Today I’d like to introduce you to another favourite machine. Where the carding machine is huge and imposing, the headstock of the spinning mule is relatively compact, but packs a punch!
Intricate and somehow compressed, it is one of the densest agglomerations of working parts in the textile mill. Its complexity draws me it. What do all these parts do?
The spinning mule has a complicated action, the carriage moves back and forward extending the slivers of wool in a rippling surface of vibrating fibres, the bobbins spin and the fallers drop down alarmingly. All this, and more, is governed by the headstock.
In action the noise is phenomenal.
I find it fascinating to watch both working and at rest. It is dark and oily and difficult to make out one element from the rest. My eyes wander from one component to the next trying to follow the transfer of movement from vertical to horizontal back to vertical, from cog to cog to bevel gear to wheel to chain.
There are beautiful forms here and fascinating interactions. I’ve lived in Wakefield, home of both Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, long enough now to have been infused with the joy of the ‘pierced form’ – of catching sight of more distant elements framed by those nearer to you.
Wise safety precautions at the museum frustrate the desire to be able to walk around the headstock and see the perspective change.
How wonderful it would be to be able to expand this… in the manner of Cornelia Parker’s exploded shed (Cold Dark Matter 1991) and see the components in isolation, displaced yet together.
My plan for my headstock piece was to isolate some of my favourite elements and re-imagine them in felt. Visibility is an issue with the machine because all the parts are black and oily and only seen through the safety grille.
Initially I had thought of an explosion of colour for this piece,
but then decided that this would result in more confusion, so I pared it back to natural, white wools, mostly merino with some silk blends to add sheen and some subtle stitching and the contrast of rust coloured dyeing.
I wanted to set the felt against metal to bring in one of the pervasive contrasts of the mill between hard and soft. Rummaging around at the amazing Dragon Bridge Reclamation in Leeds, I found some enticing rusty metal parts– function unknown to me, but ideas began to form. What I couldn’t work out was how to hold it all together – I didn’t want the rusty metal to act just as a support structure.
One thing I’ve learnt with this project is that the answers do not come all at once.
Sometimes you just have get on with the ideas you have and trust that a master plan will emerge.
So I tried not to think of the whole piece and just got on with the fun of exploring ways of felting components.
Next time: fitting it all together!