Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Straw into Gold

Cross patch
Draw the latch
Sit by the fire and spin.
Take a cup
Drink it up
And call your neighbors in.
--Kate Greenaway

I overheard my young nieces and friends discussing their "spinning" classes one day, and I was flabberghasted. Come to find out, however, "spinning" in present common usage means stationary cycling, not turning straw into gold. I was disappointed.

Yesterday, a day off from teaching, I decided to make headway on a spinning project-- I opened a huge bag of wolf/dog hair a client hired me to turn into a woven blanket/afghan. It's a soft fiber, mostly, fluffy, with some areas of rougher stuff, some fibers so short and slippery, they're difficult to spin alone, but it's workable.

After spinning it all, I will ply all the yarns together to make a warp yarn strong enough to withstand the tension on my loom. I'm beginning to get anxious about how it will all come together, how it will look and smell (wet dog?) after it's washed and fulled.

My two grown sons showed up while I was spinning. Luckily, it's a task easily accomplished while visiting. Although both boys had watched me spin since they were born, they asked me questions about the wheel (it came from New Zealand in the early 1970s). A weaving supply catalog was sitting on my coffee table; they found the same wheel in it for $475. I paid $50 back then, and there were no catalogs of weaving supplies like there are now. I found the New Zealand address for the Ashford Company in the Whole Earth Catalog, a resource designed by Stewart Brand, et al, to help Back-to-the-Landers find useful tools for work and craft.

Son James was fascinated by all the wheel designs in the catalog. He's a woodworker and is in the process of building a kayak. "It would be fun to make one of these, turn all those spindles."

Ever since reading Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin as a child, I ached to know how to spin "straw into gold." I used to turn my bicycle upside down and throw leaves into it to see if they would somehow magically turn into something else. Nobody I knew, no grownup, had the slightest clue how a spinning wheel worked. The skill had completely died out. The only one or two wheels around were antiques (with important parts missing, I learned much later).

A year or so after moving to Idaho and marrying my cattlerancher, I heard that some "hippies up the crik" had a spinning wheel and Corriedale sheep. I was on their porch knocking at their door almost immediately. I spent an hour or so with Carolyn Bowler, a fiber artist, learning to spin; the great mystery was solved at last, and the order for my Ashford wheel was in the mail.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a spinning demonstration in the lobby of one of Pocatello's hotels during an event. Many other artists, mostly painters, set up their work as well. While I was spinning a little girl, about 6-7 years old stopped to watch. She lay on the floor watching the wheel go round and round. Finally, she said, "When does it turn into gold?"

Spinning wheels do magically turn fiber into "gold." Knowing that I can take a lump of hair or wool or cotton or flax and turn it into yarn that I can weave, knit or crochet into cloth gives me a feeling of security, independence, strength and satisfaction.

Son Edward, a physicist, helped me warp my loom one day, noting that spinning wheels, looms and pianos (my prized possessions) are all human-powered. After a time, he said,
"You know, Mom. I know that if there wasn't electricity, you'd figure out how to get along without it."
"Yes, you're probably right," I said.
"While I, I would figure out how to make my own," he said.

But that's another story.

Spinning wheels, looms, fiber, wood, physics, fun conversations -- definitely straw into gold.

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