of preparation before a workshop weekend, and great excitement when the day of the first workshop finally arrives. It's about 25 miles from my home to Birnam, but the road was nice and quiet on Saturday morning, so I got there in plenty of time to set up and then relax for a few minutes before the first learners arrived.

Theres such a lot of stuff to remember when I'm packing..... different kinds of wool, other types of fibre, loads of small tools and 4 spinning wheels, all to be packed into a small Fiat (I forgot to photograph the fleece!!!).

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