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Familiar Faces: Weaving, spinning, part of fabric of local woman's life

By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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If you knew Jean Franklin back in November 2010 when her ranch was in full swing, you’d see her hauling hay, taking care of her sheep, cleaning stalls and gardening. She was over 80. However, an accident in 2010 changed her lifestyle forever forcing her to relinquish many activities that she loved.

What did you do before moving to El Dorado Hills?

Before moving to El Dorado Hills in 1994, I lived in Sonoma County where I owned and operated a small retail store in the town of Glen Ellen. Here I sold spinning wheels, looms, yarns and fleeces. The business was called Spinners Web which opened in 1988. From the retail store, I began teaching others the art of spinning and beginning weaving.

Do you still teach?

I continued my teaching after moving to El Dorado Hills, where my daughter and husband purchased three acres of farm land. Spin Web became a full-time business. I am a full-time instructor teaching spinning and weaving by appointment.

On the fourth Thursday of the month at my home, many of my students and friends gather for a casual social spin, knit or other hand work. We exchange and share ideas and methods are discussed. I encourage my students to explore. Three of my students are pursuing the Certificate of Excellence in spinning through the Hand Weavers Guild of America.

On the first Monday of the month I teach spinning and related fiber arts at the Placerville Senior Center.

When did you acquire your flock of sheep?

I always had an interest in ranching. Shortly after relocating to El Dorado Hills, I acquired my first sheep, a Northern European Short-tailed Primitive breed which came from the Shetland Isle. I started my flock with one ram “Webster” and three registered Shetland ewes. Eventually, my flock grew to 51.

Did you show your sheep?

I was the first to show Shetland sheep at the California State Fair. I continued showing every year until I broke my leg in 2010.

In 2010 as I was pulling hay off my truck, the hay hook slipped and I fell onto a cement pad and shattered my knee cap. My daughter and husband took care of my sheep while I recovered. After recovery I decided to transfer my entire flock to a farm in Napa County.

How many spinning wheels do you own?

I have 28 spinning wheels from a variety of manufactures in different styles from different parts of the world to rent to my spinning students. This gives them the opportunity to try different style wheels so they can decide what they want to purchase. . I am a dealer for companies that manufacture spinning wheels and other items needed from New Zealand, Poland, Holland and the United States. I am fortunate to have an antique Great Wheel or also known as a Walking Wheel. I also have an antique flax wheel and two bulky wheels.

From where do you purchase your wool?

Since I was forced to sell my sheep following my accident, I now acquire wool from local flocks. With my desire to stay in contact with other ranchers, I attended sheerings in Placerville and Wheatland and will be attending another in Rio Linda in the near future. I help at the skirting table sorting the wool to prepare it for sale and for show at various state and county fairs.

Do you give back to the community?

I brought to this area the Roc Celebration. In Renaissance times, spinners put their spinning wheels away during the holidays. On the twelfth day following the holidays, spinsters would return to their wheels and resume their work. At Spin Web they celebrated this day on the second Saturday in January. As I no longer have my sheep, I shares this tradition with one of my shepherd friends at her farm, Out-Back Farm in Rio Linda. Last January we enjoyed the 29th annual celebration.

What are some of the most interesting things that have happened to you?

In Marin County during the 1950s I joined a newly opening Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Within three years I helped open a studio in Santa Rosa where I was manager and dance director. Arthur and Kathryn Murray were visiting San Francisco and studio personnel came to visit from all over the Bay Area and I was fortunate to dance the waltz with Arthur Murray.

I was the director of admitting at a hospital in Santa Rosa and worked as medical assistant for 17 years. I served as president of the Sonoma County Medical Assistance Association.

I was also a member of Xi Epsilon Omega Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, Woman of the Year and served as president.

What are your favorite places to travel?

In 2000 I went to the Shetland Island to study the sheep. I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast establishment. I was among 100 Shetland breeders from throughout the world. While there, I attended classes and toured the beautiful countryside.

I’ve also traveled to the Los Angeles County Fair, and the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon.

Every year I go to the Hunewill Ranch in Bridgeport and also to Virginia City to study weaving in the Navajo style.

Do you volunteer in the area?

I am still an active volunteer member of the Girls of America. Attending last year’s celebration of Juliette Gordon Low and 100 Years of Girl Scouting

I also volunteer at Coloma State Park (Christmas in Coloma) along with the guilds I belong to; Hangtown Guild in Placerville, Sacramento Weavers and Spinner’s Guild and Foothill Fibers Guild. I also volunteer at the Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer County Fairs. My first year in El Dorado Hills, I was voted Ambassador of the Year with the El Dorado Hills Chamber of Commerce.

The members of the Hangtown Guild are helping to prepare an exhibit at the Folsom History Museum entitled “Weaving the Past into the Future” which runs from March 30th through May 19th. The exhibit will show primitive and modern tools. I’ll have a number of my pieces there. This exhibit will also show the past and the present of the art.

A few years ago, I hosted Waldorf school teachers from Japan. As guests in my home they participated in spinning, felting and simply relaxed on their last day in the United States.

Tell us about your family.

I have one granddaughter and nine great grandchildren: five boys and four girls all living in Southern California. My granddaughter began spinning at the age of five and received her first wheel at 12. She is an excellent spinner of cotton, wool, rabbit and dog hair. The two older great granddaughters are learning to spin on their own spinning wheels. Also two of the boy’s ages 9 and 10 hope to start their lessons.