Monday, June 30, 2008



The first time I went to the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY, I didn't know how to spin. But, the first thing I bought there was two ounces of tussah silk/baby camel (50/50%) roving that was so soft it almost hurt. I didn't know how to make it into anything and I wasn't sure that I needed to, so wonderful was it, just as it was.

Three months later, I had a spinning wheel and I was learning to spin. I knew that this roving was for a later date, when my skills were better and would allow me to turn it into what it seemed to be telling me it needed to be. So, I tucked it away and forgot about it.

Last week, when we were teaching a couple of friends to spin, I was looking for a variety of fibres to show as examples of how different they can be, I came across the little bag with the silk/camel in it. Now I'm ready, I thought.

Yesterday, after all the laundry and painting and cooking and cleaning were done, I started to spin it. I set my wheel on a fairly fast speed and, using the long draw technique, tried to spin it as thin as I could. The long draw technique means that you get some twist into the fibre then you draw it back and the twist pulls out an even, usually thin, strand. I am not an expert on it but I am guessing that the length of the fibres can make a difference - longer being better in this case. I draw with my right hand and with my left I can pinch or not to control the twist.

At first, I was a little rusty and I was gripping the fibre with my right hand in a death grip and I noticed that I had stopped breathing. I wanted a very thin thread and that meant that I was always on the verge of having no thread if it stretched too thin. I was trying to be poised to catch it if it seemed to be about to disappear through the oriface. After a little while, I realized that I was tense and frowning and sweating, so I made a conscious effort to relax.

A weird thing happened. When I relaxed my hand and breathed naturally, the fibres just sang--they drew out a good 30" or more, perfectly even. The less I thought, the more lovely the yarn. I was really only using one hand, barely touching the yarn with my left hand. I was still highly alert to any changes in how it felt but I was totally relaxed into the way it acted. It was pure poetry. Of course, if I suddenly started being conscious of what I was doing in any kind of analytical way, it all headed south again.

It reminded me of how one of the new spinners we were teaching caught on immediately. She was making lovely yarn from nearly her first moment. Then, she started thinking about what she was doing and she had a terrible time. It was as if her hands knew exactly what to do and only when her mind entered in with its questions and ideas did she start to mess up.

Shawn and I have a theory that spinning causes some chemical change in your brain, which is why it is so addictive. While we may laugh about it being less the new yoga and more the new crack, I think spinning does do something to your brain. I would compare it to calligraphy or archery for the way it requires a certain level of physical coordination married to a mind that is perfectly alert but perfectly empty too.

Of course, with calligraphy and archery, you don't get to handle 50/50% camel/silk roving or a deliciously coloured, hand-dyed BFL roving, or collect a stash of merino fleece that would cause you to strip off all your clothes and roll around naked in it (not that I am doing that or anything. I swear!).

In any case, I'm sure those other practices have their charms, too.

1 comment:

island sweet said...

beautifully and artistically described! today i spun my "heritage tomato" tussah silk and merino as thin and evenly as i could. were we spinning at the same time?