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Marlene Doherty has been spinning the wheel for decades

Updated: May 6, 2022

✦ Marlene Doherty has been a spinner and weaver for thirty plus years. It’s her hobby and she is self-taught. If you call into Wauchope Creative Hub you just may see her at work on her trusty spinning wheel.

Marlene loves to chat about her craft and encourages others to try it. A relatively simple machine, she says the trick is a matter of controlling the tension, tightening it until the bobbin gets full right to the top.

“It’s not hard to do," she says. "Anyone can give it a go. I’ve taught hundreds of people over the years. Eighteen years ago I started a spinners and weavers group in Coffs Harbour, when I left, we must have had more than 20 people involved.”

The spinning wheel hasn’t changed much over the years, they still work the same just became a bit smaller so it is portable. “Back in the 1800’s in Europe everyone had a spinning wheel in their home because that was the only way they had fabrics," explained Marlene. "It’s where the term spinster came from.” Often there would be six children in the family, one girl was kept at home to spin the fibres into wool, she didn’t get to go out, she never married, hence the name spinster. “Back then they used to weave their own sheets and tablecloths on a loom too.”

From fleece to wool to garments

Marlene uses fleece from a variety of sources, but the fleece from Corriedale sheep is a popular choice. Alpaca is another, the end product is soft next to the skin, so ideal for knitted jumpers and the like.

Her first ever garment made was a beanie. It was a bit lumpy, she told us, when asked why she said, “Well, at first it’s hard to get the tension on the wheel right. The fleece curls up and you get lumps in the wool. So instead of a nice smooth thread, you've got bumps in it. But then you end up with an interesting beanie because it's got the bumps on it. Most people think, oh look, it's not good enough. But I think it’s got character, it's pure and will never wear out.”

Some fleece is white so Marlene dyes the wool that she has spun to produce an interesting assortment of wool skeins; (the fleece or yarn spun into an oblong bundle ready to be used for knitting, crocheting and other fibre crafts.)

Once Marlene has her skeins of wool she gets even more creative, creating beanies, scarves, jumpers, blankets, shawls, shoulder bags, even slippers.

All of Marlene’s family members have been the recipient of a hand knitted jumper and a crocheted blanket over the years, as a baby and then in their older years, commonly in their favourite football team colours.

Creative Family

Inspired by watching her own Mother and Grandmother sew and knit, Marlene learned at a young age. Her mother learned dressmaking from a Chinese lady in Kings Cross and made the most beautiful garments.

Marlene trained at Sydney technical College as a craft teacher, she then went on to teach in schools for 30 years. Not like nowadays, she was a jack of all trades teacher, from woodworking to sewing and everything in between.

Her own children are creative as well, son Stu and daughter Christine are both involved at Wauchope Creative Hub in their own way.

We asked Marlene what Mother’s Day means to her. "Well, as everybody says, it’s family," she replies. "And it really is. I think it's more so now, isn't it? Because of what we've all been through with COVID. I've got two of my children, Stu and Christine, nearby which is wonderful, and I have another son who doesn’t live locally.”

Married to her husband for 64 years, 84-year-old Marlene says her family means the world to her. Her grandchildren have children of their own now. It’s a special time in her life.

On display and for sale at Wauchope Creative Hub

Lots of beautiful handcrafted wares are on display at the Hub, but Marlene’s items are eye catching.

A lovely display of handcrafted colourful woollen items adorn coat stands and hat racks, and if you are lucky enough to see Marlene sitting at her spinning wheel she is always up for a chat.

She loves to talk to people and show them how to use the spinning wheel. It is a craft that she hopes will continue well into the future.


Wauchope Creative Hub

87 Cameron Street, Wauchope, NSW 2446


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