The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Caretaker report

15 June 2017

The Clearing

Workshop 8 - Working With Wool

This workshop was led by the Coventry Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The guild arrived mob-handed, with 5 guild members, one banner, two cart loads of equipment, and tonnes of wool. Once they’d unloaded, they set up their quilted banner, which, with its woollen depictions of Coventry’s cathedral and a variety of processes, looked suitably futuristic.

We began with an intro from Toni, leader of the wool pack. Toni explained the history of farming sheep for wool on these islands, which goes back thousands of years BC. She also issued a plea to use more wool today, and talked about her favourite breed: the Border Leciester.

Stage one was washing the fleece. We learnt what to look for in buying a fleece, how to get the grubby bits off.

Here’s what comes out the other end of the process. Note: this is not orange juice. Clear labelling will be important in the future. (We all had a good old sniff too).

Next step is carding. This is to separate the individual strands in order to spin them together. This is a tricky process, involving laying the wool out on your carder, using the other carder to pull it apart, then scooping it off and rolling it into a sausage. This is hard to explain but easy to watch: time for a youtube video (while it’s still here). It shouldn’t be hard work, or make a loud noise. As this lady says: a light whisper.

We all got busy. Regular viewers of this blog might note that this workshop was very women heavy. Normally our workshops are pretty much 50/50 men and women. Clearly this workshop was seen as more a woman’s domain. Will we revert to traditional gender roles in the future? This is one of the questions we’ll be asking at the Restarting Democracy workshop, on 5th November, tickets available from all good retailers.

After lunch, we began stage 3: dying. Here’s Pam telling us about the different herbs and flowers we can use to dye with – all natural. I’d be lying if I said I could remember these names, and I’ve since lost my notebook. I can but apologise. They all had tinctus in the name.

The process we were going to do today is solar dying. This is actually a misnomer, as it’s not the sun that dyes it (that would bleach it) but the heat that works. Simply fill your jar up with your chosen dying medium (onion skins and rusty nails, for a lovely rusty brown), then add wool, then add water. Then leave it somewhere warm for a few months. Et voila.

Stage 4 - spinning. It started raining outside, so we took shelter in the dome. This was the hardest bit – you had to pull some of the woolly bit out of your sausage of carded wool, then sort of feed it down into a long strand, and let gravity pull it down as the weight spins.

At this point, the sun came back out, and we all went back outside. From here, the workshop started to unravel a bit, if you’ll pardon the pun. Those who wanted to had a go on the Spinning Jennys – treadle powered spinning machines that were properly meditiative. Others got to work on the peg looms, which were very simple weaving systems. Some people just stood around, held the wool, and talked on the sunny afternoon.

We ended up with this rug – a decorative wall hanging, more than anything useful, but the principle is the point. We could have washed it, carded it, dyed it and woven it ourselves.