Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Old Spinning Wheel in the Corner

I was always fascinated with the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.  Sleeping Beauty's handsome prince was interesting and I could only dream of making gold out of straw.  But what really grabbed my attention was the mention of a spinning wheel.  I will never forget the day that my Grandpa Burnette told me that there was a spinning wheel upstairs in the closet.  OH MY!   I immediately started to beg him to let me see it.  It turns out that the wheel was in the BIG closet.  To understand what was I mean by the "BIG closet", let me draw you a mental picture.  There were three big walk-in closets upstairs in my grandparent's house. Two were big, but one was HUGE!  It ran the entire length of the house.  I am horrible at distances, but it had to be at least 30 feet long and about 6 feet wide.  It was tucked underneath the rafters, so at one side of the closet you could walk the length standing up.  The other side was only about 3 feet high.    And it was cram-packed with stuff.   So, getting at something in that closet, unless you knew the exact location, was a big undertaking.

John Edward Burnette
(My grandpa)

Grandpa told me that his mother, Martha Jane Cock (Cox) Burnette, had given it to him.  She had gotten it from her mother, and she had gotten it from her mother.  So, this spinning wheel had belonged to my great, great grandmother.   Even as a child, I loved old stuff and family stories, so this made me want to see it even more. Grandpa told me that he was too busy to look for then, but he would get it out for me eventually. I knew that I needed to just hush about it at that point, because he was not going to go look for it right at that moment.

Martha Jane Cox as a young woman
(My great grandmother)

Marion Columbus Burnett & Martha Jane Cox (as an older woman)

Leah Marshall Cock (Cox)--my great, great grandmother

When I went for a visit a couple of days later, Grandpa hollered for me to come look at something. (He was in the "little room" which was usually where I could always find him sitting in his rocking chair. Most folks might call that a family room these days, but there was also a bed in that room, which was quite typical in Appalachia.)

Sitting in the middle of the floor was the SPINNING WHEEL!  Well, it looked a bit sad.  Dust covered and the finish was not all shiny and glossy.  Some of the wheel spokes had been broken over time and replaced with inferior quality, hand-whittled spokes.  I was expecting a spinning wheel like the ones that I had seen pictured in my story books!!  Well, it was still a pretty wheel, in its own way, simply because it had belonged to my family for at least five generations.   And then Grandpa said the magic words:  "When I die, you can have this spinning wheel!"  Wow!  Grandpa was giving me the spinning wheel!   Once I calmed down over that announcement, I quickly wanted to see it in action.   Well, Grandpa nor Grandma could remember how it worked.  They could tell me lots of stories about watching their mothers and grandmothers use a spinning wheel, but they had no clue how it functioned.  Then, Grandpa said, "Well, I have no idea where you would even get sheep's wool or flax to even try to use that wheel."  So the spinning wheel sat in the corner of my bedroom at Grandpa's house for the next 15 years.

In this photo, the flyer & bobbin are not on the spinning wheel.

While I always thought that it was wonderful that I could say that I owned a spinning wheel, all it amounted to was just a side note.  That is until 1989 when I started working on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I was assigned to work at the Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm where there was a spinning wheel AND a big rocker beater floor loom. Charlotte, who volunteered there, told me that her mother knew how to spin!  She told me that she would ask her mother, Adeline, if she felt like coming up and showing me how.   Not only did she introduce me to spinning, but also how to weave and how to do natural dyeing.  Through the years Adeline helped me by sharing information and sources.  I treasure her letters, which are filled with her spidery handwriting, telling me secrets of the fiber arts.

So, that is how I became a spinner, dyer, and sometime weaver.

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