Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


Spinning Gandhi Style

At a recent meeting of the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers a lovely gentleman produced a box like object the size of a book.  He opened it out and informed us that it was a Charkha spinning wheel.  Now anything that turns and produces thread or wool of any kind grabs my interest but when I saw this compact machine I was transfixed.  I was aware of its association with Gandhi but what I hadn’t known was that he had actually invented this spinning wheel when he was in jail in Pune in the 1920s for civil disobedience.


“The spinning wheel of Gandhi brought us freedom.” (Punjabi folk song)

Whilst incarcerated Gandhi used the spinning wheel to spin cotton thread and produce fabric for his own clothing.  He rejected European style clothing, instead, opting for the simple loincloth that we so often see him wearing in photographs of the time.

This was a part of the Swadeshi movement which held an anti-colonial (anti-British) philosophy that attempted to promote the self-sufficiency of the Indian people.  At that time India was importing much of its cotton textiles from the north of England.  The movement encouraged Indians to create their own fabrics rather than import machine made cloth from Britain.  In an effort to reduce poverty in rural India and to stem the flow of Indian money destined for England Gandhi stated that it was

“the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”


Gandhi received some criticism for being backward looking and eschewing the benefits of modern machinery but in response he claimed that “a plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour.”  He also argued that he was not against machines per se but that he was against India’s dependence on British machinery.

For Gandhi the spinning wheel was an emblem of non-violent protest.  It featured on the first national flag of India in 1921 but the flag went through a number of transformations before it got to today’s current version.


1931_flag_of_india-svg                                                     06

Gandhi recognised the personal benefits of spinning.  It has been reported that he got up at 4 a.m. each morning and spun for one hour.  He claimed that spinning was akin to meditation and that it ‘calmed the nerves.’


Below is a video of a modern Charkha in action.  It was made by Jonathan Bosworth who created the Charkha that I saw at the IGSWD meeting in Dublin.


India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.  His personal Charkha spinning wheel was recently sold in the U.K. for £110,000.











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Spinning a Sweater

This has to be my most ambitious project to date for a number of reasons but mainly because of the time involved.  Over the Christmas holidays (doesn’t that sound like ages ago?) I was listening to the AndreSue Knits podcast and she was chatting to a fellow knitter, Sue Stokes, about a Sweater spin.  This has been a goal of mine since the alpacas first came to live with us but anyone who has been near a spinning wheel will know the hours that it can take to spin even a small ball of wool.  Habitually I have a grand plan to spin ‘tonnes’ of wool and then produce a substantial pullover that would keep one cosy in a Force Ten gale but usually the moment that I have enough yarn spun for a hat or a pair of gloves…off I go and the amazingly grand garment gets put onto the long finger (this is a wonderful Irish phrase often used to describe the inactivity of procrastinators).


So brimming with enthusiasm I signed myself up to this challenge.  And indeed where spinning is concerned challenge is the word.  My right foot, which still has a painful fracture, is redundant and the left has taken over.  It’s doing well and treadling beautifully however my body has to take on an awkward posture when I am on the Ashford Traveller as the ‘business end’of this spinning wheel is to the left of the treadle.  Slowly but surely I am getting there.

I am spinning Albie’s fleece, which I love to bits, into a two ply yarn.  This will be the last beautiful brown fleece that we get from him as over the winter he has started to grow a lot of grey hair on his fringe (which isn’t used) and down his neck (which usually would be).


Also, this will show you how impulsive I am, I have no pattern in mind.  I have merely cast a sufficient number of stitches onto a circular needle and I’m going for it.   The plan is to knit up to the armpits and then decide what sort of a design the jumper will take.  I have been researching stitch patterns and pullovers from a number of traditions which I have to say is phenomenal fun but hugely distracting.  The good news is that I have about 45 more rows before a decision has to be made so there’s no rush really.  If possible I would like to use a contrasting fleece….but we’ll see!


Bristol Hat Fine and Finished


On a recent trip to the UK I managed to finish this little lovely out of leftover Debbie Bliss yarn.  I had started it before Christmas and left it there to be finished off when I returned.  It’s always great to have a project waiting for you that you can get stuck into straight away.  On my next jaunt over I will have to apply myself big time to the great spin fest so that I can make more headway on the sweater spin challenge.  This means being highly organised and taking plenty of carded fleece and bobbins with me.


Broken Joint

During my last stint of spinning in the UK  I managed to break the conrod joint of the Ashford Traditional.  This is a piece of leather that attaches to the treadle.  I had a quick hunt around for some leather to replace it with and stumbled upon a pair of redundant jeans with the perfect label.  What could be better?