I’m going to skip the spinning process for the moment as those pieces are very much in their early stages, but jumping ahead, let me introduce you to The Creel.
Playing an important part in the weaving room, this is a stepped wooden frame, housing 240 bobbins where the warp threads are organised and tensioned before feeding onto a warping beam for the looms.
When I first saw it, it held a number of bobbins of fine, dark green warping thread, some standing true, others slumping over, some feeding up through the hooks and orifices and dangling down in a spidery canopy suggesting the decline of a more orderly former life.
It reminded me of a neglected winter garden, withered and a little untidy. My gaze moved to the nearby window, down to the weeping willows outside, devoid of leaves, their beautiful, translucent forms revealed.
Perhaps I could bring the outside in a little, and ‘grow’ some forms on this frame.
The idea was born to felt bobbin-like forms, to extend each one up into a single thread and feed this up through the creel frame into a weeping canopy. I wanted to bring in the colours of the green oasis which surrounds the mill, hidden, now incongruously, between the arterial Armley and Kirkstall roads which carry busy commuters to and from Leeds centre, largely unaware of the calm of the river valley just a stone’s throw away.
First I felted a sample bobbin.
Then I turned to my sketchbook.
The prospect of felting 240 bobbins was blood-pressure raising, and I was relieved when Chris Sharp, the curator, not only obtained the necessary permissions for this intervention on the creel, but also suggested it would still be effective if I aimed for a partial fill of the pins.
Nonetheless it was quite an undertaking. Alongside the other pieces I was working on, I mentally allocated February to do the felting (first needlefelt to form and then wetfelt to firm), March to dye them and April to add hand stitch, texture and surface decoration.
A donation of fleece from my lovely friend, Elizabeth Stocker and her sheep, Woolly, Curly and Mouse, was most welcome.
I used this as the core wool and added a thin, more loosely felted tonal layer with three natural shades of Bergschaf from Adelaide Walker in Ilkley.
It was slow going, so I took an apprentice. After a long day at the office, Jon spent the evenings needlefelting the cores while I added the tonal fleece. It was a little costly in broken needles initially but his technique improved greatly. Just generally in life I am indebted to him for his patience, tolerance and good humour as I come up with one mad-cap scheme after another…but this deserves a special mention…and I’m sure he’ll be delighted if I leave him the finished 130 bobbins in my will!
Gradually, the pile of bobbins grew.
Next time: Colour and texture, and being an individual in the crowd.