Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Catching up with the travelling spinner [1]

I've been so busy lately that I've been neglecting this blog, so here's a quick round-up of what I've been up to - on the spinning front any way!

In October I had a fantastic trip to Italy. First of all I was in Lucca, which has to be way up on my list of favourite places.

Donna and Antonio picked me up at the airport and after a slight adventure on the way, I checked in to B&B La Torre - well, a trip to Italy wouldn't be complete for me without some of Lina and Alfredo's hospitality!!

I got such a warm welcome from Lina in the morning - it felt great to be back. I was happy that several of my spinning 'students' and a couple of friends from home had taken my recommendation to stay at La Torre too. You couldn't beat it for value and location - in the heart of the old city but only 5 minutes walk from the station, the rooms are simple but the real highlights are breakfast - a truely unique experience - and the feeling of being 'in famiglia'.
Check it out here if you're thinking of visiting Lucca.

 The fleeces I had chosen in July for my Lucca workshops - a gorgeous moorit and a silvery grey, both top quality Shetland wool -  and arranged to be posted from Shetland had failed to arrive but luckily I knew that before I left home and had taken an alternative, also Irene, one of the 'students', had brought some fleece given to her by a neighbour - in Slovenia! (The Shetland fleeces eventually made their way back to Shetland (after a trip to Germany and two weeks in a depot somewhere in Italy - figure that one out!!) and my good friends at Jamieson & Smith (the Shetland Wool Brokers) sent them on to me in Auchterarder.)

At my beginners' spinning workshop on Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Roberta. Irene had stayed at La Torre so we had met at breakfast. Donna was with us as well.

All day we carded, combed, chatted and of course spun in the fabulous surroundings of the weaving workshops in the Palazzo Mansi textile museum.
Irene and Donna outside Palazzo Mansi

Organising this great venue was quite a coup for Donna, I know she had put a lot of work into the arrangements.

I had planned only to use drop-spindles - including the lovely hand-made ones created by my friend Murray Dunan more details here - for this workshop, but without a fleece to sort there was time for Irene and Roberta to try out spinning wheels as well. Both got on really well - when Roberta sat at the Ashford Kiwi (wearing her very first skein of handspun yarn as a necklace) she looked as if she was falling in love!!

 I was very happy to see their evident sense of achievement at the end of the day.

On Sunday it was time to reconnect with old friends - in fact some of us managed to get together for dinner on Saturday evening. Silvia had come all the way from Salerno for the third time; Rosaria from Brescia, Annalisa from Genova, Serena from Cecina as well as Antonella and Lucia from Lucca were all at their second spinning workshop (Donna and I have lost count of how many she has attended!!).

Between the chat and laughter we addressed a few spinning difficulties that they had encountered and tried out some different fibres, making our own blends. 

After a break for lunch there was the oppotunity to have a go at some of the more complicated yarn constructions such as navajo plying (a magical way to transform a single (one-ply) yarn into a three ply), corkscrew, bullion and a more complex three ply curled loop boucle yarn. Our fun day of spinning was over all too quickly - till the next time!!

That evening two good friends arrive from Scotland - the timing of their trip was entirely co-incidental but it was great to be able to spend time with them and show them around Lucca for a while, before Donna and I headed off to Sardinia.

On arrival at Cagliari we were met first by the heat, and then by a warm welcome from Cristina and Simone. Cristina had done all the local organisation, finding a fabulous venue for the workshops and a B&B, in the same house, in San Sperate. Our rooms were light, airy and immaculately clean and the hostess couldn't have been more welcoming. The house surrounded a courtyard and was decorated with traditional baskets, kitchen implements and lots of tiny handmade chairs.

Cristina had planned a wonderful programme for the few days before the workshops. On Wednesday she took us in to Cagliari, for a walk round the atmospheric narrow streets and belvederes of the old town,

 then a fantastic lunch before a visit to the basilica and finally the beach.  

On Thursday Cristina and Simone took us inland, driving for an hour or more through the contryside to Barumini to visit one of Sardinia's famous nuraghe.

Countryside near Barumini


These ancient stone towers reminded me very much of the brochs found mainly in the north west of Scotland. Then we went to the nearby Casa Zapata, where there is an ethnographic museum which includes an interesting display about spinning and dyeing




In the mansion house itself there was a cleverly engineered display of the remains of a nuraghe that had ben discovered just under the floors - literally used as the foundations of the eightenth-century house! Finally, we visited the little church next to the mansion. It was a most unexpected and interesting day out.

Friday saw Donna and me wandering around the sleepy streets of San Sperate looking at the murals for which the little town is famous.



 In the afternoon Cristina and Simone arrived - with the fleeces I had had sent to Cristina from Shetland, (that parcel arrived in a week, presumably without detours!!) - and we prepared the workshop space, a long room usually used for private parties and local feste. We put the long trestle tables to good use.

Saturday arrived with the real purpose of my trip to Sardina - the spinning workshops! Over the two workshop days there were ten 'students' with very varied interests - felt makers, weavers, soap makers, artists, and we had a lot of  interesting conversations.

Anna had brought an old spinning wheel - her grandmother's I think, which I was fascinated to see.

 She also brought some sardinian fleece, and it was interesting to compare it with the Shetland fleeces. Sardinian wool is quite coarse, but with a softer undercoat.
On Saturday we sorted fleeces, carded and combed, discussing the differences between woollen and worsted. We had a lovely lunch in the courtyard - everyone had brought something, it was a real feast! After lunch it was back to the combs and carders, blending wool with alpaca, mohair or sari silk, blending colours, and creating a good supply of prepared fibre ready for spinning on Sunday.

On sunday the spindles came out and everyone was busy creating yarn,

some concentrating on technique and even-ness,

others (especially exuberant artist Lilly) on colour and texture.

We had another glorious lunch in the courtyard, and then spent the afternoon plying and skeining yarns. Everybody created at least one skein of plied yarn, and all professed themelves pleased with what they had achieved. Later on a few local friends called by to see what we had been doing and enjoy a glass of wine.