Some time ago I described here my true Icelandic spindle, now time came for Scotland 🙂 It is Scotland, from where one of the least popular and least known spindles come from. In apparence, it resembles an ordinary piece of wood that hardly can promise anything spectacular.. and you could not be more wrong! Of all the spindles I’ve used, the Scottish ones are the closest of my soul.
These are the names under which you can find something about these spindles on the internet and in Scottish Gaelic they mean just “spindle”. Personally, I utter these words in my own Polish way, but I would love to hear someday a Scottish knowing rules of Scottish Gaelic pronunciation. The phonetic transcription (dʲaLagan and fjaːRsadʲ) suggests that d are softened, but certainly I can not give you the sound well. It’s probably something like asking the blind about the colours 🙂
I was looking for any information on the dating of this type of spindles, but without serious investigation and probably a visit to Scotland, I failed to reach further than the 18th century. The oldest specimen I came across online is the exhibit no 1897.198.b located in the collection of the museum in Glasgow. We know from its description that the spindle comes from the island of Harris, which is part of the External Hebrids. Importantly, the museum has provided information about its dimensions, so we’re only a stone’s throw to restore it and try. The dealgan from museum measures 17 cm in length, the base is a rectangle measuring 34 mm by 31 mm and weighs 33 grams. The complete set of data as it looks!
Another model I came across is a smaller specimen, measuring about 12 cm and named the way that says all about it. “Dealgan Beag” literally means “small spindle” (“Beag” in Scottish Gaelic means “small”). Mention comes from Cape Breton’s Magazine, from an article entitled “Mary Red Dan Smith and a Spindle” from 1 June 1979. The article is old but really pleasant to read. Mary talks about how much she enjoys spinning, she accurately describes how to do this, and all the text is summarized at the end with a beautiful idea that “if today more people were engaged in spinning our country would be a better place.” Poland surely was not on her mind, but extrapolating it to the whole world .. I let my imagination go free 😉
Here I want to thank Sheila MacIsaac, which I found via the custodian of collections at the museum in Glasgow. She pointed me out this article and shared her beautiful concern about the name of Lady from thus article. According to her, it is possible that this lady could be named Maighread instead of Mary Red. And that’s how I will think about this lady – Mrs. Maighread of the Hebrides spinning on a dealgan 🙂
The spindle has such a simple structure it might be unclear how is it possible to work. It has a characteristic shape , where greatest possible mass is concentrated at the bottom acting as a quasi-spindle whorl. I’ve came across different desings starting from the conical shape to those resembling a tangent function as in the case of a museum exhibit: D At the very beginning of my acquaintance with these spindles I asked my fiancé to make a possible faithful copy of that spindle. Its performance did not turn out great, but as a matter of fact.. those historical ones were certainly not a Ferrari (look at the harshness of the desing) and still I bet that kilometers of thread must have beed created using it! A moment of reflection came later as the testing of new models went on and we developed a shape of the bottle which is a compromise between historical accuracy and functionality. I am saying a small “no” to cone shapes and this way we said goodbye to an excessive wobbling.
Another characteristic feature is a cross cut at the bottom, and the knob formed on top of the spindle. These two elements are used for mounting a thread, so that you can set the spindle in motion and freely let it go.
This is how my favourite spindle looks like. It is hand whittered from a laburnum tree branch and looks and works amazingly:
Not only the wood is beautiful here, but it also weights 45 grams which I personally love. Weight is a really important feature in Scottish spingles. It cannot be too low (dealgan will behave more like a twig) nor too high (heavy spindle is.. simply a heavy spindle 🙂 ).
How to spin using a dealgan?
That is really simple! You wrap the leading yarn a couple of times around the thicker (lower) part of the spindle where your future skein will rest, then drag it through the cross at the bottom and mount on the knob at the top of the spindle. Now you’re free to let the spindle go. In the picture below you can see the moment when I start mounting the yarn. It is good to start at the point where the thread is on the side of the knob, which is side pointing the tip of the spindle (here I hold the yarn with my thumb, I do not know why 🙂 ) I will try to record a video to clarify that.
And his is what I love in dealgans so much: casting spells. I set my spindle in motion with my left hand and this is how it looks when I move my hand upwarda leading the yarn between my fingers. You can of course rotate the spindle with your right hand, as depicted in the photo of Maighread. Everyone sooner or later finds their own distinctive moves so do not worry and just follow your own way.
Comparision between dealgans and other drop spindles
The spindle is very specific. Those who value the highest performance will prefer better balanced spindles with the mass concentrated almost entirely in the whorl path (my stone spindle whorl in the Icelandic spindle worked that way). Dealgans are also more demanding. More practice is need to rotate the spindle the way it gets as little precession as possigle. Summarizing:
- low weight concentrated at the bottom makes the spindle not perfectly balanced and it will never be. During the spinning, however, when your formed skein gets heavier it is behaving better,
- thread, on which your spindle hangs will never be aligned precisely with the spindle axis of symetry. You may obtain that with a spindle with a hook (you can bend the hook so that the thread exactly goes through the axis of symmetry) as it goes sideways the knob on top of the spindle. This increases wobbling unfortunately, but well rotated spindle starts to wobble once you need to increase its motion anyway 🙂
- you need to learn and practise how to set the spindle in motion without additional precession but once you will make it spin well not once out of 10 cases, but 4, then 2 and then it spins well all the time, this is really rewarding,
- it’s indestructible, it can experience dents from falls and still it will continue to work, what can you break in it after all? 🙂 It is ideal for spinning outdoors,
- it fits in the purse. Outdoor spinning spindle even more!
- it is very rare,
- its operation is more dynamic than other spindles. It spins fast but it is losing speed fast also, especially when it is light, hence you need to rotate it more often than spindles with whorls. For some it’s a defect, for others an advantage. For me, definitely the latter, as I spin for the spinning itself. I don’t enjoy spinning when the spindle spins too long with the same speed, that bores me a bit. I need to take care of my spindle like a spider carrying for its network. Carefully and constantly 🙂
Thus, if you ever see me at any spinning meeting, I’m 100% sure I will be with my “Scottish” 🙂 For me it is perfect. Simple and timeless in design. And thanks to my personal carpenter also available in every dimension I wish!
Below is a small collection of my dealgans:
Beautiful they are!