According to Wikipedia, spiders have spun for at least 100 million years, a date defined thanks to a discovery of a web embedded in amber. So that makes these arachnids the oldest spinners on earth. Little wonder that Robert the Bruce was so enchanted by the perseverance of a spider, then, although that legend is probably a tall tale, embroidered by generations of Scots spinning out a yarn as long as it can go.
Of course, we have lots of shared folklore around spinning, which apart from spiders is really a human activity. I imagine everyone’s first exposure to the concept of spinning was in the twin fairytales of Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin, either of which our children might have experienced as part of the Allen Valleys Drama Group pantomimes. The first person I heard of who actually spun things for real, cotton as it turned out, was Mahatma Gandhi. Both for relaxation and as a political endeavour, the great leader exhibited a profound sense of personal humility as he sat cross-legged behind his small spinning wheel, exhorting his people to make their own clothes rather than purchase British ones. Surely it might behove our politicians to adopt a similar humbler tone, rather than brandishing an Isle of Man kipper and blaming the EU for food hygiene regulations imposed by the UK’s own food safety body. But anyway.
The second person I encountered who knew something about spinning was young Carrie, in London, who spun and wove for the sheer creativity of it. On the other hand, I don’t think she’s had the time or patience to spin since we got together, as we were too busy with living, working, running around, raising a family — too busy spinning around ourselves, really, to dedicate long swathes of time to the pursuit of fashioning a strong thread out of bunches of untangled fibre, called, she tells me, a ‘rolag’ carefully ‘carded’ from an otherwise unruly mess. But nowadays, time stretches out and opens up into a veritable spinning opportunity. And lately, because I’ve been so good, she’s promised me a hand-spun, hand-knitted jumper of ‘Masham‘ wool, in a lovely undyed silver to match my hair and my incipient beard.
We brought the old Ashford spinning wheel out of the damp shed, covered, I’m afraid, in a thin film of mould. Bent, warped and intractable, it looked like a real challenge to get twirling successfully and smoothly again — granted, it’s been through a lot over the past 40 years. Well. About three attempts later, and Carrie was throwing in the towel. But we patiently persevered, and just after she broke down and ordered a new tiny electric model, we fixed the last problem. So now we have two delightful spinning wheels: one for spinning at home, and one for when we’re out spinning our wheels in Harry Hymer, ancient motorhome extraordinaire. The brilliant thing about the new Ashford eSpinner is that it runs on either normal 240v household electricity, or on solar-panel powered 12vDC. Of course, the balanced foot treadle of the old wheel is a classic icon, but the whole assembly is hard to stow in Harry’s small cabinets!
Carrie actually tried out the eSpinner at Woolfest, to which most of the Knitters and Crocheters Group went via Baynes Tours, but for which date was inconvenient for one of her travelling companions. She loved it there, and with a little bit of finessing on the brake mechanism, loves it here too.
So some day soon, when those solar panels finally arrive from next to the Baltic Sea, and we get the nicely dyed and lined habitation curtains replaced, we’ll be off for a little spin in Harry, heading to Budle Bay and the farm campsite overlooking the sea for a couple days of sitting still . . . and spinning, literally and metaphorically, of course!
Meanwhile, today’s diary entry is done and dusted, spun off into a corner of tranquility, from which golden motes of memories may yet be retrieved, as we spin them all out.