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Wool seen from the other side

I tried spinning with this sort of wheel once - it was really hard to get a nice even yarn.

I tried spinning with this sort of wheel once – it was really hard to get a nice even yarn.

It will come as no surprise to regular visitors to this blog, but for those who don’t know – I am a knitter. I enjoy it so much, I made the heroine of my latest novel a knitter so she could share my hobby.

I find knitting relaxing. It helps with the RSI after all day using a computer keyboard and I get a real thrill when I finish a project, particularly if someone says it looks nice.

And let’s not forget I am Australian. For a very long time it was said Australia rides on the sheep’s back. The wool industry has always been an important part of rural Australian life.

But for an Australian, the wool industry had always conjured up vast sweeping outback paddocks littered with thousands of sheep. And shearing sheds stripping the wool for export.

In UK, however, the story is somewhat different, as I found out in a visit to the National Wool Museum in Wales.

This small but really fascinating museum is housed in the listed buildings of the former Cambrian Mills and tells the story of spinning and weaving industry, from early days as a cottage industry through the industrial revolution.

An old photo on display at the museum - knitters still gather like this today to chat - although these days there is often wine involved.

An old photo on display at the museum – knitters still gather like this today to chat – although these days there is often wine involved.

How very different this picture is to the open Australian plains. While our stockmen and shearers toiled in terrible heat, British textile workers struggled in cramped dark and noisy mills, breathing in the deadly fibres.

This spinning mule operated commercially in this building until 1960 - one operator could produce hundreds of spindles of wool.

This spinning mule operated commercially in this building until 1960 – one operator could produce hundreds of spindles of wool.

At the Wool Museum has preserved machines of that era and kept them in working order… which gave me a chance to shoot a few seconds of video…

Quite apart from the noise of the machines, look at the speed of those shuttles. If one hit a worker (and I’m sure they must have from time to time) there would be serious injuries as a result.

I was fascinated by the fact that only one of the men doing the demonstration wore ear protection. I felt like my ears were ringing after just a few minutes in the room. In Victorian times, workers were deafened by working long hours in this terrible din.

The machines still spin wool and make fabrics in the traditional way – and the colours and fabric patterns produced today are the same as they have been for generations…

The colours and patterns of the fabric and the designs of the clothes are all traditional. I imagine my grandfather wore shirts like those.

The colours and patterns of the fabric and the designs of the clothes are all traditional. I imagine my grandfather wore shirts like those.

Which if course took me to the shop – where I bought wool spun on those preserved spinning mules.

Because you can’t have too much wool standing by for the next knitting project.

Fabulous Aran weight wool in traditional colours - I'm still trying to find the right pattern to knit this up.

Fabulous Aran weight wool in traditional colours – I’m still trying to find the right pattern to knit this up.

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One Response to Wool seen from the other side

  • What an interesting place to visit, Janet. Thanks for sharing. I have a spinning wheel and love spinning when I get the time. I made my Dad a jumper from the feece of one of our sheep – hours of work to make it, but it’s lovely.

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