On spinning equipment

In response to my post two days ago, Joanne commented:

Whenever I see all your equipment, I am awed. I thought I was over the top with my several sets of cards, 2 sets of combs, and other paraphernalia. I am, in comparison, obviously a neophyte!

I started to write a long reply to her, and then realized it needed to be a full post.

First, I've been at this for decades! I got my first wheel thirty-five years ago, and I learned the basics on a spindle before that.

This was "once upon a time," in the dark ages, when it was hard to get any spinning fiber—let alone prepared, dyed fiber!—and when in order to get a wheel you pretty much had to get together a dozen friends and place a wholesale order with Ashford. Which we did. Shipped from New Zealand. Arrived in boxes. In pieces. Unfinished. Most of us had never seen a working spinning wheel (only the ones in museums). So we learned the parts by putting our wheels together and finishing them (I learned French polish for mine.)

And then we taught ourselves to spin, primarily with the help of Elsie Davenport. Ah, photo op: Elsie is here with me at the cabin in the woods. No, I didn't bring her in person, nor did I haul my whole library up the mountain. It's just that Elsie Davenport is one of the spiritual parents of this project I'm working on.



Aside: I note in the new Spin-Off that Olive Linder died recently, at the age of 91. She and her husband Harry were pioneers who helped twentieth-century folks who had been disconnected from the spinning tradition recover this fundamental set of skills. In order to figure out what to do with cotton, the Linders had to buy a whole darn BALE of the stuff. Read what they wrote to find out exactly how big a bale is and what they did with it. What gifts they gave us in their writing! As did Bette Hochberg, and a bunch of other folks. Some day maybe I'll stroll a blog post past my bookshelves. But today: a bow of gratitude in Olive Linder's direction.

Second, and most importantly, I've added equipment as I've needed it. Everything I have is here for a specific reason. I can go ten years without adding anything.

Yes, I have five sets of hand carders. I have two each of fine and
coarse full-sized carders: I have worn out one pair of each, although I still use the old ones,
mended. But I'm not about to subject those veterans to the amount of work I'm
doing this week (nor risk that they'll break again when I'm 45 miles from their alternatives). I've brought their younger siblings, which are at least twenty years old themselves. I also have a pair of small cotton carders. (I'm a curved-back carder person. Some spinners are flat-backed carder people.)


For the current project, I bought two new sets of combs. Within less than a year. I'd been trying to make do with what I had, which had worked perfectly well for a long time, and it wasn't going well enough with my new assignment. I added one new pair first, which handled part of the gap. Then I added the second pair. I trust I now have my combing needs covered forever.

I don't have a drum carder. I bought one nearly thirty years ago, and it wasn't the right kind for me (again, I got what was available at the time; it never did what I wanted). I ended up hating it for a long time and then giving it away to a spinner who had different requirements and is happy with it. Purchase of a different drum carder has not made it to the top of the budget list.

I also have "only" two wheels: the Ashford Traditional I got as a kit in the early 1970s and the Reeves Norwegian that was a gift from the SOAR community, coordinated by Dale Pettigrew, for my 40th birthday, which fell during SOAR twenty years ago. (I'm still stunned by that birthday; I have not recovered at all.)

That's also when I got the mini-combs, which I love, as a gift from Trudy and Jan Van Stralen of Louet. They have been so useful that I have not often been inclined to reach, or wish, for any other combs, even though I have had access to a set of English combs and I love the way they prepare fiber.

Did I mention that in order to do the current project, in addition to buying two new pairs of combs, I also tore down a wall in the house? Otherwise I didn't have room for the boxes of fiber. . . . I'm sure I haven't mentioned that. I did take pictures. I have been saving the details of the wall for after the project is finished. Assuming the project gets finished in the foreseeable future. There is a deadline. I need to be working.

I've borrowed a friend's Lendrum for this project, and yes, I'd love to own it. It does a superb job at both traveling compactly and spinning. I've always liked Lendrum wheels. If I had time, money, and room enough, there are several other wheels I'd like to have handy to use, and yes, I'd put them to work. But I already have two full-time-resident spinning wheels in a relatively small living space.

What I do possess in sheer abundance is handspindles! nostepinnes! niddy-noddies!

And wool.

Some of which I'd better spin right now.


This morning there was a Downy woodpecker at the feeder. Because it was reasonably big (though small for a woodpecker) and not all the way across the road, I could get a positive i.d. even with my eyes and without my field glasses.


8 thoughts on “On spinning equipment”

  1. First, this sounds like such a fun spinning and writing week. Glad that you’re enjoying it!

    Second, your summary touches mine in many ways. My first wheel, 24 years ago, came from Ashford in New Zealand in a box, in pieces. My favorite carders are always curve backed, and my absolutely (oldest) and favorite is Clemes & Clemes. I have a love hate relationship with my drum carder and nearly ruined a pair of mini-combs once before admitting I was more of a Viking and English combs kind of gal. All this said, I’m going through some sort of spinning hiatus at the moment, not a lot is getting done. I’d love to talk with you more about this when you come “home!” In the meanwhile, have fun and thanks for bringing us (vicariously) on your work retreat/adventure.

  2. So, Joanne, you don’t look old enough to have gotten your first wheel 24 years ago!

    My oldest and most favorite carders are Danish, and they’re very like the Clemes & Clemes pair (gray-backed carding cloth) that I *finally* found to work in their stead.

  3. Ellen, I think of you every time I’m working on this! I think you will like the results. I wish I could talk about it “out loud” more. The time will come. I hope! Back to work. . . .

  4. Oh, Deb, I got my first wheel when I was twelve! 🙂 I realized too that I forgot to mention that I have all the Davenport and Hochberg books, etc. too. I fell for spinning as ten or eleven year old. My parents found me a spinning class to take, and after I completed something like 12 weeks of classes–I wanted my own wheel! In some ways, I’m an “old” spinner. 🙂

  5. That cabin looks fantastic! Poudre Canyon?
    The project sounds very intriguing too. I am also surrounded by fibre – have been washing a Rambouillet X fleece from a ewe called SOB!

  6. Good guess, Lynne! I haven’t spent much time up here. Just snowshoeing a few years ago.

    Hey! I might get to use my snowshoes if this keeps up! We’ve got about 3 inches now. Not enough yet. . . .

  7. Okay, Joanne, so you’re a young person and an “old” spinner. I’d figured you must have been less than 6–! Admittedly, in the colonial era everyone age 5 and up was required to be able to spin, but it’s almost unbelievable to have people start then in almost all parts of North America these days. Congratulations on getting started so early!

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