SPINNING THE WORLDS LONGEST THREAD - MY STORY
As past visitors to my site will know, back in 1997 I entered the "Longest Thread" competition and went to Bothwell Tasmania for the Highland spin -in. This is the Sequel to Bothwell.
I started spinning my second attempt at the World Record in February 1998, the deadline for entries was November 1998. The wool I chose came from the market at the 1997 Bothwell gathering, I had deliberately looked for a fleece which I thought would be capable of producing a super fine yarn.
The fleece I chose was a Tasmanian Cormo. See Cormo Information
Cormo Sheep awaiting shearing
I had learned a lot from my previous attempt and hoped I would have the patience to complete what I knew would be a testing piece of work. I tried to adapt a flyer for my P & M wheel so that I could get a higher ratio but found it put the whole wheel out of balance so I would have to revert back to my 10:1 ratio, I aimed to do a maximum of 3/4 of an hours spinning at a time as I knew that my back and hip would not stand up to much more than that without damage. I washed the fleece in boiling water and lemon juice to remove all traces of grease and dirt and then combed the locks using small woolcombs, there was a fair amount of wastage as I only wanted the very longest fibres to give good strength.
I started spinning and luckily this time around I had a thread to compare my progress with, I was aiming for a noticeable reduction in yarn diameter from my previous effort as I would have to better it by at least 200 metres!
The first bobbin progressed well, I was feeling happy and confident that all was going according to plan. I had prepared 20 grams of washed wool and worked my way through half of it knowing that there would be a fair bit of loss due to breakage and tangles. I started the second bobbin around the end of June just as the weather started to improve so I spent as much time spinning in the garden as I could, it was then that the first disaster struck! I was about 1/3 of the way through the bobbin when a bird flying overhead decided to drop it's load, it landed right in the middle of my bobbin, I was stricken, I could imagine just what that toxic mess was doing to my superfine 80 twists to the inch yarn. Quickly I pulled the bobbin off the wheel and gently dabbed the mess off as best I could with damp cotton wool, I daren't rub it or use some other substance such as milk as it would make the yarn sticky and increase the overall weight, I left it to dry and decided the only thing to do was to carry on and hope for the best.
Flock of Cormo sheep
By the time I had finished the yarn it was heading into October, I had spun some more onto each bobbin as a safety net just to be sure I had enough weight, I was worrying about that second bobbin and decided that knowing how difficult it is to join a break in plying I had better run the bobbin off onto another one just to make sure that the bird dropping had not corroded the yarn.
In retrospect I think this was a bad move, although the thread separated in about ten places I lost the end a couple of times and had to break the thread to rejoin it, some of the yarn looked a little fragile with the searching I had done for the elusive end and I was getting more and more frustrated, I was on the point of throwing in the towel.
I left the whole thing alone for a couple of weeks and turned to feltmaking for a while, my friends and family kept asking how it was going and were getting itchy about the deadline looming so I decided to bite the bullet and finish the damn thing.
I started plying one Saturday morning alone in my workshop at the bottom of the garden where no-one could disturb me and I could swear away to my hearts content. I had a number of single thread breaks which I managed to join to my satisfaction and spent a lot of time un-spinning and re-spinning sections to tighten the twist in these points. After about four hours I stopped for the day and resumed again the next, I was determined to get it finished in this one weekend. At last it was done and all that remained was to wind it off. I left the yarn on the bobbin for a week to help set the twist and started winding off onto my ball winder one evening after work, the winding off was a nightmare, I had worked out roughly the length of yarn over a given number of turns of the winder and checked again at intervals during the winding to get some idea of the length, At one point the core shot off the winder and snapped the thread, it took me over an hour to re-spin staggered sections of each single rejoining it with new fibre and opposite twist.
Eventually at 2.00 am I was finished, I had given up trying to count the length but knew it was over 700 metres, I also knew that there were plenty of other people capable of doing this length and just hoped that my calculation was erring on the right side. I took the thread down to my local jeweller and asked him if he would weigh the ball just to be sure I had done enough, we estimated around 11 grams without the card core I had wound it onto.
