Spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads, 2022/23

Greetings from Skye, machine knitted text panel, acrylic wool, 120x90x0,4cm, 2023

The starting point for the work To spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads is a postcard I found on the wall of a public toilet on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The postcard features my grandmother Anna spinning wool on an old spinning wheel, as a tourist attraction at the Skye Museum of Island Life, Kilmuir, Skye. After moving to the island, my grandmother adopted several cultural techniques: she learnt how to dye wool, spin with a hand-spinning wheel, knit and weave. As a migrated woman who acquired these traditional techniques she worked at the local museum, showing tourists how wool was once spun by hand by island women. In addition to the postcard this work explores an autobiographical novel by my grandmother Anna. The song “Spinning Jenny” (Skyclad, 1992) serves as an analogy: as the protagonist, the first spinning machine “Jenny” embodies a woman—triggering existential terror and fear and challenging transformation.

In a sense, this work attempts to express individual and collective memories by linking analog handicraft with language and transcribing it into a digital AI metaphor. My grandmother Anna becomes the threshold medium between machine analogies and the act of writing. The embedded narrative oscillates between the generated and manipulated output of an AI, and the recollection of a woman. The humming of my grandmother and the sound of the spinning machine mingle in a swelling song.
The subject of the research for the sound piece is “humming”. Out of my interest in the nature of the digital I am interested in where deep learning algorithm reaches its limits, in abilities that are reserved for humans, humming represents one of these limits.

To spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads consists of 20 AI-generated images printed on Aluminum composite panel, a sound file and a text, which finds its form in machine-knitted fabric panels. The text was translated into knitwear in collaboration with the textile designer Zuzana Ševčíková.

Spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads, machine knitted text panels, acrylic wool, series of 17 pieces, each approx. 220x90x0,4cm, 2023
Exhibition view Graduate show „Spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads“, Academy of Fine Arts Nuremberg, 2023,
© photos: Thomas Bergner

Spin a tale, Anna
Spinning process in 7 threads

In the process of spinning, 1st thread
Somewhere a woman began to hum softly,
under a starlit sky, lay the scattered sheep on the ground,
plying during their sleep, the spindle, smoother, faster, putting a stronger line together,
her arrival from the Western Hills was unexpected,
now, I’m running from words of warning, scared, to spin a story, Jenny,

In the process of spinning, 2nd thread
Somewhere a woman began to hum softly. Others joined in. A low, soft monotonous hum, it was.
Jenny joined in. It made her feel easier. Spinning history.
Humming of the machine. Spinning its core, working. A low hum. It was as if she was running. She stepped back in exhaustion. Her eyes were full of fire and blood. She turned to make sure she was right. She was back. There was no more music. No more humming.
Breathing through the machine. She said:


In the process of spinning, 3rd thread
Somewhere a woman began to hum softly. Others joined in. A low, soft monotonous hum, it was.
Anna joined in. It made her feel easier. Spinning a tale.
Anna spins into a bundle, pulls on individual strands, knots, and loosens again, what shape will it take? What end to share, to go viral?
Some parts to knit together, some holes to patch alone;
welch geknüpfte Verbindung zu mir (dt.);
in the process of spinning deep data.

In the process of spinning, 4th thread
Somewhere a woman began to hum softly. Others joined in. A low, soft monotonous hum, it was.
Anna joined in. It made her feel easier. Spinning a memory.
Spinning itself, pushing and pulling. Building up, expanding, building up…
The sun is still rising above the sky and setting in the horizon. We’re here, beneath the blue.
I feel myself falling fast in slow-motion.
Anna, forking the veil, weaving the wind, spinning under the stars, putting a strong line together, the story of a woman.

In the process of spinning, 5th thread
The very first evening she showed me how to spin, which is very easy if you have skilled hands, which thank God I have – definitely more skilled than my head. Once I had the rhythm of treadling figured out, everything else was a matter of practice.
But there is still a long way to go before you can spin a completely even thread. The technical part of the spinning wheel is very obvious, easy to understand.
Because it was still raining, we stayed in the house and I practiced spinning. In the evening I could already show a large ball, the thread was very uneven, but still, Moira praised me, (…).

Weaving required more skill than spinning. Much more. Just the technology of the loom alone needs a longer study. To grasp the stringing, I still have a lot to learn. But I had acquired the ability to weave simple rugs in the four weeks. I did not yet own a loom. Moira said that there were enough old looms on the island, because once every household owned one.

Oh, then the dyeing of wool, knowing about and collecting herbs, plants and flowers, leaves, moss and tree bark. Here a new activity opened up for me, it was motivation for new work.
Vegetables are also very suitable for dyeing, but Moira did not want to know much about that. Vegetables are grown for consumption (..), there are enough other plants – although, she said, sometimes it does not go completely without spinach, red cabbage, beet, carrots.
„Carrots, you must know,“ Moira enthused, „add sparkle to everything yellow and orange. Marigolds and carrots – just wonderful.”

In the process of spinning, 6th thread

After my morning work was done, I looked forward to the spinning wheel. Spinning became for me a soothing, profitable work without effort which I could take up or leave, however I felt like it.
At this point, I managed to get a very even thread. I also found it easy to dye. In the afternoon I roamed the area with my dog Sunshine looking for plants and moss for dyeing. By the time the tourists arrived, I had to have some sweaters made from homespun wool ready.
Hand-knitted things made from homespun wool were in high demand. Up by the green hut, I later put up a small sign:

„Hand-knit sweaters
made from homespun wool
dyed with plants.“

In the process of spinning, 7th thread

And once again at the right moment I was offered a job by the local museum. I should demonstrate to the tourists how wool is spun and dyed with plants.
 The museum where I got work is a small place of seven thatched stone houses, „blackhouses“ as they are called here. Three of them are original, four have been rebuilt. There is the dwelling house, inside as cozy as once at Kathy’s, the smithy, a Celia-house, the predecessor of today’s pub, but at that time only tea was served, the weaving house and so on. Today’s „craft-shop“, the souvenir store, is also not missing.

In rainy weather I sat in the weaving house, in warm weather in front of it, showed and explained to tourists how once residents of the island made and processed the wool. Some (of the tourists) were indignant or disappointed when they discovered that just a migrated woman was sitting here spinning, they thought that this was fraud – not authentic. Nevertheless, in the four years of working in the museum, I experienced many pleasant things, got to know and appreciate people from all over the world – moreover, but I say this only because it is a fact, not a boast, thousands of tourists stuck me in their holiday albums, because everyone has photographed the „Scottish woman who can still spin“. If I then came home in the late evening across the fields, I was very happy to be alone again with a long bright evening ahead of me.



Thread 1: Excerpts from „Spinning Jenny“, Skyclad, 1992
Thread 2 – 4: Excerpts from
Mine Boy, Peter Abrahams, 1946
Thread 1 – 4: Individual text sections generated by „DeepAI“
Thread 5 -7: Excerpts from
Flucht auf die Insel, Anna Maria Sogl, 2001, R.G. Fischer Verlag, translated into English

3 woman spinning, machine knitted text panel, acrylic wool, 120x90x0,4cm, 2023
Audio Spin a tale, Anna – Spinning process in 7 threads, 12.47 min., 2023