Making Fabric. Reflections on the spinning and weaving process.

Spinning Wheel.

Spinning Wheel.

So often in our culture we accept that the products we consume simply exist. All the clothing we consume or all the fabric we buy simply exists. Rarely do we think about who made our clothes (such an important question!) or how they were made. If you ask most people how their clothes and fabric are made they imagine that in our modern society they’re probably made in a factory somewhere by robots.

The reality however is that all our clothes are still hand sewn. They are sewn by women (almost the entirety of garment construction workers are women) usually in developing countries and often in poor conditions. Some companies are working to change this but it’s a slow process and with the majority of people buying into fast fashion one that isn’t going to change too soon.

I’ve been wanting to have a better understanding of the clothing manufacturing process and to be more able to make my own clothing. I had already learnt basic apparel construction and pattern making while living in California. But I wondered if I could go back further in the process.

Spun Alpaca. Not quite even yet.

Spun Alpaca. Not quite even yet.

At the start of the year I was lucky enough to learn how to spin wool at the Milton Weavers and Spinners group. I’d previously used a drop spindle at school but spinning on the wheel was a whole new level of coordination and patience. I found the process of preparing the wool and then spinning it to be really satisfying.

In preparing the wool I had a beautiful auburn alpaca fleece to wash and card. I worked on a small scale, spinning small sections of the fleece in a salad spinner to help remove some of the dust and debris before washing. There was so much dirt as alpacas like to wash themselves by taking dirt baths.

Preparing warp yarns to go on the loom

Preparing warp yarns to go on the loom

I’m a long way from being good at these skills but I have the basics now so that when I one day get a wheel I feel I’ll be confident to practice. I briefly used a wheel months after learning in Milton while I was at RMIT and I was pleased to see that much like riding a bike it’s muscle memory that you don’t forget once you’ve started.

By far my favourite skill that I’ve learnt this year was weaving on a table loom. It was fantastic to learn the process of winding the warps and warping the loom. There’s so much involved in warping the loom and as I learnt the hard way there is definitely room for error here.

Preparing to thread the heddles.

Preparing to thread the heddles.

But once warped it was amazing to see how many beautiful and intricate patterns can be achieved with just the four shafts. Although we were only weaving very narrow strips in the class, known as blankets, I felt that I still learnt so many valuable skills. I also found the repetitive process to be such a meditative one. Not the type of meditation where you zone out but rather a relaxed but highly focused meditation as you keep track of the lifting sequence.

When we eventually get settled in a more permanent location I definitely want to get my own spinning wheel and loom setup (and lets be real, some sheep and alpaca to go with them). I feel that weaving and spinning are such amazing textiles skills and that they have so much to offer in terms of both creativity and practicality. It was so eye opening for me to see the effort that goes into making fabric before it even gets anywhere near the stage of becoming clothes.

Here I share the most valuable textiles skills I’ve learnt this past year.

Here I share the most valuable textiles skills I’ve learnt this past year.