The Riverwife whorls came with us when we went camping in Western Victoria recently.
The spot we go is a special place encircled with towering Blue Gums Eucalyptus globulus and Messmates Eucalyptus obliqua. The trees bear the blackened trunks of past fires and bracken has taken over much of the understory.
There are fallen trees to play on and scar trees to find. The scars attest to the skillful cuts of the Djab Wurrung people, the Traditional Owners of the land, who drew shields and carrying vessels from the living trees until the Occupation of their land 150 years ago.
The whorls seemed to belong here, the oxide merges the whorls back into the earth they originate from.
My spinning kit included the whorls, a sharp knife and some scoured Victorian longwool fleece. The fleece was a mystery fleece I was given, most likely Border Leicester. Deb Robson was generous enough to bend her Sherlock Holmesian identification skills towards that fleece earlier this year. Her identification process is a wonder to read.
With the knife, I cut a dead bracken stem to size…it was straight, smooth and strong. I picked the large whorl for a slow spin as this fibre wouldn’t need much twist with its low number of crimps. I used some grass to stabilise the whorl on the shaft. The prewashed locks were prepared only by opening them gently with my fingers and hand twisting a leader.
The whorl spins fast for a short time and then stops…dead. I found if I let it rest on the ground, I could draft a bit more and take up excess twist before winding on. This is quite a different spin to my turned top whorls which spin long. After a few experiments, it seemed that mid whorl seemed the best position for stability but I need to experiment with the length of the shaft.
I spun up two singles, leaving them on their shafts and just changing the whorl to another bracken shaft. Our Dear Boy held the shafts lightly in his hands so the singles could run easily whilst plying onto another shaft using the same whorl.
Despite soaking overnight, colour was such a palid green, I decided to add Blue Gum leaves to the pot. The tree was at the entrance to our campsite and had been felled years ago. The secondary growth was low to the ground unlike anything else amongst the towering canopy that surrounded us.
The Blue Gum yielded a beautiful rusty gold on unmordanted yarn, a yarn now imbued with the smell of campfire and eucalypt, the light of the sun through leaves, the southern stars, chill mornings, birdsong and the drone of flies. It is yarn that both evokes and embodies the experience of camping here. And whilst I marvel at the beauty of this, it does not escape me that the symbolic fleece that is my conduit to connection with this landscape was instrumental in the displacement of the First Peoples from the land.
These whorls will become my trusty camping companions, as much a part of the packing as the cast iron frying pan and the sleeping bags. Small, mighty tools for spinning the landscape.