It’s totally coincidental that it’s Seniors’ Week when I lob into the headquarters for Gold Coast and Hinterland Spinners and Weavers and even though the place is heaving, some of its members tell me it’s only a small group in there today.
It’s their usual weekly gathering plus there are marshals visiting to collect entries for the Gold Coast Show in ten day’s time.
While the association has been around for 36 years, Donna Turner has been president for just two years and had only been learning to spin for a few months before taking on the role. As Donna shows me around she also points out some photos pinned to a noticeboard – members who’ve passed away this year. One current member, Kay, who lives in the hinterland has been a member for 33 years. It’s obvious this group of Spinners and Weavers have a rich history, but also an aging membership.
There are around 80 members, they all pay $30 a year to join and also chip in a few dollars for their weekly gatherings, which happen in an old cottage in Mudgeeraba, to cover tea and coffee.
Donna says people join to either learn the craft or to share their skills. And there’s a number of men who are heavily involved in the group. Demonstrating the craft is very important to the group, who acknowledge the importance of passing on their skill before it’s too late.
“We go to libraries,” Donna said (they have a demonstration at Broadbeach library in September). And at the Mudgeeraba Show we had a weaving room set up with little looms and big ones and lots of people came in.”
“Young boys and men were so interested,” she said. “Even Cr Tozer. At the GC Show, we’re taking these (she points at a stash of looms around the room), as we are really trying to get younger people interested.”
“In today’s throw-away clothing society, they have no concept of how things were actually made,” Donna said. “That you can still make cloth from spun yarn. And people here do.”
“From the back of a sheep you can make clothing.”
As I walk around the room to speak to the organisation’s members I meet one lady who does just that.
Glenda Jones used to live in Sydney but would fly to the Gold Coast to attend spinning and weaving camps with the group. She’s only been spinning for three years, but made the move to the Gold Coast and is a permanent fixture at group events. She sells homespun yarn on etsy as well as home-dyed wool and craft items like crochet and sewn cushions, bags and bogbeds.
She points to a man opposite us who is doing something that looks like teasing wool.
“It’s called carding the wool,” Glenda explains. Then she shows me fleece in her bag that has come off a sheep this week.
“You wash it, take all seeds out, put it through a carder, get it fat, and then tease it out,” she said, as she shows me wool that looks like a long sausage.
“Then you can spin it, get two bobbins – fill one, fill another one, then ply it together and that gives you your plied yarn. Then you can put it on a loom or knit it into something.”
Glenda pretty much learned everything from this group. She’s been to four of the camps where they have classes where all the participants donate their expertise.
“That’s why they’re passing it all on,” she said, when I asked about the aging membership. “Some of them go into schools and teach children how to do felting. They demonstrate at the shows to teach younger ones.”
The group recently led the call for a yarn-bombing project in the heart of Mudgeeraba, which was met with delight from local residents and visitors alike.
“It has drawn people in,” Glenda said. “Some (members) are quite arty. They make faces and put them in trees.”
“Others take out our ‘random disasters’ and make something out of them.”
As I venture further into the group’s space I find an incredible library of books, magazines and ancient resources. There’s a mini-craft store where you can rent or borrow equipment and stock up on everything you need. Some members lease looms and spinning wheels.
As I join the ladies submitting entries to the Gold Coast show I find one who’s spun yarn from the most incredible array of animals: wallaby, cat, wool, silk, alpaca, goat. Another has dyed felt from lichen – a skill learned from the books available to members.
Donna said the benefits go beyond the actual hands-on skills being shared.
“Some people just come here and talk all day. It’s a social thing. When we do demonstrations it’s a social thing for our members.”
The group is incredibly welcoming of new members and eager to share skills, equipment and stories. They meet every Wednesday morning from 9.00am to 1.00pm and every fourth Saturday at their headquarters at the Woodturners Cottage, 238 Mudgeeraba Road. On the first Wednesday of every month for the next year, they’ll be preparing for Mudgeeraba’s 2017 yarn bombing project.