Spinning at the RSPB

Yesterday I joined with fellow members of the Bedfordshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers to demonstrate handspinning at the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). The guild, of which I was a founder member, is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. We usually demonstrate at the RSPB twice a year, in August & at their Feed the Birds Day in October. The RSPB centre at Sandy, Bedfordshire, has a flock of Manx Loghtan sheep & members of our guild spin some of the fleece from these sheep & then make items for sale in the shop in aid of RSPB funds. The photo shows our display, including naturally dyed samples, some dyed by me & some by my friend, Chris, with whom I have been sharing dyeing experiences for many years. Chris is also a plant expert from whom I have learned many useful tips & information.

Demonstrating spinning & talking to the public about dyeing are always interesting. This time I was surprised & delighted by the level of interest, especially in natural dyeing, shown by some of the children. One little girl in particular, probably about 10, asked quite detailed questions & seemed really attentive to the answers. One always wonders how much information to give, especially where mordants are concerned. I try to answer as fully as possible but without making the matter so complicated that it puts people off. At times like these I realise just how complex natural dyeing actually is.

Without wishing to appear sexist or guilty of gender stereotyping, it is also interesting to note that there is often a difference between male & female areas of interest. Men usually want to know the technicalities of spinning & spinning wheels, while women tend to enthuse more about the fleece & the spun yarns & what they might be used for. However, when with children, both men & women want the children to appreciate & understand that what we are demonstrating is closely linked to the clothing people are wearing & how it is produced. Most children don’t realise that cotton comes from a plant (indeed, why should they if they haven’t been told?) but tend to know that wool comes from sheep. Yesterday one of our members was spinning alpaca fleece from her son’s alpacas & one child actually knew that alpacas were related to llamas! Such contact with the younger generation fills one with optimism.

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