Thursday, August 14, 2014

Help! I'm Spinning and Can't Stop!

Spinning Wheel next to Loom
Whether it’s Rumpelstiltskin or Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale of some sort usually comes to mind if someone mentions a spinning wheel.  Almost 20 years ago, in the Old Spanish Quarters of St Augustine, Florida, I watched in amazement as a woman sat and spun flax on a traditional looking spinning wheel. As minutes passed and the whirl of the wheel relaxed and soothed the mood of everyone in the room, I remember thinking that I wish I could learn to spin. At that time in my life I didn’t even know that people other than time period actors still spun and that spinning wheels are constantly being updated!

Fast forward 10 years, and place me in a small, rural Kentucky town managing an 1865 Opera House.  I was directing children’s theatre productions and the current title had been, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   Now, I know this doesn’t usually portray a spinning wheel in the story; however, I wanted to teach audiences each night that textile production at one time had been very time consuming. First, you had to grow the fiber (either plant or animal), then harvest and clean it, then spin the fiber into thread/yarn, then weave into cloth, then measure, cut, and finally sew.  This could take several months-not the 5 minute trip into Wal-mart that happens now-a-days!

A Bobbin of Single-Ply Llama Fiber

It was around this same timeframe that I attended The Kentucky Wool Festival in Falmouth, KY and saw for the first time modern spinners! One whole large exhibition tent was filled with many women (and men) spinning, weaving, knitting, felting, and just about anything I could have imagined using sheep wool or llama/alpaca fiber. It was so fascinating! Through talking with many of the fiber artists that day and then doing some research of my own, I purchased my first spinning wheel just a few weeks later. Incidentally, I featured that spinning wheel during the performances of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and had my older daughter stationed on a                                                                              small stage in the audience spinning llama fiber into yarn.

Lamb Fleece that was Spun and Knitted into Scarf
I don’t know how many of you have tried spinning before, but the initial coordination takes some time. At least for me it did! However, once I got that figured out, my yarn looked very good (I was told) early on. I guess I was consistent in the amount of fiber/wool that I was drafting (allowing to be pulled onto the wheel) and with the speed I was pumping (foot motion of the pedal that turns the wheel).  Still, it is only with practice, practice, practice that you can become better (as with so many things in life).  Those first few years, I spun some, but it seemed like an awful lot of work to get a skein of yarn that didn’t quite knit the way I needed it to.  Then a good friend of mine gave me a tip, I guess she’d assumed that I knew, but it forever changed the way I did things!  She said, “Choose what you want to make, then spin the yarn to fit that need.”  Such a simple concept, but what a difference it made!  I had been randomly spinning yarn of assorted thicknesses and then trying to figure out what I could make with it. Draping evening shawls do not look good with a thick yarn, etc., so I would have beautiful skeins that I couldn’t think of a project for. Or even worse, not enough yardage to finish a project.  Now, if I am short yardage, I can spin some more from the same fleece and know it will match.

My younger daughter is the knitter in the house.  She makes some beautiful things that she enjoys wearing on campus and loves when someone asks her, “Where did you get that?”  I guess her response, “From the Dolly Llama”, conjures up different visuals to different people (one of our llamas that has gorgeous red/brown fiber is named Dolly)!

For me, spinning will always be a learning process.  Recently a friend had given me some mohair from a goat.  I told her I’d try to find time to mess with it this winter and spin it into some yarn that she could try knitting with.  In the process, I’d be learning how mohair handles on the wheel.

Stella Ready for the Early Fall Shearing

One thing about fiber or wool……it is a renewable resource!  Each year, in both the spring and fall and whether or not I’m ready for it, I get several pounds of new resources to work with…… as soon as the SHEARING is done!! 

No comments:

Post a Comment