Spinning on a great wheel

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Spinning on a great wheel is the ultimate test of competence in hand spinning. Unless you can spin long draw it is not possible to use  a great  wheel effectively. Spinning is done with the left hand while the right hand turns the wheel. The spinner walks backwards drawing out long lengths of singles thread at a time – as Marlena demonstrates here at her first  lesson on the great wheel this week.

spinning lesson on great wheel

She learned long draw on a traditional wheel and also spins on a top-whorl drop spindle. After an hour or so she was able to produce a thread. As most spinners are right -handed, the first task is to get used to drawing out the thread with the left hand instead of the right.

During the lesson I took a  video. It proved an invaluable teaching aid. We played it back on my iMac big screen. I stopped the video at relevant points to explain how she could improve her technique – simple things like ‘if your hand was here instead of there, you would be able to’…etc. 

I love sharing my passion for long draw spinning – life’s too short for anything less than long draw in my opinion. Teaching on the Great Wheel is a particular joy because I feel it connects across the centuries. I am passing on a skill that transcends time and space. It is a magical experience.

Unlike on a modern traditional wheel, there is no orifice or flyer on a Great wheel. Instead, twist is made by keeping the leader thread on the point of the spindle shaft. Because the wheel is so large and the spindle it drives very small, twist is made very quickly.  And so thread. The spindle point needs to be fairly sharp – how the  fairy tale Princess pricked her finger! Spinning on great wheel is easier from rolags (carded, sausage-shaped rolls of fleece), as was the standard practice in Medieval times.

My great wheel is a replica of one we know existed in the 1300s (P Austin: HandSpinning Essential technical and creative skills. Crowood Press 2018, page40).

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