28 March, 2011

Like a Dinner Party, But With Yarn

The educational handspinning and weaving demonstration Saturday at the museum was quite enjoyable.  There were eight of us from our guild that came out, and we had ample time to talk as a group together during setup and lulls between tour groups.

The arrangement produced a pleasantly different dynamic than we normally have.  Our guild meets in a community hall with forty or more chairs arranged in a large circle.  At a guild meeting you can expect to have a conversation with one or two people at a time.  You and everyone else are spread out around the room and you are half-listening to the background noise of chatter, which cuts down to almost nil your ability to catch an interesting conversation and join in.

In the museum sitting in a group, we felt more like close friends at a dinner party.  We all chimed in and contributed and took the conversation where we willed.  The exception was our weaver, only because the staff assigned her display tables on the opposite side of the foyer too far away for casual earshot, so we went over singly every so often and talked with her.

We covered all sorts of fibre topics amongst ourselves.  The erratic nesting habits of first-time pregnant Angora rabbits.  The possibilities (and pervasiveness) of being self-taught in diverse handspinning and knitting techniques using online video tutorials.  The fascination and limitations of book learning.  Shopping at Pennsic War and how ordinary non-reenactor folk can get access.  What a flax strick is.  How thick cotton can be spun and how aggravating cotton is to spin on a drop spindle.  The impressiveness of a great-wheel spinner who knows what she's doing and uses a wheelboy to really make it go.  At what point a handspinner stops being a novice.  The many ways to justify a wheel purchase.  The whys and wherefores of true woolen spinning.  Softness of hoggett Border Leicester locks relative to adult sheep's locks.  How pungent spun dog fur smells when wet.  The price of qiviut.

We tag-teamed the museum vistors' questions too.  A man asked which of the spinning wheels was the oldest.  I was startled when three friends pointed to my spindle and said, "That!"  My spindle was made last year.  The man may have meant which wheel was assembled the longest time ago; my friends meant which was the oldest technology.

I would be surprised if any of the castle spinning wheels were older than ten years old.  Not the models but the actual wheels.  Most of the wheels were castle (upright) spinning wheels.  A couple were modern ones that fold for travel and one was a Kromski which looks like a reproduction of an old style.  The sole Saxony, a classic Ashford Traditional of which there are probably more in existence than any other model in the world, was vintage I believe.  Maybe thirty years old.  I should remember its age, and I should remember the makers of the upright wheels (Lendrum?  Majacraft?  lovely metal hinges on the footman on that one) but I don't.

I should have cleared up the ambiguity for the man about oldest technological model and oldest actual construction.  I wished I could have had my great wheel with me for just that moment.  The great wheel is an intermediary technology, falling between drop spindle and flyer wheel.  There are newly-built great wheels, but the one I have is antique.  It dates back to the American Civil War, which is the time period the museum focuses on and presumably the time period the inquisitive museum visitor was interested in.

But I left the wheel at home.  The great wheel, all six feet of it, does come apart for travel but I haven't figured out how to conveniently carry all the pieces at one time.  Maybe if I stick the legs and post in a long pouch and strap all of the parts except the wheel to the little folding hand truck I have and carry the wheel in the free hand, it might work.  Would look odd, to say the least, and opening doors would be problematic.  You can imagine why the folding castle wheel with carrying bag is such a popular choice for handspinners who spin in public.

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