Category: Hûrd

Historic spinning sounds from Estonia and the UK

Here is Liis, spinning on an Estonian double-drive spinning wheel.



During her travels in Estonia, Felicity learned from Julika that double-drive wheels became popular in rural Estonia throughout the 1800s and during the following century. Even after serfdom was abolished, villeinage was still payable by village dwellers to German Landlords, and women sometimes paid this villeinage in handspun yarn. The first Estonian vocabulary for different parts of the spinning wheel comes from the end of the 18th century as well as the beginning of the 19th century. In the larger cities spinning wheels were used earlier – from the 16th century – but in the countryside, textiles for the family were largely produced from sheep-to-shoulders entirely in the home, and workable yarn was quicker to spin on a wheel than with a drop-spindle. The double-drive wheel allowed Estonian women living outside of the big cities to churn out all the yarn required by demanding Landlords and the need to clothe their families. Julika has an article on the history of handspinning in Estonia coming out in Yarnmaker magazine if you want to learn more about this subject.

Felicity also learned from Liis that the double-drive wheel is appropriate for spinning very fine, high-twist yarns at great speed. These qualities have influenced much of the historic knitwear in Estonia – especially intricate colour work and delicate lace shawls – which could not have been produced with the thicker, chunkier, lower-twist yarns produced on other types of wheels.

Liis also discusses the tradition of women handing their spinning wheels down through the generations.

In contrast, the sound of yarn being industrially spun in the UK – at a historic and still-functioning mill – is presented alongside this domestic, historic, Estonian sound. At the time when the double-drive wheel was spreading throughout rural Estonia, many of the communities in the UK which had created textiles domestically were being transformed by various inventions and the industrial up-scaling of UK woollen cloth production. Where for centuries families had scoured, spun and woven woollen cloth at home in the UK in systems similar to those found in Estonia, giant mill complexes shifted the production of textiles from the home into the factory.

It is conceivable that if one could have had an ear in Estonia and an ear in the UK during the early 1800s, one could have simultaneously heard the sounds of spinning wheels and spinning mills. Felicity is still trying to ascertain when the first spinning mills appeared in Estonia, and when exactly the widely-spread practice of creating woollen textiles inhouse in the UK died out… all help with fact-finding appreciated!

In the meantime, and back to the subject of sounds…

This is the sound of the machinery operating at Coldharbour Mill in Devon – a 200 year old spinning mill set in the village of Uffculme. Coldharbour Mill was built by Thomas Fox to spin woollen (and later worsted) yarns in 1799.



An industrial, historic, UK sound of yarn being spun and a domestic, historic, Estonian sound of yarn being spun.

Thanks to Liis and Julika.

Carding Kihnu sheep wool

Earlier in the month, we heard a recording of combing Rough Fell Fleece.

This is the sound of hand-combing the washed fleece of the Kihnu sheep, which is one strain of the Native Estonian sheep breed.

Estonian Native sheep are from the North European Short-tailed family, and they have a double coat. This means they have short, soft, woollen fibres close to their bodies, and longer, coarser guard hairs on the outside of their fleeces. Because of this double-coated fleece and the shortness of the fibres which come from Estonian Native sheep, there is not really an established tradition of combing wool fibres in Estonia. In the UK, many sheep have long wool which is appropriate for combing. Combing lines all the fibres up in parallel to one another, prior to spinning. Deep-teethed combs are employed to align the fibres in this way. In contrast, carding – which is the established method for fibre preparation in Estonia – results in having fibres which are neat enough to spin with, but which will not lie in straight, parallel lines as combed fibres do.

Combed fibres prepared for spinning are generally known as sliver, while carded fibres are arranged into a rolag.

Here are Liis and Felicity making rolags for handspinning with hand cards. They are also discussing the need to change batteries in the sound-recorder, and the traditions of hand spinning yarns in Estonia.

Quiet places in lands where sheep graze

The water lapping at the edges of the island of Kihnu, Estonia.



The wind in the chimney of the Aga in David and Diane’s kitchen, Cumbria, UK.

Shearing stories

Margaret discusses shearing in the UK, and how she learnt to shear sheep as a girl. She also talks about some of the issues re: using the electric shears.



Selma and Riina discuss shearing in Estonia, and how they clip their sheep without using electric shears. They also discuss the processing of the wool from their flock of sheep on Ruhnu.

Cumbrian Rough Fell Sheep; Estonian Ruhnu sheep

Here are the sounds of a UK Rough Fell sheep living in the Lake District, contrasted with the sounds of Estonian sheep on the island of Ruhnu.

The Rough Fell sheep live near the Shap pass in Cumbria, and are a mixed group of large rams. They were recorded in the Winter, with their shepherd, Brian Knowles.



The Estonian Ruhnu sheep live on the island of Ruhnu, and are descended from some sheep purchased on the island in the 1950s. They were recorded in the Spring, with their shepherds, Selma and Riina Kaljulaid. “The Naughty One” referred to in the audio is a boisterous ram, whose aggressive behaviour leaves a lot to be desired in the opinion of his minders…



The Ruhnu sheep are considerably smaller than the Rough Fell sheep, which might account for their slightly higher-pitched baas.

Fermentation in the Madder vat…

During Felicity’s residency at MoKS, Madder roots grown in Berkshire in the UK were used to dye Estonian wool from Kihnu sheep.

After a day or so of hanging around, being red, and soaking all its scarlet/red shades into the Kihnu sheep wool, the dyebath started to fizz.

The Nightingale Thrush

In Mooste, there are many Nightingale Thrushes which sing in the night. They have a very long song, which can be heard if one is staying up winding skeins, spinning yarn, dyeing yarn, soaking wool etc. This one likes to sing beside a kind of electronic power-box or electricity junction point, as it has stationed itself right beside this buzzing box.



…and here is the Nightingale Thrush recorded from a little further away:

Tuuli’s Piano and Looms

This is the sound of Tuuli’s piano, which is kept in her parents’ place in Võru, in the same room as her loom.

You can hear the two devices together; the loom and the piano, both of them with their strings being beaten. On the piano, the strings are struck by a hammer and on Tuuli’s loom, the warp strings are struck by the beater. Felicity is playing the Piano in the first clip, and Tuuli is teaching Felicity how to weave a rug in the second clip.



Untaping the windows at MoKS

In order to dye yarn, it was necessary to make the space well-ventilated.

This involved taking the tape away from the edges of a window at MoKS, which had been taped shut to keep the heat in during the cold Winter months.

Only once the tape had been removed could the windows be opened, to allow the fumes from the dyebath to escape out of the space.

Cumbrian Loom, Estonian Loom

Here you can hear a loom in Cumbria, in Farfield Mill. Farfield Mill is a heritage and arts centre, with a weaving room on the top floor which weavers can use to create contemporary cloth.



Here you can hear a loom in Tõstamaa käsitöökeskus (Tõstamaa Craft Centre) which is run by Anu Randmaa. The specialism of the Craft Centre is in recreating National Folk Costumes according to the old crafts, skills and traditions. In this recording you can hear one of the craft school students weaving a traditional Estonian skirt. The warp is made of flax, and the weft is made of very fine strands of wool.