Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Winding the wool

This is something you don't see any more but I remember standing with my arms held wide holding taut a skein of wall while my nana or mother wound a ball of wool. This is uncle Gibson Phelan doing the same in the 1920s. I was reminded of this photo when I saw the theme photo for this week's Sepia Saturday - a lady sewing or mending a flag. 

Gibson Phelan assists in the winding of the wool.
Hand crafts are changing or disappearing. My weekly quilting group members are crafting quilts but none of us make quilts because they are an essential part of our home bedding. My father makes wooden bowls, chairs and tables but he does it because he enjoys the process - not because we need the items. None of his children or grandchildren know how to work the wood.  My daughters enjoy growing vegetables but they could easily buy them at their local market or store. My sister-in-law preserves fruit even though she can afford to buy fruit throughout the year (even out-of-season fruit flown in from all over the world). My friend makes her own clothes even though there are cheaper items available in the stores - and my own sewing machine doesn't get used anywhere near as much as it used to even though I still have the skills. My step-mother knits jumpers from new and recycled wool and donates them to a charity. I knit rarely and my daughters not at all. My husband's grandmother always won prizes whenever she entered the cooking sections at the local shows - if we want to use puff pastry in a recipe we head to our freezer whereas she made it from scratch.

And this photo reminds me of a time when wool arrived in large skeins that had to be rolled into smaller balls before the actual knitting could be started. I searched YouTube for a little video of the process but failed. There are plenty of videos involving mechanical ways of holding the skeins but none showing a person doing the job. Surprising really because it such a friendly way of doing it, but maybe we're all leading such busy lives it's hard to find a friend with the time to just sit and chat while they hold their arms wide open. I wonder if you can even buy a skein of wool now.

I searched Google images and Australian newspapers online at Trove to see what else I could find about winding balls off the skein or hank of wool. I found a cartoon and several humerous items. I hadn't thought of the process as a 'romantic dance' until I read the report below and the snippet from the story in the last item.

Australian Womens Weekly 15 June 1955
Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 29 Dec 1933
Australian Womens Weekly 27 Apr 1940
Harold Harvey's painting 'Winding the Wool'
The Daily News (Perth), 9 June 1905


  1. I loved this post, but it also made me sad - all the things we used to do both with and for other people. It's the merest of snippets from 1936 but try this

  2. Yes, generation Y have totally different priorities than prior generations. My daughter has never knitted or sewed. She wasn't even interested in learning.

  3. I do remember helping my mother like this! She was such a knitter and she loved to sew.

  4. I remember having to wind skeins of yarn into balls before the advent of the pull-skein. I usually looped the skein to be wound over the back of a rocking chair, but I have clear memories of helping my Mom wind balls from skeins by holding my hands apart as a couple of your pictures show, and oh, but my arms would get so tired & I could hardly wait for her to be finished!

  5. I think I remember winding wool when I used to knit, long ago. I think the last time I tried to knit anything was 40 years ago. Knitting has become more popular again in the last few years.

  6. "Beatrice, looking indescribably lovely"....I smiled when I read that .... such a funny phrase. I have great fun winding my skeins of wool on my mechanical wool winder...once I figure it's a bit like a meat mincer combined with an umbrella.....

  7. I guess many of us have been standing there with outstretched arms holding the wool to be made into a ball. My husband had to be my wool holder, when I was still knitting. In Switzerland was a little device available, it was made from wood and one could put a skein on and it went round and round, I never had one, sometimes when I had no one to hold the skein I put it over the back of a chair and I went round and round! A long time ago. A fine and interesting post.

  8. Something else you don't see these days - newspaper articles about such topics, or written with such (nicely) descriptive words!

  9. You brought back a memory I had long since forgot .... My gran used to get Scain of wool and I would stand like your picture holding it round my hands! Had totally forgot that

  10. Great thoughts and insights as usual Lorraine! I vaguely remember seeing Roger's Aunty Dawn and her mother/his grandmother winding wool in the 1970s - i know they used to buy it in bulk from Warnambool back then

  11. memories flooding back. My mother was a great knitter and I spent many hours holding her wool. In turn my daughters did the same thing for me, though they never really took to knitting, crochet and sewing as I did. Although we don't have to do these things now, I think it is lovely that we can do them purely for the pleasure of doing them.

  12. You have reminded me of something I haven't thought about in years. Yes, I stood (or sat) with my arms out while Momma wound her yarn. It seems many of us did that for our mothers at one time.

  13. My husband I both remember doing this for our Mums, but as you say, the skills are lost to many of our offspring. Both my son and daughter were taught by me to cross-stitch and sew buttons etc so it's not completely a lost art. This is just the type of post I love, carefully put together and thoughtfully written, with a family album picture as the star and a supporting cast of snippets so nicely following the theme.

  14. I appreciate the romantic notion of it, and it sounded like good advice to have the same person roll the wool into a ball for the whole garment. I remember going into a fabric store, a long time ago, to find fabric to have something done, and seeing the wool in skeins; but I don't know if my mom ever did that for her mother. Presumably, yes...

  15. I am a knitter who happened across this while searching for something else. Yes, tons and tons of knitting wool is sold in skeins. The cheap stuff you see at big-box craft stores is sold in balls, but if you go to a yarn store, most of it will be in skeins.

    The wooden device referred to above is a swift, likely an umbrella swift. I think they've been around for a long time too. This is what most knitters today use, in combination with a little hand-crank winder. It goes very quickly and the finished balls are tidier and easier to use, and obviously more consistent.

    Hope this helps. These hobbies aren't disappearing.


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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