I sent the thread off around the middle of November and attempted to forget about it for the next 2 months. I had decided I could not really afford to go to Bothwell again but would go if I got word that I had broken the record, time passed and my mum kept asking if I had heard anything, she knew I would only go if I had done the job, it got to the beginning of February and I had resigned myself to the probability that my thread had either broken in the measuring or was just not long enough.
I was standing doing my ironing and watching the antiques road show on valentines day when my friend Mary Coombe phoned me, she had booked to go to Tas some months before and I thought was phoning to say she was ready to go. Her first words were "you've done it" at first I didn't know what she was talking about and she had to repeat it "you've broken the record"! It turned out that Barbara Fowler was unable to find my phone number and had phoned Mary asking her to contact me and keep it a strict secret, no-one else was to know. Mary was laughing and I could almost feel her jumping up and down at the other end of the phone. I was stunned, I had accepted that I was not going to be going to Tas' and now suddenly I had to plan a trip to the other side of the world. I phoned Barbara to hear first hand what was happening and told her I would do my best to get time off work and get a flight out, the gathering was from the 5th of March so I didn't have long, I said I would keep her informed, and was told that I could have floor space at her home along with the other 30 odd people she had invited.
When I arrived at work on Monday morning I had to ask my boss for three weeks off work, he asked when I wanted it thinking I would say August or something and nearly went ballistic when I said next week. I had to explain to him my reasons why I needed time off at such short notice and swore him to secrecy, he reckoned he didn't have much choice as I had obviously decided I was going anyway!
I spent the next three days trying to arrange flights out to Tas and finally got a booking to fly out the following Sunday. My mother and aunt phoned me on the 18th to wish me happy birthday and both of them asked if I was going to Tas, of course I said no I wasn't and as the event was in two weeks time I reckoned it was too late to hear anything, they both said "oh well never mind there's always another time and just think of the money you'll save". I couldn't help laughing when I rang off and knew they wouldn't believe I hadn't told them.
I packed my things and flew out direct to Tasmania stopping only to re-fuel at Kuala Lumpur, change planes at Sidney and Melbourne and finally arrived at Hobart Tasmania on Tuesday 23rd February lunch time.
I was met at the airport by my friend Wendy who I had emailed asking if she and her husband Ken could put me up for a few days and if we could go fishing.
It felt like I had never left even though it was two years previously that we had met.
I settled in and met Ken and Wendy's son Timmy and we all went fishing that evening, talk about a whirlwind.
Next day I phoned Barbara, she was stunned when she asked if I was going to make it out to Tas and I said I was already there and staying in Sorrel. We chatted a bit and I said I would come up to Bothwell around the middle of the following week in time for the meet and greet on the Thursday, she was really excited that I had made it and said there was all sorts of things going on with T.V and radio etc. I started getting really nervous at that and thought I had better think of something to say when the time came, she again swore me to secrecy.
I sent post cards to my family which had pictures of Tasmania on them and the message simply said Guess Who? Guess Where? Guess Why? Guess What? I Lied When I phoned my mother after the presentation she was trying to be cross that I hadn't told her before I left but couldn't quite manage it, she was so delighted.
I took the bus into Hobart at the weekend and picked up a bright blue beetle that was to be my transport around the island and on the way back called in to see my friends Jo and Graham Gill who own the wine store in Sorrel, we had a chat and I arranged to stay with them for a few days before flying back home. As I was about to leave Jo said that a friend of hers had asked if she had any English people staying with her as she had heard a message over the radio which was a bit cryptic but went something along the lines of. There is a very special person from England staying somewhere in Sorrel and she has to call Barbara at Bothwell about a spinning event. As my friend Mary had not yet arrived I knew it wasn't for her so thought I had better phone Barbara and find out what it was all about. She laughed so much when she realised that I had got her message by such a convoluted route but wanted me to go to Bothwell for Tuesday as there was a T.V. crew filming for the Tartan that was to be launched and she thought it would be a good idea if I could be there.
