A Yarn as Old as Time

A few people have asked me to share one of my personal posts here with the guild. I really hope you enjoy this piece, it was written from the heart.



Sit down and let me tell you a story. It started long ago, this deep need to express my creative self. As a child my aunt taught me how to knit, how to paint and how to make latch hook rugs. Time progressed and the whims of youth took over before college education led to burnout. During these times, I always turned to the creative expressions learned in childhood to make me feel truly happy in life.

Becoming an adult was a slow journey that I was dragged into, dictated by time and necessity but it lacked a sense of self. You know what I mean. That feeling of accomplishment when you finish a project or reach a creative goal for the first time. Everytime I finish a sweater or any knitted object, I know that this is because of skills that have been passed down for generations in my family and that brings a sense of joy that can not be replaced by anything else. I realised that the joy for me was not just in the finished object but being able to keep alive that part of my family history that I can no longer visit in my day to day life. Knowing that what I can create today in some ways transcends time.

You may think this a sad story but let me assure you that it’s not. Realising that the joy was in the skill and the craft itself led me on a journey from life as a research chemist to a LYS worker. I’m lucky enough to work in a beautiful georgian building that has ties going back generations in the wool industry in Ireland. On the days I work, I’m surround by crafts and not always in obvious ways.

Time passed and the monotony of parenthood and work took their toll. Motivation and time for knitting declined and there was a deep emptiness in my being that needed to be filled. Now, you may think this is a story about me but it’s not. It’s about a wheel, a beautiful old Donegal Spinning wheel and the last Irish Wheelwright.

There was a seed of an idea, I loved yarn. I loved the content, the construction, the ply, the twist, the colours and I loved fiber. On a chance meeting in work, a friend taught me how to spin on a spindle. It’s fun but over time the need for a wheel grew. I tested the waters with new wheels, I visited friends and exhibitions but nothing felt quite right. I knew I wanted my wheel to be Irish and the hunt began.

It wasn’t long before I found the Irish Wheelwright in Inishowen but before I could commit a chance email from a customer tugged at my heart. There was an old Irish wheel in need of a home. This wheel needed to be loved, needed to be used and needed to see the light of day again.

Emails flew back and forth, the full history of the wheel slowly revealed. The wheel, older than myself, was hand-crafted by James Shiels. It’s first ever home was the building in which I work, for a weaver years ago. It’s current owner loved it but time had passed and she could no longer use the wheel and couldn’t watch it sit, lonely and unused but she didn’t want the wheel to go to just anyone, she wanted this wheel to be truly loved.

An afternoon phone call assured her that I would appreciate the wheels history and construction as much as I would love to spin on her. My early childhood days of playing in my father’s carpentry workshop meant that I could appreciate the hand turned spokes and hand-made bobbins. It was love at first sight, that mad, deep, intense love that Juliet had for her Romeo.

The wheel, name yet unknown to me, needed attention. So, I bathed her, coated her leather, oiled her and conditioned her wood. Then the time came to test her, that glorious first spin where we came to know each other, our quirks and flaws before finding a similar constant heartbeat. The first yarn to come off her was rough to begin with before finding a mutual, timely rhythm, all the while still never knowing her name.  

As the weeks passed, we grew closer. My creative self being born anew. When I spin, it’s like having coffee with an old friend. I listen to her story, what she needs from me and I remember my parents, family members now long gone and the craftsman who made something all those years ago with such skill that even today, years later it brings me joy as it works. Together we create something new. We create something wonderful.

You may wonder why I chose to share this tale with you. You be surprised to hear that it’s isn’t because of spinning itself. These yarns and knitted objects that we create are made with love, skill and will be here when we are gone. When I sit at my wheel or knit with my yarn, the joy it brings cannot be filled any other way. Together we make the yarns and garments that fill my creative life. So, I’m asking you to take time for you as you create, to find what truly brings you the happiness that Daisy, my wheel brings to me. To keep alive old traditions, pass on your rich creative history and bring about a new line of creative, happy souls. Be the reason that something old can truly shine again. Be the reason for smiles in years yet to come. Be happy. Be creative. Be you.


You can find more from Nadia over on her personal blog and podcast CottageNotebook.ie.  Thanks for sharing with the guild


  1. Absolutely Brilliant. Took me back to my days a child and learning to knit . Being taught by my aunts. It seems our Aunts are all special. Thank you for such a wonderful story.

  2. Lovely story about the James Shiels Spinning Wheel!
    My Donegal wheel is one of his too, I think. We are not quite sure, as we found the wheel very close to Malin Head, in a small craft shop up a hill.
    It looked grey and unloved, but after some work on it and plenty of oil on the wood it began to spin well.
    Experimenting with the wheel I found out that due to the small orifice only fine wool could be spun on it. But it came into its own when I spun flax grown in our garden on it. That is what the wheel was made to do!


  3. It is a heavy wheel but so beautifully made. I love it. Flax would be perfect. Someone told me once of the original use for the wheels in Donegal and I wish I had recorded it or written it down. It’s going to be a mission of mine to find out more!


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