This is the third guest post in a new fitfor15in15 series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Peta Yaxley stumbled upon a community willing to share its knowledge and she now enjoys new skills which have dramatically altered her life. Take it away Peta!
I am a spinner by Peta Yaxley (school teacher in Australia and lover of music)
I am a spinner. I take raw fleece, preferably dark, straight from the shearer and through a process of carding and drawing and plying I make yarn. It’s such a simple, pure process and I am addicted. There are many things I love about spinning wool – the main being that the only thing that has come between me and my garment is a shearer. In a world of sweat shops and Primark, there is an ethic to my craft, along with the general ‘slow cloth’ movement, that looks to embrace the slow process of transforming raw materials into something beautiful and unique to the creator.
I left Australia in 2004 after a bad breakup and three years later found myself lonely and depressed living in London. Working in London in the hubbub of broadcasting, I revisited crocheting and then taught myself to knit under the tutelage of my dear cousin Karen, who also lived in the UK. As my love of these crafts cemented, I saw Karen spinning (and saw the cost of quality yarn) and thought I might try my hand at a wheel. It was my urban epiphany.
At the back of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (where I had spent many a trashy night in my ‘lost years’) was The Vauxhall City Farm where I met an amazing group of older women who taught me their crafts. My Saturday mornings became sacred as an escape from the churning cog of London town – I would jump on my bike, pop into the Farmers Market on the way and then with panniers full of veggies I’d cycle across town to the farm. I learnt to spin on a drop spindle, then a wheel. We spun the fleece from the farm’s sheep and alpacas and I learnt to dye from their large and comprehensive dye garden. All this whilst I bonded with women of all ages and walks of like – my love of the craft circle was born too.
The apothecary of dyeing with plants had me transfixed as I learnt about the wonders of woad and weld and madder. Reds from Brazilwood and greens from stinging nettles. Yellow from marigolds and those blues from indigo – those blues! I was transfixed and transformed by a craft centuries old – mordants and dye baths and rinses – alkaline or acid bath can alter my hue. Addicted.
There is a meditative state that I get from spinning that calms me. I often spin listening to music or the radio and I can be at the wheel for hours; time dissipates as one hand sorts the fleece and the other releases the draw. I can spin very fine and have tried my hand at sheep, alpaca, yak, angora, cashmere and the amazing world of silk. Spinning silk is akin to working with cobweb – fine and strong and stunning.
There is a resurgence of women into knitting, crocheting and spinning. For all the twee ladies (to whom I owe a huge gratitude) there is a growing number of us into the ethics of the craft. There are guerrilla knitters, yarn bombing public monuments. Ravely.com connects millions of us across the globe as we share projects and advice and patterns. There are stitch’n’bitch groups globally, connecting women (and some men) together; Stitch London was an amazing network – some nights there would be over 80 of us making at Royal Festival Hall. Good, clean, productive fun.
I quit London and spent a year in the Middle East. I’d already joined a knitting group online and fell straight into a community of expat women who welcomed me and helped me navigate the strange land I had fallen into. Again, huge gratitude to the Doha Knitters. I spent a hot, repressive Ramadan spinning silk dyed with spices from the local souk. I later knitted a shawl that earned me first prize at the local Bangalow Agricultural Show (in northern New South Wales).
Back home to Australia, a land built off the sheeps’ back. The irony of living in the Northern Rivers of NSW where it is ‘too wet for sheep’ doesn’t escape me. There are loads of alpacas though – in fact there are currently eight on the macadamia farm where I live. Two spinning wheels that have crossed continents and oceans sit in my awesome tin-shed-conversion flat and I spend days outside spinning staring across the valleys. I have taken on the local agricultural shows with gusto – first prizes and highly commended for shawls and vests and skeins. I joke that I’m giving the nannas a run for their money.
These days I am never happier than when I am at home, outside in the sun, BBC6 on the radio, cat by my side and sat at my favourite Ashford spinning wheel. It is the simple things.