Spinzilla 2016

Rolags ready to go. Castlemilk Moorit (undyed) and Norfolk Horn shearling (dyed). Plus some carded wool from Natural Born Dyers!
BEFORE: Rolags ready to go. Castlemilk Moorit (undyed) and Norfolk Horn shearling (dyed). Plus some carded wool from Natural Born Dyers!

I managed to spin just over 7 miles of yarn in 7 days, with the UK Team, HillTop Cloud. Not a brilliant total – but not bad!

The brown is some lovely, prize-winning Castlemilk Moorit (an entire fleece’s worth!) from our sheep at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.  Castlemilk is often short and can be neppy but this was just exquisite (sadly my hurried spinning did it no favours).  I didn’t even work too hard at blending the qualities as the entire fleece was not only usable but excellent.  Spinning went a bit slower than I’d have hoped, because like an idiot I only gave this fleece a quick cold water wash – it was so clean, I broke the habit of a lifetime and didn’t give it a brutal scouring, before spinning!  I often scour to leave a bit of grease in the wool, but this was a bit too much and unless the ambient temperature in the room was good – I wasn’t getting much done, fast!

The dyed wool is mainly our Norfolk Horn – a shearling fleece we got this summer (along with a shedload, quite literally, of other Norfolk Horn fleeces!)  There is some mauve alpaca, blue silk, Eider wool from Natural Born Dyers, and Corriedale from WoolTops.  Also a small amount of merino from AdelaideWalker.

In the lower layers of the baskets was some Jacobs fleece leftover from the stash of my late friend, Caro. We had used that this year,  for our ‘Luddites’ demo-ing, (as she’d have loved us to), so the leftover bits, plied with odds and ends from various bobbins, will make something special for me to look at and smile when I remember her.

Sometimes, the wool you spin is bound up with memories – friends you were with when you bought it, places you went, things you were watching whilst spinning…    I’ve done a good job of spinning down a 30 year old stash in the past couple of years – to the point that only one thing I spun last week, was from old stash – the mauve alpaca. We bought that a few years ago, on a lovely day out at the Yorkshire Show. Everything else in the photo is from this year, apart from the Jacob’s and that alpaca.

I’ve spun the Castlemilk after my favourite day out this year, at Fountains Abbey when Art Student Son was taking photos and we realised the shots were ruined by the fact I had borrowed his old dog-walking hoodie – so I decided to make myself a ‘hooded monk’, natural coloured, hand-spun hoodie.  Watch this space!


In terms of ‘experimental archaeology’ – the point for me, being to see how much I could feasibly spin in a day – the answer was, yet again: on a good day – a couple of miles. On a bad day – close to nothing! Spinners in the past had kids, livestock, and all those endless interruptions we call ‘life’, but I have no doubt an 18thC spinner could comfortably double my total, even on a ‘bad’ day.  Not a problem in summer, but on a crisp autumn day, wool drafts much more slowly. You need a couple of basic things for good spinning – decent light, and a warm room. These were not universally available to spinners of the past.   I was surprised that there was probably very little difference, speed-wise, between spinning woollen and worsted – as I used commercially prepared fibre for the worsted spinning, that just needed a quick bit of pre-drafting.  For most of my spinning, I went from rolags, spinning a slubby longdraw.

Spinzilla is a great event – bringing together spinners from all over the world. and a reminder that yarn holds so much more than just twist.


AFTER: Spinzilla 2016 haul.
AFTER: Spinzilla 2016 haul.

Spinzilla 2016

Rolags ready to go.  Castlemilk Moorit (undyed) and Norfolk Horn shearling (dyed).  Plus some carded wool from Natural Born  Dyers!
Rolags ready to go. Castlemilk Moorit (undyed) and Norfolk Horn shearling (dyed). Plus some carded wool from Natural Born Dyers!

Tonight at midnight, is the start of Spinzilla 2016 – an international challenge where teams and individuals compete to see who can spin the most yarn in a week.

