Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spinning a Tale

I truly did not realize, when I embarked on this needlework series, how far and wide the subject was. I knew about “free” embroidery, about counted cross stitch and stamped patterns, but not punch needle, or needlepoint or the dozen other ways of producing a picture or pattern on cloth or canvas. And I did not realize it could include knitting or crochet – or Temari or, now, spinning.

So: Spinning. This is how we get from that curly stuff that grows on sheep to the yarn we use in needlepoint or knitting. I was, of course, aware of spinning wheels. But there is another, much older, method: the drop spindle. I have in my display cabinet a replica of an ancient Mayan statue of a standing woman with a spindle or similar artifact, and she is far from the oldest example. Recently, a friend who is deep into reproducing artifacts from Viking times gave me a spindle. I suppose I should have realized these were hints.

Spinning is a female occupation. Back in the old, old days, cloth was made at home, by the women. It takes a great deal of thread or yarn to make a garment, so every spare moment away from other housekeeping tasks must have been spent spinning. A female child had a spindle put in her hands at an early age, and a single female adult would have been similarly occupied in her parents’ or siblings’ household. Hence “spinster” as a term for an unmarried woman.

There is a woman in the area who gives private lessons in the drop spindle, and, since I am going to be writing about dyeing in And Then You Dye, I decided I could bridge that little gap between dyeing and spinning. There are “sheep to shawl” contests in which participants are given raw wool and compete to see who can best go through each step, but I have no intention of competing in one of these. Being able to do a step is a far cry from being good at it!

Anyway, this past Saturday, I went to Shelly’s house and she showed me how to use a spindle. I brought the Viking spindle along, but had blindly bought some wool “roving” – wool that had been washed and carded and pulled into a rope-like shape in preparation for spinning – and it was too fine and delicate for the weighty Viking spindle. Spinning, I have discovered, is like riding a bicycle. It looks easy, and in fact there isn’t all that much to it, but it takes a lot of practice and there are hidden subtleties to it. Like choosing a certain kind of wool for a certain kind of spindle. Like feeding the wool through your fingers as it twists into yarn so it stays the same thickness and doesn't develop "slubs” or thicknesses.

Here’s a very clear tutorial on the actual spinning process, from You Tube:

I’ve got a few yards of yarn much finer than done on the demo video, and a long, long way to go before I have a useful length. I plan to dye it with the little sample of cochineal I own and, if I have enough, perhaps knit a little scarf


Linda O. Johnston said...

For some reason, I was unable to post a comment before. Anyway, I'm really impressed. With all modern conveniences, fabrics and yarns, it's easy to forget their origins. This is a great reminder, Monica.

Betty Hechtman said...

I started learning about spinning and was surprised that spinning wheels are newer than spindles. I want to get a spindle and play with it.