Friday, 17 May 2013


Spinning - Helen Dyer Revives an Ancient Craft
By: Joan Beswick
Helen Dyer Gets Ready for 'Spinning' Class.
If you google ‘spinning’, you’ll find information on bikes and exercise classes. Change the search to ‘spindle spinning’ and you’ll retrieve listings for drop spindles and spinning wheels, the tools of an ancient craft practiced by early societies using whatever fibres were available to them. These fibres could come from animals such as sheep or alpacas, or from plants such as hemp and cotton. Using very basic tools, these fibres were converted into yarns which were then used to make everything from clothing to bedding. Recently, there has been a renewal of interest in this ancient craft, and Helen Dyer of Dorchester is a strong supporter of this revival.
Back in 2004-05, Helen was enjoying her home in Tilting, Fogo Island, Newfoundland. She saw her neighbour shearing sheep and found out that he had no use for the fleece. Being creative, frugal, and in search of a truly authentic form of craftsmanship, Helen took the fleece and invested in a spindle and wheel. Sometime later, she visited a sheep farm in Staffordshire and took a spinning lesson  – and the rest, as they say, is history. Helen is now a spinning savant, a woman on a mission to introduce as many people as possible to this fulfilling and ultimately very practical craft.

 With the numerous yarns available today, some might question why a person would learn to spin. Not Helen – when asked that question, she gives a litany of reasons ranging from the tactile to the spiritual. You learn to spin:

because of the pleasure of handling fibres and learning how they behave;

so that you can make something from scratch;

to maintain a connection with the past;

for the same reason you paint a picture rather than just buying one at the mall;

to hone all aspects of your creativity – both the modern and the primitive;

to create something unique using fibre you have spun, dyed, and shaped – something that is truly one of a kind, a rare feat in these days of mass production;

to relax and enjoy the repetitive movement, the soulful process of creation.

Helen recently taught a class called ‘Spinning through Time” for Tantramar Seniors’ College. She taught her students to ‘spin’ and also introduced them to the diverse spinning tools available today, from a tiny Turkish spindle that can be used when travelling - to a box spinning wheel called a charkha which Gandhi used and promoted to bring peace of mind and self sufficiency to Indian families – to various antique and modern spinning wheels.
Spinning on the Charkha

Three Sizes of Spindles

Carol Oram on the Spinning Wheel
When I visited her class, the room buzzed with lively chatter as Helen went from one student to another demonstrating, supporting, and encouraging, as seen here with student, Judy MacGregor.
It seems a good time was had by all who attended 'Spinning Through Time". Everyone learned to ‘spin’ and went home with the yarns they had spun, ready to move forward with their own unique creations.
Helen will offer a one day spinning workshop during the 2013 Nova Scotia Fibre Arts Festival. Every student will receive a kit that includes a spindle, fibre, and wrist distaff, everything necessary to start. With Helen’s guidance and enthusiasm, all who participate will enjoy a special creative experience, one that connects to the ancient past but is beautifully suited to the present.

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