I entered in 2014, on impulse, and because last minute, didn’t have much time to prepare fibre, and lost a day to kids’ appointments,  but managed to finish second in the Rogue category, falling short of the Rogue winner by 30-something yards.  A few minutes’ spinning! Which made me determined to enter again some time.  Looking at the mileages of last year’s faster spinners, I know I can’t pull those kind of numbers, so am competing with myself but also seeing how I do against other Europeans (not about to undo the habit of a lifetime – thinking of myself as European!)

Was thinking about doing Spinzilla last year, but was still reeling from the shock of a dear friend dying in the summer, so decided against putting myself through the added stress.  This year, I thought I’d enter but this time in one of the three UK teams, the one run by Katie of Hilltop Cloud Fibres  (Team Hilltop Cloud, or “the dragons” because our symbol is a beautiful Welsh dragon!)

I’ll be spinning a Castlemilk Moorit fleece from our flock at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, and some Norfolk Horn shearling from the flock in our parish and the next parish.  In case that’s not enough, I have a batt of beautiful madder and weld dyed Eider fluff from the talented Natural Born Dyers  bought as compensation to myself, for utterly failing for the first time in my life this year, to dye a nice, clean yellow with my own weld.

Acid dyed Norfolk Horn shearling, an entire fleece of Castlemilk Moorit (in back basket) and some purple alpaca I didn’t dye, (centre)


The Norfolk Horn is dyed with both natural and acid (kenanthrol) dyes.  Of course, I had to use acid dyes for magenta – a nod to my relations, the Dawsons of Huddersfield who were amongst the first people to develop that colour as a chemical dye. The natural dyes were my muddy goldenrod and weld dye baths which I wasn’t thrilled with, but will probably, like all natural dyes, look suddenly nice when used in combination with some other naturally dyed colour.

I’ve been carding on and off, most of September just losing a week or so to prepare for our demo at the Masham Sheep Fair, last weekend.  During Spinzilla 2014, I ran out of carded rolags after a day or so, leaving me frantically drum carding during Spinzilla, losing much of my spinning time to carding.  Despite all the work this time, I still suspect I’m going to run out of carded fibre in maybe two days, and switching to spinning combed tops will inevitably demand more of a worsted style of spinning, and slow things down…  Despite having to spin a lot worsted-ish last time, I did manage to clock up over a mile spun each day and 2 miles on a good day…  (I didn’t keep detailed notes, so am determined to put that right again this time, too!)

I don’t know how much time I’ll get to document what I’m doing over the week on the blog but will try and get back here.

I’ll be spinning almost entirely on my 1994 Timbertops Chair Wheel as Betty, my poorly little Lonsdale, has gone to Joan and Clive at Woodland Turnery to be mended.  Will be getting her back at Kendal Wool Gathering, at the end of the month. The Chair wheel is accelerated by a second drive wheel, and I usually have it on one of the smaller whorls – not a spinner who cares too much about ratios – I just do what works. Sometimes getting hung up on the technicalities sucks the joy out of spinning and for me, spinning has always been about fun and relaxation.  Not that there’s anything relaxing about Spinzilla, the way I do it!  Need to find a big, fat audiobook ASAP and luckily have lots of TV box sets available, one way or another, so it will be kind of relaxing.


Spinzilla is about the joy of spinning – plain fun, really.  But also it’s a good time to challenge ourselves as spinners; try a new technique, or push past a comfort zone.  For me, the challenge is simply to see how much I can spin English longdraw in a day, and see if I can then figure out if it’s comparable to the yardages spun in the past. What is a realistic figure?    Also I want to see how the Norfolk Horn spins. It is thought to be one of the oldest British breeds of sheep and was probably the mainstay of the worsted industry in parts of medieval England  (despite it not being a longwool, apparently it was used a lot for the finer, high-end cloths). I’ll be spinning it woollen not worsted-ish.  I will give myself plenty of breaks but it is a brilliant excuse to not have to cook or bake or do any housework for a week, and as such, an opportunity not to be missed.


Happy spinning, everyone doing Spinzilla!


Decoration from County Arcade
County Arcade, Leeds