Today was the official season opening of the Smithfield Plantation House, the historic home of William Preston in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is the site where I have been demonstrating spinning for the past year when there is a special event. For a while, I will be going in and spinning in different rooms of the house itself while I learn the history to become an interpreter and give tours. Last November for their final event, I sat in the dining room and learned the information for the school room/office of the house and that part of the house, but there are 4 other rooms that I have only toured once and not an official tour, so that information must be learned.
Today, being opening day, spinning was in the summer kitchen. The site excavation showed that the slave cabin was erected on the summer kitchen area and until this year, it has been the Weaver’s Cottage with old wheels, weasels, winders, and a huge Appalachian Rocker Loom. All of that has been removed except for the loom and a small work table and set up with crocks, pots, and tools of an 18th century kitchen.
Today, I was in this cottage/summer kitchen spinning on one of my antique wheels in full costume. Because it was opening day, just inside the gate was a Civil War re-enactors encampment, they spent the night there last night and will again tonight. It smelled so good with bacon cooking on their open fire when I arrived this morning.
As you can see from the lack of leaves on the trees, we are still in early spring and today was an early spring day, very breezy and cool. The cottage is drafty and by the end of the day I was pretty chilled through. One of the hazards of the cottage is the very low doorways to the outside and to the lean-to addition. This is the warning on the inside of the door as you prepare to exit. It is at the bridge of my nose. The door opening is only about 5 feet.
During one of the sunny periods, I was sitting on the steps in the sun to warm and two horses were lead through the property. They were lead down to the cottage to graze while the owner and her friend went to use the facilities, I got to hold and provide some attention to the two beauties during that time.
The turnout today was not very heavy, there were lots of other activities on campus and around the area and the day was chilly and mostly overcast, but it is so enjoyable to have this opportunity to participate in teaching and demonstrating this ancient art, to spread out my Scottish spindle, hand carders, fiber in various stages of preparation and get to talk about something that I have come to love. Each visit provides me with some education too.
A couple of weeks ago, I was given the privilege to be the spinning interpreter at the local 18th century plantation house on the Virginia Tech Campus. As summer was passing, I sold my Kromski Sonata, the folding castle style wheel that I had used the first time I was there and though a contemporary wheel, it at least looked the part. It was replaced with the Ashford Traditional on which I had learned, a Saxony wheel that also looked the part and was used the second time I was re-enacting. It was a nice starter wheel, though the wheel itself wobbled a bit when it spun. It has tiny little bobbins and therefore made small skeins of yarn. With the proceeds from selling the Kromski, I bought a used Louët, a very contemporary castle style wheel. The Ashford was first loaned to a teen wanting to learn to spin, then sold to her, leaving me with the contemporary wheel while sitting in the old home spinning earlier this month. I had been looking on the internet for an old (period) still functional wheel for some time and in the past couple of days, I found two. I emailed out to the first seller to be told that the wheel pictured was not the wheel for sale, but representative of wheels he had sold in the past and he was too busy with the Christmas rush to send me any photos or descriptions of what he currently had available until after Christmas. He also could not tell me if he had a working wheel. Scratch that seller off my list.
The second seller had a beautiful wheel that had come from a South Carolina estate and it had been in the same family throughout it’s history. I emailed again and the response was that it spins straight, has all of it’s original parts, is not just a decoration and not a reproduction, plus the price was so incredibly low that it seemed too good to be true, plus, if I am dissatisfied, I can return it within two weeks for a full refund.
Since my show was successful over the weekend, we decided that I should go ahead and make the purchase. This morning, I ordered that wheel and now I anxiously await it’s arrival. It has only 1 bobbin and that bobbin looks small, so this wheel will only be for re-enactment, the rest of the time, gracing our home. If I truly fall in love with it, perhaps I will have a couple more bobbins made, sell the Louët and make the antique my all the time wheel. I’m really not a collector of wheels, not keeping more than one in the house at a time.