Have you read this?

The jury has met, the classes have been chosen and now we’re working against the clock to have everything ready for registration to open on April 1st. As things get done behind the scenes, Kathe does the hard work of creating the class registration site and massaging the software into obedience. There’s never been a better woman for the task, which involves talking to dozens of instructors about class details, artist profiles and good images. While she does that, I (Astrig) have the lovely job of fleshing out our evening programs and meeting with artists to make the sparkle side of the week happen.

Jan Cunningham, Brenda Page and Betsy Alspach

The other day I had the pleasure of lunching with Betsy, Jan and Brenda to talk about an Antique Spinning Wheel Class the jury chose for Friday, September 6, 9-1 pm. My agenda was to convince them to stay for the entire day and share their passion and their stories. Imagine a gathering of four women who have earned their silver hair and are passionate about everything that spins any kind of fiber into yarn & thread…we interrupted each other constantly, laughed, traded favorite books and stories and before we blinked, three hours had passed.

A few of Jan and Brenda’s wheels that will come to Fiber College this Fall

Knowing that we had talked about more than any of us would remember, we wrote our assignments down and promised to pick an afternoon next week to continue our conversation. Brenda and Jan agreed to write a description for Friday afternoon’s drop in session (remember: Friday is Market Day and entrance is free to everyone!) and I would track down books with references I’ve read to the history of flax and linen in New England. We were going to share these by e-mail but when I started to write back this evening, I thought you might like to see what we’re up to…

Brenda and Jan described Friday afternoon (September 6, 2019) this way:


Join Jan Cunningham and Brenda Page for an afternoon celebrating our textile heritage and the pleasures of using antique wheels and textile tools.
Jan and Brenda love to find, clean up, and rehabilitate antique wheels to get them spinning again.   
They will have a variety of wool wheels and flax wheels for you to explore.  They will share how these tools were used, will demonstrate spinning and plying on great (or walking) wheels, and demonstrate spinning with home-grown line flax and tow.       
In addition, they will show how flax was (and is) processed at home, from field to fabric.  Jan will enthusiastically share the history of flax production in Midcoast Maine, which at one time produced some of the finest flax and flax seed in the world.  Brenda and Jan will demonstrate the labor-intensive process of changing flax into linen—steps with the intriguing names of rippling, breaking, scutching, and hackling—and Brenda will demonstrate weaving linen tape on an antique tape loom. 
Please bring in your old wheels and mystery textile tools!  Throughout the afternoon, Jan and Brenda will have an antique wheel “show and tell.”  Both love to talk about old wheels, to share what the wheels reveal about their past, and help assess whether they can be brought alive again.  Many wheels have makers’ marks, identifying styles, and regional characteristics that can help you learn more about your wheel’s history and background.  And most wheels can be brought back to life, some with a few minor adjustments, others with more major renovations.   
These old wheels and tools were an integral and valued part of farm life in the 1700s and well into the 1800s.  Both Jan and Brenda are passionate about rescuing these wheels from basements, sheds, attics, barns, and storage lockers.  Most old wheels are surprisingly resilient survivors—tougher than they look–and despite languishing in dusty corners for a hundred years or more, spin with a lovely finesse and lively spirit not found in modern wheels. 
These wheels provide a unique opportunity to connect with the past and to deepen spinning skills.  The spinners who sat at these wheels were not concerned with the technical aspects of spinning that are emphasized today.  Instead, they learned through doing—by touch and sound, and coordination of movement—and became attuned to the variables in wheels, weather, wool, and flax.  These lovely old wheels–with their unique personalities—can teach today’s spinners to hone their senses, like those previous generations of spinners—and give us the rare privilege of joining in the dance between spinner and wheel that has been going on for hundreds of years. 

My promise was to find the books on my shelf that I thought had good references to flax and linen textiles in New England…these are some of my favorites:

Written by the former director of the Maine State Museum and former Curator of Technology at the American Textile History Museum, it’s an easy to read, lavishly illustrated book of explaining the history of our New England development
A terrific reference book that gives a nice history of painted floorcloths and everything else American fabric…did I mention that we were going to have a fantastic floorcloth class this year too?
If history and textiles interests you…this book is an absolute MUST READ! Find it right away and give yourself the pleasure while the weather is still yucky.
Read this and spend an extra day or two in Searsport so that you can drive up to the Abbe Museum on Mount Desert Island…the weaving, basketry and beadwork is worth exploring in this small but treasure packed museum. It’s on this particular list because the Wabanaki had a long history of weaving with hemp
Before moving onto the chapter of industrialization, Martha G Stearns writes “This marks the end of needlework as a spontaneous national art. While we had the homespun thread, which calls for an intimate and subtle coordination between foot, hand and turning spindle, we had an intimate personal product, taking into its formation something sensitive from the spirt and mood of the creator…”

Isn’t that why we create…to create an intimate personal product…drawn from our spirit and mood?

2 thoughts on “Have you read this?

  1. What a wonderful idea for FC! I rehabilitated 3 wheels over the last few years not knowing what I was doing. I sure could have used their expertise! I look forward to meeting these ladies!

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