Rooted in the past, reminded of a future.

Friday Jun 05, 2020

Dear friends,

The image shown—freshly spun yarn, drying at the stove—was taken in my Hoswick sitting room this week.

As world events continue to develop frightening new dimensions, I have found myself reacting by gravitating towards the most primitive of processes and materials: making yarn.

Working closely with wool and simple tools allows me to feel connected to the past, whilst also being reminded that there is a future. Treadling a spinning wheel means being rooted to place, feeling earthed — and making links between hands, head and heart.

I hope that this finds you well, and safe.


A bobbin of handspun yarn with blues, greens, oranges and reds in the two plies. Photograph taken in the Nielanell studio, Shetland

Spinning: a complement to my knitwear

Many who have visited the studio, and have seen my handspun yarns, will know that I am very reluctant to part with them. I wonder—why? 

Yellow tub trug full of Shetland, undyed fleece in Hoswick in natural greys. Behind is a display at the Hoswick Visitor Centre with a photograph of the Whale Caa

The purity of the natural materials remind me how rooted the process is to our very being. The engagement with the most basic tools, the textures, the colours, the smells, the touch — listening to each wheel whir in its own peculiar way.

A wooden spinning wheel in front of brightly coloured, dyed fibre, drying

Every sense is so finely tuned with my hands and feet, all simultaneously. It is about my own balance, my centre of gravity, the connection with the earth and therefore my place in it.

The process is slow and protracted; each step is honest and humbling. 

A table of fleece washed for spinning dries in the sunshine, in a garden in Hoswick, Shetland. Over the hedge a red rood can be seen

When I am troubled, I always find some kind of equilibrium washing wool.

The excitement of finding a beautiful fleece, sorting, washing — and then perhaps dying the wool — is laborious yet uplifting. 

 Two skeins of handspun art yarn. One in yellows and teals, the other in natural, pale greys

Then there is designing the yarn itself.

Playing with different ways of carding, choosing the wheel, and preparing it for spinning (which in reality means finding all the bobbins…). Every step seems to settle me.

For me each skein is so full of promises and dreams, special in it’s own right. It’s little wonder then, that I find it difficult to see them leave the studio. However, it is undeniably wonderful to receive pictures of what those skeins of yarn become.

A ball of multicoloured, handspun art yarn - sitting on some knitting in the yarn

With all that’s been happening in recent months, I have found myself returning to the comfort and security of hand spinning.

In the past few weeks I’ve even been known to talk to my friends about the possibilities of knitting.

Children's drawings of a spinning wheel and a demonstration of a spinning wheel

Drawings by young visitors to the studio in Hoswick, for whom I gave a spinning demonstration.

When I talk to visitors in the studio and the subject swings round to the topic of spinning (I often try to shift the conversation in this direction), I become very animated. 

I say to visitors, and to you — reading — if you glean anything from your (virtual) visit to Shetland, it is: learn to spin.

Please do get in touch if you would like advice on learning to spin by hand.

Two jam jars in the Nielanell studio, Hoswick, Shetland, with pencils, pens, scissors etc. One with teal and green handspun yarn wrapped around it

Note to novice spinners

Handspun yarn does seem to get everywhere...

There’s just something that I find so relaxing, yet energising, so personal about spinning a bobbin of yarn.

Tagged with: making

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