I turned up at the designated place and spent a very hot and sunny afternoon with some happy ladies, some of whom were on the committee and knew who I was and why I was there, there was a very funny feeling of co- conspirators about the next few days. I had a great time helping prepare for the spin-in and as the days to the event went by more and more people arrived at Barbara's, there were bodies every where and dinner was an enormous affair. I went fishing with two of the guest speakers Marie an Inuit and Wendy a quiviut spinner from Alaska, we had a lovely evening in the mountains even though we didn't catch anything.
I had very interesting discussions about all things spinning with Ernest Jensen and Mary Mabuza from Kingdom of Swaziland and had very funny pyjama party style evenings with Martien the feltmaker who I shared the floor with and was to show me how to erect a yurt and then dismantle it, I helped her with preparing her wool using a picker (a new experience) and spliced her ropes that were attached to the pony for rolling the felt.
At the Meet and Greet I was introduced to Ian and Anne Downie who I discovered were the breeders of the fleece I had used, they were so pleased I had done so well using their wool and gave me a fleece the next day, they took me out for dinner and invited me to stay at their property after the gathering was over. Ian took me on a conducted tour around his sheep sheds and enormous property (see photo's). A truly amazing man dedicated to his sheep breeding and embracing modern technology to improve his traditional breeding and care program. I learned such a lot in a very short space of time.
Friday was the big day and I was so nervous I couldn't concentrate on anything, I was told there would be a live radio broadcast after the presentation followed by television interviews with the three main stations and then numerous photo's and interviews for the papers. I had worked out roughly what I was going to say at the presentation though I knew that once I got up there I would probably make a mess of it. Eventually it all got underway and amidst the flashing cameras I was presented with a lovely engraved platter donated by Stockman Stud and a miniature bale of wool, then there was a Joy wheel from Ashfords. I was so overcome with everything that I nearly choked up and couldn't say anything but managed to thank the people who had helped and supported me with the tools and fibres I had used and the moral support I had received from friends and family. Then there were the interviews and with everyone being so nice and stopping me everywhere I went to congratulate me I was just amazed at how pleased everyone was.
The rest of the weekend passed with competitions, talks and demonstrations and the yurt erection, meals out, barbecues, concerts and chatter about all sorts of fibre things. To cap off a really amazing few days I won the top prize in the raffle a handwoven blanket embroidered with native Tasmanian flowers, it was all too much and what with having to leave so many new friends I just burst out crying.
After the spin-in was finished Mary Coombe and I joined up and went for a few days travelling to the coast where we went out in a glass bottomed boat and climbed half way up a mountain to look down on Wine Glass bay which was beautiful. We played silly beggars playing tunes in the musical shell sand of 9 mile beach and played pooh sticks off a bridge in the middle of no-where.(yes we are both over 40) We stayed in some lovely places and had a hurried nerve wracking breakfast watching every move of a large Huntsman spider on the wall.
We returned for my last few days to Sorrel where we both stayed with Jo and Graham and family and walked the dogs drank excellent wines and went to Salamanca Market where Mary had meaningful conversations with a chap who was into alternative lifestyles. I bought lovely wood crafts and Raku pottery to take home for the family from a couple of excellent craft shops in Richmond, I could have spent a lottery win there was so much really good quality work!
I had accumulated so much baggage I knew I was going to be over my limit at the airport though did not realise quite how much until I weighed in. $900 excess!!! Mary very kindly took the 30 Kilo's of wool I had and I gave her some cash to post it on to me. The wheel and everything else came to $150.00 excess which I duly paid and started the long trip home.
Exchange of Ideas
I will never forget my 15 minutes of fame, it was worth all the trauma and effort simply to be a part of such a wonderful truly International event. Will I do another thread? I still haven't decided. Will I go back to Tasmania? After I came back I said probably not, but after writing this and remembering the fun I had I am not so sure, never say never.
I would like to point out here that though there is a world record available for dedicated spinners to attempt to break, the event is not just about superfine spinning. The whole thing is designed to bring like minded people together from around the world. I quote from the records booklet given out to all competitors.
"Let us with this thread link spinners throughout the world in friendship"
If my tale has inspired you to take part in "The Longest Thread" and you would like details and entry forms for the next one in 2001 please email or send your address to me and I will pass them all on to Barbara.