The Harpist and the Piecer

A long vista of vibrating cords extends, lengthening then shortening as the spinning mule works its magic, and twists the wisps of carded wool into a strong yarn. For me, watching the machine in action, always conjures the image of a stringed instrument – a piano or harp maybe.

harp mule strings

Watching the demonstration of the job of the ‘piecers’,  I couldn’t help but admire the dexterity of their hands and shiver at the danger – the risk of accident and loss. It was the piecer’s job to watch for broken threads and to dip their hands between the moving carriage and the spindles, to retrieve the broken ends and to hold them between fingers and thumb in a cupped palm until the twist caught and bound the ends together again.

harp piecershandsk

The same dexterity as a harpist….but with the dark threat for those who were not quick or skilled enough.

harp ists hand sk

How to capture this impression?

Thinking how to unite the two, I linked the shared skill of the women’s hands…and they were usually women in both cases. Could I portray them both in the same piece? How to unite the horizontal strings of the mule, with the verticality of the harp?

I started to sketch…

harp sketch

And then to model…

harp maquette

And then to realise that I had designed something beyond my skillset…

I couldn’t make all of this out of felt…

the hands, yes,

the frame, no.

harp felt hands1536

I went back to the museum. Standing any piece anything near the mule would be tricky as it is a working machine. I looked around…and then up. There was a dark corner, back lit. I had found a site


I’d need to ask to move a few things, and  the piece would need to be large enough to hold its own, and need to hang, not stand. What is more, I would need help!

I’d never looked to collaborate like this before and the thought of taking my rather odd idea and my little Blue Peter-esque maquette to anyone and saying, ’I need one of these, can you make it?’ seemed utterly bizarre. But it’s amazing how connections are made and things happen and soon I was on my way to see Nigel Tyas in Penistone who works in metal and also happens to be married to Elizabeth who donated the wool for Creel. Small and very creative world!

harp nt logo

Nigel was great, didn’t flinch at my scrappy model, asked a few questions about measurements and requirements, explained a few options, did the thinking he needed to do and agreed to take it on.

Nigel and his team set to work,

A couple of months later, and well before my deadline, I went to collect.

The frame, lying still shrouded in pallet wrap and filling the sitting room, was better than I had dared to hope.


Now, my part… to make the hands!

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