Spin the Wilderland

November 24, 2014

The Riverwife whorls came with us when we went camping in Western Victoria recently.

IMG_4638The 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.

IMG_4640There 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.

IMG_4696My 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.

IMG_4699With 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.

IMG_4702The 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.

IMG_4712I 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.

IMG_4682Then, with an empty baked beans tin and some bracken leaves, I gave dyeing over the campfire a go.

IMG_4717Despite 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.

IMG_4775The 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.

IMG_4664I took home the whorls and the yarn, the tin went to recycling and the stems, leaves and dye bath went back to the earth.

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.


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  1. What a lovely post, words and pictures. You have brightened a dull November morning for me and I am going to ignore my housework and finish knitting my hat, a Woolly Wormhead Mystery KAL.
    Thanks again I really enjoy your take on all things textile, though I do hate sewing

  2. Beauty beauty beauty!
    Especially that shot of the dyed yarn in the sun. The whorls look so at home in that setting…can’t wait to see what magic you knit those stands into.
    What an exciting addition to your camping kit

  3. I’m speechless. Such beauty, Rebecca! What a thoughtful writer and crafter you are. Thank you for giving us this to read.

  4. What a great post! I’m so happy to hear that the children get into the great outdoors thing too and will probably also be textile makers. I have my spindles laying on my table so that’s a start!!

  5. “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.” This is what I like about your background,
    it comes to the foreground, thank you. Quite a story re the Djab
    Wurrung people and the languages ! I do remember that fleece post and Deb Roberson’s take on it. Your spinning is great with what you are working with and help from your ‘friends’! Your whorls do look at home there and opening fleece with your hands is straight out of Beth Smith’s book and Many spinners before us 🙂 the golden colour you obtained was just stunning, would make a great accent to a sweater/hat etc. The pot over the fire is shades of localandbespoke.com, nice.

  6. A fascinating post – so intriguing to read how you produced this very attractive rusty gold yarn with such simple tools. Sounds like you had a good camping break too – in a beautiful place, full of history!

  7. I am almost lost for words … there is sooooooooooo much beauty here … the yarn, the dye, the land, your words. I cannot remember when, if ever, I have found a post so moving and so exciting both at the same time.

  8. Industrious camper, you! To spin in the landscape is to be in and of a place. I think of you along with old photos of Navajo herders using their spindle as they watch over the herd. Although in your case it’s the kids and dye fire you watch over

    Eyes wide-open, Ms. N & S. You craft your own reward and that is lovely to watch.

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