Five women are pumping their feet steadily on the wooden pedals of their wooden spinners. They are mostly silent, occasionally speaking quietly to each other in Swahili. The room smells slightly of coal fire; in one corner water is being boiled. One employee, Mary, is showing us around and explains now how the yarn is made. First the wool of the sheep is combed so it is softer and stretched out for spinning. She shows me a hand-spinning machine: as it spins, the wool is pinched on to the existing yarn and spins itself in, making a longer and longer piece of yarn. I have a go at it; it’s difficult, but I am able to complete a short piece with Mary’s help! After the yarn is made it is washed in warm water multiple times to remove oils and dust. On its last washing a non-detergent soap –the equivalent to Ivory Soap in the U.S.– is used to remove bacteria. Next the yarn can be colored using natural dyes from plants grown on the organization’s grounds.
As we walk to the weaving room, Mary tells us that the Spinners and Weavers is a women’s self-help project. Women work here so they can raise and educate their children, she says. The Nanyuki Spinners and Weavers have been here since 1977 and currently have 137 women employed. In the weavers room the women are making placemats with zebra, giraffes, and elephants on them. This size project takes about 4 days, Mary tells us. The looms are floor to ceiling and the room is spacious. On one end is a woman weaving a shawl out of thin yarn on a horizontal loom. The women are proud of their work; they are beaming as we walk through and ask questions.
We finish our short tour at the showroom, where the women have placemats, rugs, shawls, and some jewelry for sale. The items are beautiful and well-crafted. I am wishing I had more room in my backpack so I could take one home. Space stops me from buying anything, so I settle for making a small donation and letting the women know they are doing great work!