Liberty Spinners offer insight into a vital thread of history
The Liberty Spinners met to spin their wheels at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park Tuesday morning.
But don’t call the police: they weren’t burning their tires in the parking lot.
Instead, they were using their spinning wheels to turn fleece into thread and yarn to eventually be made into useful items.
The Liberty Spinners are yarn-spinning aficionados who gather to spin their fleece and to introduce their art to people who might have an interest in a part of history.
“We try to get other spinners or people who are interested to gather together,” said member Jan Turner. “We can give instruction on how to do it. The park is a good place to do this because it is a historic facility.”
Spinner Rudi Angelmaier explained that spinning fibers into thread was a common practice for most families on the pioneer.
“After they would shear the animal and wash the fleece, they had to do something with it,” Angelmaier said. “They would use a spinning wheel to turn those fibers to yarn for knitting and weaving.”
Before the fleece could be spun to thread, Angelmaier said it had to be brushed and smoothed using large paddle-style brushes called hand cards so that it will spin properly.
“You would pull the fibers through to smooth and straighten them,” he said. “Then the fleece is rolled and pulled into a longer length to spin.”
He explained that the spinning wheel has two purposes: to wrap the fibers to make a tight thread, and to wind the tread into a bobbin. After enough fiber has been spun into thread to create two bobbins, the bobbins can be combined together to make a yarn.
A tool called a “lazy Kate” is used to hold the bobbins while the threads are joined together to make yarn. Explaining that a single spun fiber is called a thread, Turner said that two or more threads spun together make yarn regardless of the material used in the fibers.
“You can work with a single thread but you have to be careful,” Turner added. “It’s not as strong.”
Angelmaier noted that single thread creations were called “veil weight” because single thread work was usually done for lace items, such as wedding veils.
“The wedding veil had to be lightweight enough to pass through a ring,” he said.
In days gone by, working with fibers tended to be a family affair.
The children would be tasked with carding the fibers to make them smooth enough for spinning and the women would in turn spin them into thread or yarn. The men would then weave the yarn into whatever the final product would be.
“The looms were larger pieces of furniture with heavy wooden pieces that needed to be moved around,” Angelmaier said. “The men felt that they were the ones strong enough to do that part of it. It was their winter occupation after all of the outdoor work was done and the weather had turned colder.”
Turner said during colonial times, almost every home would have had its own spinning wheel as a way to produce their own fabric goods.
Angelmaier said families wouldn’t use just wool or spun materials for their home items. One popular fabric was called linsey-woolsey and was a combination of linen and wool.
“The linen was strong and the wool provided warmth,” he said. “It was used to make blankets and clothing.
He said wool could provide the warmth because the fibers were made of hair. Hairs are tubes that hold air in the inside, acting as an insulator.
“The air is inside and it can’t get out,” Angelmaier said. “That is what helps keep the wearer warm.”
Woolen items help maintain body heat so well that they were common clothing items for fishermen, Angelmaier said, adding that in many European countries, fishermen families had a family pattern that would be woven into sweaters and vests worn by the men when they left to go out to sea.
“This would help to identify the body if it fell overboard,” he said. “They wouldn’t be coming back everyday. They would be out on their ship for a long time.”
Fibers could be collected from different animals, such as sheep, rabbits and goats. After the fibers were spun, the material would be used for clothing, blankets and other items families needed.