handspun yarn history

knitting blog

Yarn and Handicrafts of the Smokey Mountains

Having recently moved to the smokey mountains of TN and being from a family who is historically from the area I felt compelled to learn about the area.  My two little girls were just at their grandparents in SC for a few days so I took the opportunity to drive to all of the local yarn shops in my surrounding area.  That's one thing I love about having something you are passionately interested in is it gives you great excuse to explore and meet new people. I found many different and interesting yarn shops from Atomic Fibers in Oak ridge ( named for the towns ties with nuclear power)  to Clinch river Yarns ( in a cute old house in Clinton TN ).  I also made the short trip from my new home to Gatlinburg TN to visit a place called " The Spinnery" It's a lovely drive past Dollywood down a winding road that cuts through the mountians, moss and over a creek to Gatlinburg.  The Spinnery is located right downtown and is a trove of beautiful yarns, fibers, wheels and tools.  One of the laides who worked there spent lots of time explaining all of the different historical fiber processing tools to me. I am thrilled that I picked up a new pair of hand made wool combs which will greatly help with processing my Tunis wool for my shop.   

I appreciate all of the time spent on me because I know they two ladies there were working very hard restocking the entire store due to smoke damage from the recent tragic fires in Gatlinburg TN.  Even though we were living in TN at the time it's easy to feel removed from such sadness.  I am so thankful that this lovely store and all of it's history was saved.  If you looked out the windows you could see directly next door a building and surrounding woods were completely gone.  They were very happy to tell me that "Ms. Ruby" a life size wool felted and ceramic statue of an old woman weaving was still safe. She is made by a local ceramic artist who tried her hand and felting and did an outstanding job.  She is so life like she's almost creepy. 

I found this great old video from 1947 about the people and heritage of the Great Smokey Mountains.  They of course all reminded me of Ms. Ruby.  The whole 15 mins is great but if you skip to 8:30 it has a short bit about hand spun yarn and weaving.  

It all reminds me of one of my favorite sayings

"Use it up, wear it out, make it due, or do without"

knitting blog

History of Yarn Spinning ( in Donegal Ireland)

I found this gem of a video on youtube and felt the need to share it.  I had set out to find some history of yarn spinning and knitting(the anthropologist in me) and stumbled upon it.  The video is filmed in Donegal county in Ireland, which conquidently is one of the places I did field work while in college.  Donegal is the breathtakingly beautiful north west corner of Ireland that many tourist don't go to.  It is also well known for it's sheep and strong cultural heritage.  

Sheep at the Silver strand beach in Glencolmcille Ireland

Sheep at the Silver strand beach in Glencolmcille Ireland

Even though I wasn't a knitter at the time, I was able to go to the cultural center where I learned about the history of the surrounding area and their strong ties to sheep herding and wool.  I was able to make a small tapestry out of the hand dyed handspun yarn. It was also very common place while you were walking through the small town of  Glencolmcille to pass old men walking their sheep from once place to the next.  This county is also famous for it's beautiful thick fisherman sweaters that we always picture when thinking of celtic knits.  I really wish I had bought one in retrospect but they were costly(as they should be) and I was a 19 year old college student trading  cigarettes for drinks and it wasn't in the budget at the time. ( not a smoker but my dad insisted I take American cigarettes  to give to the locals, thanks dad)

I absolutely love this video all the way from the grainy quality to the wonderful old ladies and all of their different styles of wheel.  It truly captures the thriftiness and sociability of yarn and knitting that I think attracts so many of us to this craft to this day.  It's a bit slow starting  off so if you're in a hurry maybe skip ahead a few minutes to where you start seeing the spinning.  

Please share this post if you care to. I"m assuming if you are reading this you probably share my love of traditional hand crafts so lets help keep the understanding and tradition alive. I know that's what I"m trying to do every time I spin.  That's what I"m hoping to do by selling yarn is not to just keep my personal stash from getting out of control but to do my part in keeping the appreciation of handspun yarn and hand knit items alive.