A day with the great wheel

Last Sunday I revisited Vallby open air museum to spin in public on their great wheel. My friend Cecilia and I got to dress in historical costume and spend a day with the great wheel.

If you want to see me spinning on the great wheel at Vallby open air museum, there is a video I recorded in 2020. It’s available in English and in Swedish.

Normally the great wheel at Vallby open air museum lives in the manor hall. For this occasion though, the 100th anniversary of the museum, we took the wheel outside and spun on the yard outside the museum farmhouse. It was a sunny day and perfect for spinning outdoors. We shared the yard with the flax processing team.

Wool prep prep

First things first, though. For great wheel spinning you need carded rolags. I always tease my wool before carding and I want the preparation to be fresh. To be able to spin for as long as possible on the great wheel I wanted to tease the wool at home before the event at Vallby so that I only had the carding to do once there.

What’s better finull teasing company than a bit of Austen?

I used Swedish finull wool from the silver medalist (at the Swedish wool championships 2020) Nypon (Rosehip), a sheep who lives at the Glada fåret sheep farm not far from the museum. Finull wool is very fine, very crimpy and very shiny. Usually I tease finull wool with a flick carder to get rid of any brittle tips. But this fleece was in exceptional condition and the tips were strong enough to tease with combs. Here is a video where I tease wool with combs.

Costume

My friend Cecilia is a volunteer at Vallby and she invited me to spin on the great wheel. The volunteers at Vallby wear historical costumes and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to dive into their costume chamber and pick something suitable for the task and the time. I’m very fascinated with all the layers and functions of costumes from this time.

I picked out a very comfortable linen shift, wool skirt and a bodice. To that of course an apron, a neckerchief and a cap. And, of course a pocket. They have lots of pockets at the museum, but I chose my own linen pocket.

Cecilia was dressed in basically the same parts. She had prepared the wheel at the museum that morning so when she picked me up at the train station she was already in character. It was such a joy to see her rushing through the busy waiting hall like a whirlwind with her 18th century flowing around her.

Bosom friends

Cecilia is my second cousin on my only Swedish family line. We met just a few years ago for the first time in decades, and instantly became close friends. A year ago I made Ceciliaand myself a bosom friend that Spin-Off later published as a pattern in the spring issue 2022, Cecilia’s bosom friend. The bosom friends were a natural choice to wear with our costumes and perfect for a slightly chilly September morning.

My friend and cousin Cecilia and I as 18th century women. Photo by Ulla Blomqvist.

I think we look absolutely smashing! Although I do have a problem with the cap. I call it the humiliation cap. It is very lovely, but I feel like a baby when I wear it. But, it was the high fashion at the time and probably outrageous to walk around without it.

Cecilia knows her way around at Vallby open air museum, from where the cuddliest cats live to how to carry a great wheel in and out of buildings with low doorways and high thresholds, capacities that are more useful than you may think.

You can read more about my friendship with Cecilia in the fall 2020 issue of Spin-Off magazine.

Carding

Once we had got our gear together and found a spot to set up camp I started to card my teased wool. It was such a precious moment to sit there on the warm steps by the barn wall in the September light, surrounded by wool and spinning tools in baskets and a great wheel that I had been especially invited to use. What a treat!

I’m carding rolags from teased Swedish finull wool before I start spinning on the great wheel. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I used my 108 tpi Finnish cards. They are truly lovely to card with. I am still learning the technique and it’s a joy to be able to focus on the technique.

Spinning

Spinning on a great wheel is like a choreographed dance. There are lots of factors to keep track on – holding the rolag, a stepping sequence, the changes of angles, turning the wheel and coordinating it all together with just the right amount of fiber release. It may look breezy, but I can assure you my brain was near boiling from all the concentration and coordination.

There is also an age factor to juggle with. The great wheel is antique and has its own mind. The spindle is wobbly and I need to take that into account when I make the draw. The leather straps that hold the spindle in place are old and dry. Cecilia changed them temporarily to straps in fresh leather for the occasion. The tensioning of the drive band is a little cranky and needs to be tightened often.

I managed to get one cop very symmetrical and even. Shortly after this photo was taken it collapsed, though and barfed out its innards at the tip end. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

All of these factors come into the equation when I spin. As I am a beginner with a great wheel It took a while before I understood what was my beginner’s hand and what was the charm of an antique tool.

Still, yarn was made and people enjoyed themselves. Especially Cecilia and I, but hopefully also some visitors.

You can read more about the great wheel in an earlier post.

Meet and greet

Lots of visitors stopped and watched us at our 18th century corner of the farm yard. Some asked questions, some told sweet childhood memories of grannies carding and spinning by the fireplace. Some just watched and smiled in the pale September sun.

Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

It was such a joy to talk to the visitors, hear their stories and tell them a bit of spinning history when they asked about the wheel, the technique and the time.

Our day with the great wheel was a sweet joy and a success. Thank you Vallby outdoor museum for having me! I hope to be invited again.

Happy spinning!

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8 Replies to “A day with the great wheel”

  1. Thank you Josefin for sharing the combing, carding and rolag making, as well as the choice of garments, for your day with the great wheel. It’s always a pleasure to watch as you make wonderful things.

  2. I learned to spin on a great wheel. Not nearly as nice as the one you were spinning on. Only those who have spun on them know the frustration of having them barf up the inside of the cop…

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