Crewel wool bobbins – and toilet paper!

My first dabbling in crewel embroidery, the Nicola Jarvis Robin kit, has introduced me to the wonderful world of Appletons wool.  It is made in the UK from Yorkshire sheep – the company dates back 178 years, and still sells some of the same shades that were used by William Morris in his tapestries.  Crewel wool is a fine two-ply yarn, and because it is made from long fibres, it is hard wearing once it is stitched, and since it doesn’t have to be tightly twisted and plied, it is brilliant for seamless shading and blending.  The drawback to this fine wool is that you can get in a bit of a pickle if your centre-pull skein, despite your best efforts, gets itself in a tangle.  I am not the only one to struggle – even Mary Corbet occasionally has a run-in with a centre pull, as expertly blogged here on Needle n Thread.  This very thing happened to my darkest charcoal-y brown Appletons 966 skein.  When it comes to ordinary cotton or silk, I am pretty good at sitting there patiently and gently untangling until the job is done, but with the wool, every little tug was in danger of untwisting and opening up the plies, and generally bobbling and thinning the thread – in a word, destroying it.  in order to save the wool, I ended up having to cut it so that it didn’t get damaged by multiple passes through a knotted or bobbled bit.  This made me sad, and more than a little annoyed with myself.  My other skeins were working well, but I decided it would be safer (and easier on the wool) if i wound the skeins onto some kind of bobbin.  But where would I find such bobbins?  I have those cheap cardboard ones, but I really dislike them because they introduce a kink into the thread, and anyway, they wouldn’t be big enough for crewel wool.  I spent a couple of days pondering the issue and casting about for something to use as a bobbin, when inspiration came from the most unlikely place.  The toilet near my office at work.  One morning after availing myself of the facilities, the toilet paper roll in the dispenser ran out and the middle of the roll dropped out into my hand.  Instead of the normal cardboard tube, this dispenser takes paper rolled onto little blue plastic spindles, like this:

Toilet roll spindle
Toilet roll spindle

It just made me think “Bobbin”! It was about the right size and shape and it was freely available.  I sent an email to our caretakers asking them to look out for the spindles for me – ensuring they were clean of course!  About a week later, I came in to find this waiting for me on my desk:

Bag of bobbins!
Bag of bobbins!

So I took them home and set to work.  In my stash I found some little plastic upholstery rings, and as luck would have it, they fitted perfectly into the little recess at one end, with a bit of help from my glue gun.  At the tapered end there was a little tail just the right size for a small label with the shade number on.

Tapered end
Tapered end

The only thing left to do was to wind them with my threads, and to find a way to keep them together.  I settled on a loop of beaded memory wire with a lobster claw clasp, and a bigger clip to attach the whole thing to a work bag or similar.  Et voila!

Finished bobbins
Finished bobbins
Clasp and beeded wire loop
Clasp and beaded wire loop (sorry about the glue on my hands, that was from another project involving making a house for my son’s hex bugs.  I don’t usually have glue on my fingers… or at least, not when handling embroidery threads!

I was quite pleased with my little foray into upcycling – no more tears over tangled wool!  Thank you, Oxford Brookes University toilets – and the wonderful caretaking team who took the trouble to collect all those little bits of plastic for me!

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