Have cotton, will travel: Instructor Joan Ruane visits England.


Joan Ruane enjoys traveling the world, placing cotton in as many hands as possible. Photos courtesy of Joan Ruane.

Joan Ruane, a well-known spinning instructor and cotton aficionado just returned from a springtime teaching trip in the north of England. She had a wonderful time, and many new cotton spinners were born. As one of her students, Jane Wadsworth, said later, "You really stirred up something, you know! We have all been spinning cotton like mad . . ." I asked Joan if she would tell us a bit about her travels, and she had this to share with us:

"When I was asked to teach cotton spinning in the United Kingdom, I was thrilled as I knew it was a dyed-in-the-wool spinning country. Since I had taught in New Zealand the year before and had such a wonderful response from the New Zealand spinners, I was anxious to spread the word that cotton is easy to spin to another country that spins predominately protein fiber. 

To my delight, the two guilds that had asked me to teach were in the northern part of England.  This was the area I wanted to visit most in the whole of the United Kingdom. My daughter-in-law Heather offered to come with me and help organize transportation and carry my heavy bags. So we flew into Manchester, England, on March 5 where Heather had organized a two-day tour of many interesting places. 

Sheep in northern England grazing on springtime pastures.
Joan was excited to stay with a spinner in Yorkshire and see her beautiful Irish wheel.

We could have spent many more days in Manchester, but I had to get to Lancaster to teach a two-day cotton spinning class to the Lancs and Lakes Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers. The first day, the fourteen participants made it clear to me that they did not believe they could spin cotton. Many were there because my host, Ali, told them to come or they were just curious. However, to their amazement, within just an hour and a half, most of them were spinning a viable cotton thread. It was such a thrill to see so many surprised but smiling faces.  One lady said, "I cannot believe who I am, as I was sure I could never spin cotton!" The workshop and cotton lecture was such a success that several of them came Monday evening to hear my cotton lecture for the second time. 

We hated to leave Lancaster and our wonderful hosts Ali and Mark, but we needed a couple days to see some other parts of northern England. Heather was brave enough to drive (on the wrong side of the road) so we rented a car and headed to the Lake District and then went on to York.

Then it was time to go back to teaching, so we headed for Leeds. We were so fortunate to be the guests of Jeni Pollard. The Bradford Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers holds its meetings in a museum which gives a special touch to our ancient skills. Here I gave my lecture "Cotton: From Plant to Fabric" in the morning and taught them how to spin on the takli spindle in the afternoon. The next day, eight of the Bradford guild members came to Jeni's home, and I gave a one-day cotton workshop on the spinning wheel. 

Pete and Carol Leonard had arranged the Bradford workshop, and we were invited to their home for tea. They live in Hebden Bridge which reminded me so much of Bisbee, Arizona, where I lived for several years. It sits in a valley and was a busy textile town until the industry closed and the artists moved into the quaint houses and revitalized the town.

The time had come to go back to Manchester to catch our flight home. The whole trip was fantastic, and having an opportunity to meet so many people and see how they live was wonderful.  For me, having an opportunity to show the U.K. spinners that cotton is easy to spin was a thrill of a lifetime. Thanks to all who helped me have a great vacation and wonderful workshops." 




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