The Three Circles – The Spinning Circle

Over the past years our Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild and its project the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed have brought together some special gatherings/circles of women deeply connected by their love of fibre.  The Fibreshed search for local fleece, local dyes and the artisans who transform them into products of special quality and design has taken us on a wonderful fibre journey.

Our  Fibreshed’s undertaking to source out local fibres from Langdale to Lund brought about not only a new awareness as to how we clothe ourselves but also a desire among many members to explore in depth the basics of from Soil to Skin or from Sheep to Shawl.  We realized that we needed to know about each of the unique breeds of sheep, goats, alpacas and llamas that share the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed with us and how to choose, prepare and spin the right yarn for that perfect project.


We have put into place three circles of women working together and sharing their individual knowledge in the preparation, spinning and weaving of fibre – the Fibre Circle, the Spinning Circle and the Weavers Circle.

Personally I am deeply focused on the Icelandic sheep and was pleased to be part of the Fibre Circle where four Icelandic sheep fleeces were laid out on tables at the FibreWorks Studio & Gallery and Yvonne and Jeannie instructed us in the skirting, sorting, washing, combing and carding of raw fleece.  (See video Dec 29, 2014 and blog Dec 30, 2014).


As the actual spinning was a weak link in my fibre art abilities, I was delighted when members organized a Spinning Clinic to be conducted by Birgit, our very own Olds College Master Spinner.  We gathered together for our first Spinning Clinic fortuitously during the week of St. Distaff’s/Roc Day where in many European traditions women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas (Epiphany).  The distaff, a medieval symbol of women’s work, is a tool which holds the unspun fibres (usually flax), keeping them from becoming tangled.  Spinning was an essential activity then as it was the only means of turning raw wool, flax or cotton into thread which could then be woven into cloth.  Women carried their spindles with them during the day and used their wheels in the evening.

3St. Distaff's day

Although centuries may have passed since those medieval times, as contemporary women we were eager to gather our wheels, our fibres and get back to the spinning that matters so much to us even today.  Three Spinning Clinics were held over the first months of 2015 in members’ homes where Birgit talked about fibre supply, carding, equipment, wheel ratios and tension.


The techniques of woollen and worsted spun yarns, plying from a bobbin and using an Andean method of plying were all covered and demonstrated by Birgit. We also learned about spinning balanced yarns, making a skein with a niddy noddy and the washing of the finished yarn.  We thank Birgit for sharing her spinning knowledge and Jana and Lynda for sharing their homes with such an enthusiastic group of brand new and older members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild.


As well as the Spinning Clinics an essential part of our Circle of Spinners is our Spin-ins.  Once a month spinners gather in the home of one of our members who lives in the southern part of our lower Coast.  We spin, knit, card, share what we know and carry out that age old tradition of women coming together to work and visit.  Once a month we also gather for our northern Spin-in at Yvonne Stowell’s beautiful FibreWorks Studio & Gallery.  There in Yvonne’s studio in one of the yurts we sit in a circle, happily surrounded by fibre and looms, taking a break at noon to enjoy a gourmet potluck lunch.


Now it is up to me to take this knowledge back to my studio and home and take my Icelandic wool from raw fleece to beautiful hand spun yarn from which I shall weave a special garment to show at our Fibres Plus Sale in November.  I love the deep feeling of a re-connection to the spirit of all the women who have gone before me on this fibre journey.

Deanna B. Pilling
Photos by Lynda D, Deanna B. Pilling, Yvonne Stowell

Distaff Day, Wikipedia

Suggested Reading
The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, a Breed-by-Breed Guide to Choosing and Spinning the Perfect Fiber for Every Purpose, Beth Smith, Storey Publishing
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, Storey Publishin

One thought on “The Three Circles – The Spinning Circle

  1. A most interesting blog! Thanks for sharing the medieval history of the distaff. Lovely to see photos of our members enjoying the spin-in gatherings.

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