History of the Guild

The North Cheshire Guild of Spinners, weavers & Dyers, was formed on November 10, 1984 when nineteen people met at Risley Nature Reserve. Up to that point, several people been meeting on an informal basis to spin and chat and share a common interest in continuing the ancient crafts and improving their own expertise, but by the following November, when the first AGM was held, they had formed into a properly structured society with a register, minutes and an annual AGM. The first Officers of the Guild were Norma Lancaster, President, Lesley Jones, Chairman and Marie Howarth, Secretary.

Membership has grown over the years but names from that first meeting are still very much to the fore in our monthly meetings today – Marie Howarth and Vera Crossley, Marjorie Tomsett, Kate Lincoln, Joan Wynne-Jones and Judy Jones, who all joined in the early months.

Some original members, sadly, are now just very familiar names who live on in the early memories of the Guild, but more tangible reminders of them remain. Julia Hewitt now has Joan Marsland’s spinning wheel, Debbie Tomkies has June Smith’s as well as John Carr’s and Joan Wynne-Jones has Norma Lancaster’s. It is good to think that wheels and looms last as long as they are cared for.

A newsletter was published in January 1986 and this quickly became the quarterly The Wheel & Loom. Competitions were held for which members donated trophies: the Norma Lancaster Cup for weaving and the Lesley Jones Cup for spinning.

Accommodation proved to be something of a problem in the early years, with a short spell in a scout hut following on from Risley while more suitable accommodation was sought. Eventually the present Croft meeting place became a very convenient venue

From the early days, the Guild has had some very eminent speakers: Elizabeth Pricket came to talk on Ruskin Lace which she called “Greek Embroidery; Peter Collingwood spoke on rug making; Mabel Ross gave advice on spinning, Margaret Stove, from New Zealand, showed how to prepare Merino fleece for spinning and demonstrated very fine spinning; we have also silk spinning workshops with Sue Hiley Harris, and John Allan described his wonderful rug designs and his production methods. Peter Royle, the maker of the Countess spinning wheel, came and several members bought one of wheels.

In 1992 the Guild set about making its own distinctive banner and in 1996 took part in the making of the Throckmorton Coat at Quarry Bank Mill – an event which sees the whole process of manufacturing a coat form the raw fleece, the spinning, weaving and making up. Some years earlier a similar event had been held at Ruthin Agricultural College as a competition: “Fleece to Garment”. Our team of Sue Dean, Marie Howarth, Barbara Milton, Margaret Pickering, Linda Townsend and loan Wynne-Jones took third place.

In the early ’90s several members became employed, on a part-time basis as demonstrators of handspinning cotton and handloom weaving at the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill to audiences of visitors and school parties. Members were also involved in teaching textile skills to groups of children in the mill workshop.

In 1995 three local guilds, North Cheshire, Chester and Liverpool Mersey Guild got together to put on an exhibition, Textile Triangle, at Quarry Bank Mill.

In 2006 the Guild hosted the Association AGM and conference at the Padgate Campus of Chester University, and in 2008 we organised the national Association Exhibition at Holt College Liverpool. Guild members have always participated in exhibitions throughout a wide area and have submitted work to the Association’s competitions with some success. In2007 we staged an exhibition of our own at The Arts Centre, Frodsham.

Guild members go out and about regularly, demonstrating the three crafts as often as possible. We have a regular spot at the in the Rare Breeds centre at the Cheshire Show each year as well as going to Tatton Home Farm, the Arley Game Fair, the Antique Textile Show and other events in the area. We have demonstrated in a college and in schools, where students always find excitement in having a go on a spinning wheel or drop spindle and producing their first length of yarn. Outings have been arranged to cater to Members’ interests, to museums and archives such as the mill at Helmshore and the textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall.