Slate and wool – and spinning

I’ve a slightly patchy history when it comes to spinning in public day (which was last weekend, Saturday 21st, whaddya mean, you didn’t know?). The first year I spun in a local park with two friends, attracted a teeny bit of attention, felt like a twit and went and got coffee and buns instead. The second year some of our Guild spun at Caernarfon Castle in a freezing gale, having sidestepped a request that we wear national dress. (NO. Just NO.) Last year we ended up in the lobby of a garden centre, getting in between ladies of a certain age and a cream tea. Not good.

But this year we got it bang on. The National Slate Museum, Llanberis. A wonderful venue, and one which blew me away. And it was so sunny we had to move into the shade, and we were made incredibly welcome, and the visitors seemed to enjoy seeing what we were doing, and we got in nobody’s way en route to food, and, and, and, the cafe served lemon meringue pie.


We were stationed outside a line of four slate worker’s cottages that were moved onto the site from Tanygrisiau. Three of them are fitted out in the styles of three significant times in the slate industry – 1861, the height of the quarries really; 1901, the big strike; 1969, when Dinorwic was closed (and when Prince Chuck had been ‘invested’ on a slab of Dinorwic slate just a month earlier, hrumpf, they must have known). The whole setting was perfect for us spinners; visitors were already interested in social history, and many of them emerged from the cottages really intrigued. There isn’t a spinning wheel in the 1861 interior, but there could well be…


(I’d taken some appropriately coloured BFL cross to spin up.)

As usual, the mechanism of spinning interested people, as did the technology of the wheels – it’s so basic, you can easily understand what’s going on – this moves that, and that moves this thing, and that means the wool twists… Later, when I was going around the museum with my camera I overheard one dad explaining to his son how a belt made some wheels turn and they made another wheel turn and the boy said ‘Like those spinning things outside, isn’t it?’ YO!

It made me realise how much we like to understand just how things work, and how much we like to see them working. You can’t actually see your iPad doing its thing, even if you do understand roughly how it works (it’s the little pixies, they hide). I certainly do, though I may have been contaminated by a dear friend who was an engineer. I took a trip around the museum, ostensibly to take a couple of shots for the Guild blog, but found myself mesmerised by the shapes, the colours, the light. So here’s a montage; just click on one for a slideshow. And if you are in the area, do visit the National Slate Museum. So many lives over so many years were affected by the slate industry. It’s a wonderful way to honour that.


17 thoughts on “Slate and wool – and spinning

  1. opusanglicanum

    it takes a while to first build up the confidence to talk to people, and then not have that confidence knocked hard by those who don’t want to talk. i do drop spindle, so I tend to tell people the classical legends about the fates and spinning as well

    1. kate Post author

      It does, doesn’t it? I think that’s why I enjoy doing it with our group, because there’s always someone with a different perspective. Love the idea of telling stories using the spindle though – that’s a great idea (must get the hang of spindling)!

  2. Lydia

    Hip, hip. hooray to a great day for you spinners! What a wonderful location, I have never been to the Slate Museum but will definitely try on our next trip over. Your photos reflect the beauty of an industry now gone – I love the patterns they carved to shape the iron. Over here in Western Australia down at Yarloop there is an old railway workshop. All the repairs for the early trains and tracks through the jarrah forests were made there. There are haunting dusty rooms of wooden patterns propped up against shelves just like the Slate Museum. Such skill in the making. Spinning in public takes courage – I have only done it once at the Alpaca Show, and spun some super chunky heavyweight merino which could probably have tethered a submarine! I loved your photos……

    1. kate Post author

      Oh, you’ve got to visit next time you’re over, it’s so evocative – though that railway workshop sounds very similar. Amazing workmanship, and all from anonymous craftsmen. At least it’s preserved and not gone for ever, I suppose. Spinning in public is much better with several of your mates (I reckon about five others is about the minimum)…

  3. knitsofacto

    I went to the museum years ago, i must go back. These pics are fab, was the light really good in there, or were you set for night time shooting or using a tripod. I need to know these things 😉

    1. kate Post author

      You must, it’s wonderful and I’ll bet there’ve been some changes (the cafe is newish, for one thing, not that I’m naturally focussed on such things – much). The light was interesting – strong outside but highly directional – and I was surprised the pics came out as well as they did. No night-time setting, no Photoshopping, no tripod, just my little Canon point and click and occasionally bracing myself against a wall. As you’ll remember, the windows are quite large in many places, but I think success was simply down to the sheer brightness of the day.

      Unlike today. Hrumpf.

  4. woodlandknitter

    There is a national spin in public day? How did I not know about this??? Sounds like you had a lovely time and your photographs are simply gorgeous. I often find when “spinning in public” that it’s actually the men folk coming over to investigate before the women to see how the wheels work. 🙂

    1. kate Post author

      There is indeed, in fact it’s International (started in the US, natch). If you google ‘worldwide spinning in public day’ you should come up with their website, but I don’t think many events get listed there from Europe – at least, I personally know of several that happened which aren’t mentioned. Ravelry’s probably the best place to find out about any near you, try the UK Spinners Group there. It’s always, I think, the third Saturday in September… it was fab, you must join in next year!

      You’re definitely right about the men – and the small boys… Had to get my old wheel repaired one time after a Demon Treadler, aged about 7, tried it while I was talking to his dad. Hm.

        1. kate Post author

          You must – it’s bonkers and great fun.

          Yes, bit of a shock for Betty (my old wheel, that is). Fortunately her maker still lives nearby, so he was able to give it some TLC.. I should have known better, really.

        2. kate Post author

          Pirates of the Caribbean style? Poor thing!

          Betty was the wheel’s original owner (details here). She’s now returned to the family as Betty’s (the human, that is) daughter has suddenly decided the time is right for her to take up spinning – another convert!

  5. May Koch

    There are a variety of museums and visitor attractions are connected to the slate industry across Wales. By visiting these you can experience, and gain a thorough understanding of, the slate industry’s industrial and social history.


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