Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Turning the Great Wheel

I've wanted to tell you about this for ages, but somehow I never got around to actually doing it. Now that I am temporarily unable to use a spinning wheel, I can at least write about my experience on the Great Wheel or Walking Wheel :-)

In September 2009, my husband and I went to Ireland on our honeymoon. We spent a few days in Dublin, then slowly made our way to the west coast, visiting the Boyne Valley with Newgrange and Knowth, spending time in a cute café in a small town called Slane (where I knitted a cowl - which reminds me I have to find the pictures again), visiting Trim Castle and Locke's Distillery Museum, and finally ending up in Galway, as intended. We spent a few nights at a cozy B&B called Liscarna. After a few days there, on one of which we visited Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, we drove on to Clifden. There, we spent a few nights at another recommendable B&B called Kingstown House and drove around the countryside during the days.
I was delighted when, as I consulted the internet for yarn or fibre shops nearby (as I did in every town we passed, by the way ;-)) I found The Sheep and Wool Centre, just about half an hour away from Clifden. We just HAD to go there :-D And we did.

It's a museum of sheep, fibre and fibre-related crafts; a shop; and a café. You can read more about it on their website if you like. Anyway, we went there and stated that we wanted to visit the museum. We were the only people who did, somehow all the others were satisfied with the shop and café. After having watched a film about local (sheep/fibre-related) history we were given a spinning and carding demonstration. When I told the lady I already knew how to spin she was delighted, as for some reason there don't seem to be many spinners left in western Ireland. I hinted that I really wanted to know more about spinning on the Great Wheel, since I had read about them but could never really imagine how to work with them. And then - she not only showed us, but let me try it.

Unlike with a more modern spinning wheel, you don't treadle with your feet and use both hands for drafting the fibre, but you turn the (really large) wheel with your right hand...

...while drafting the fibre with your left hand only:

While drafting, you hold the emerging yarn in a right angle to the wheel. As soon as your arm doesn't seem to be long enough anymore, you hold the yarn parallel to the wheel and it will be wound around the spool - turning the wheel with your other hand all the time, mind you!

It was weird and unfamiliar, and I did have my problems with the technique, although Orla (I think she was called) seemed to think I did fairly well. It was fun, and I think if I practiced I would make good progress. I don't want another wheel, though, I already have three and don't know where I'd put such a large one ;-)

It was a great experience and I really recommend visiting The Sheep and Wool Centre - so if you have the chance, go for it - and say hello from me :-)


  1. silly really, I live in the west of ireland - but haven't visited them yet (ok, it's a bit far by bike:)) - and yes, unfortuntely there aren't all that many spinners left here anymore - but our numbers are growing again, albeit slowly! we even manage a bi-monthly meeting now:))
    the great wheels are pretty difficult to use, when the spinner has only ever used the treadle wheels before - no inchworm here, it's longdraw all the way:))

  2. What a beautiful and informative trip. I have always wanted to visit Ireland - it is just so beautiful. When my sister was living in England she bought an antique spinning wheel, which I am trying to convince her that it would look better in my house!
    You blog confirmed my love of Ireland's magical beauty. Glad you finally got around to writing this!

  3. With practice a great wheel is absolute poetry to use, although I have the same problem with space and having mine readily available. But I love taking it with me for demonstrations.

  4. love your blog! So glad I found it ;)



Related Posts with Thumbnails