The Great Great Wheel Experiment

IMG_20161010_162509431We’re off to the British Wool Show, at the weekend.

We’ll be taking our Jack Greene-made Great Wheel, and finally trying out an experiment we’ve been threatening to do, for years.  If you’ve ever seen us demo-ing the Great Wheel, you’ll probably know what it is.

Sources mention how much it was possible to spin in a day; an experienced Great Wheel spinner, working fairly flat out.  This question has intrigued me for a long time.    But another question has also intrigued us for a long time and some experimental archaeology beckons.

In “Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning”, Patricia Baines wrote:

…It is said that spinners who worked in the textile industry in Yorkshire and Lancashire walked the equivalent of 30 miles a week spinning wool…

 

[Baines,  Batsford 1977 Edition, p.61]

Usual caveats apply to “It is said” as I’m sure Patricia Baines would be the first to point out.  This 30 mile figure has often been cited, including by ourselves.

30 miles. That’s 5 miles per day, assuming a six day week.  We have long threatened to try to spin for a complete day, wearing a pedometer, and just see if that even looks feasible.

I have been spinning on the walking wheel since the mid 1990s, probably.  I originally had one of the few Timbertops Great Wheels ever made, which was custom built for me.  Since sold as  lovely as it was, I couldn’t use it for multi-period Living History, like the Jack Greene wheel and let’s be honest, we barely had space for one big wheel, let alone two.  (By “barely had” I mean “don’t have”).

I reckon after 20 odd years my level of competence on the big wheel now is roughly on a par with an eighteenth century 7 year old’s.  Plus I am slow, unfit, distractable, and at shows inevitably have a lot of stop and start – which will skew our figures quite a bit. But anyway, one of the two days at the British Wool Show, I am going to attempt to spin as much as possible, and see how far I walk.  Which will at least give us a ball park realistic-ish Miles Per Day figure…. for a fat, distractable eighteenth century 7 year old’s probable distance covered.

But… 30 miles over a 6 day week (as no-one worked on a Sunday in the eighteenth century – well, actually quite a few did but that’s another blog post)..?  Will that look credible?  Let’s see.  If I have walked the required 5 miles at the end of a single day, it would, frankly,  be a miracle.  But that’s where we’re aiming.   I’m using a fairly accurate but very basic 3D pedometer which will only give me the step count not the distance, so maths may be involved.

Of course, all this pre-supposes we have enough rolags. So I’m carding our lovely Norfolk Horn all week, between other things.

If you’re planning a trip to Thirsk this weekend,  come and see how we’re getting on with the 30 mile challenge!

 

spinning wheel
Illustration by Marie Hartley, ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’, 1951.

 

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