Why Spin?

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”    ~Luke 12:27

I love this Bible verse, probably partly because of the spinning reference but also because it reminds me that I don’t have to earn grace, it’s a gift to me.  There are a lot of days when I need to hear that, because confident person that I usually am, even I have doubts about my own self-worth sometimes. Now, rest assured, dear readers, that today’s blog isn’t going to be a Bible lesson, but I thought it was an interesting place to start on the topic I want to talk about today.

As most of you already know, I’m a hand-spinner. I’ve been asked many times why, usually by people with an incredulous look on their face that implies ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?” After all, I could buy yarn. Recently, I’ve also started buying whole fleeces and processing them by hand with a drum-carder. When I tell people I do this, I get the same look, only with usually with a note of concern that says something like “She’s really gone off the deep end here.”

Rest assured, dear readers, that I am well enough informed to know that I can buy yarn. In fact, if you’ve seen my stash, you’ll know that I’m very well versed in the process. So why do I spin? I thought I’d take the opportunity today to bust a few myths about spinning and see if I can articulate, for you and for myself, why I spin.

There are a number of myths about spinning out there, as evidenced by the questions people ask when they find out that I spin. Here’s just a couple. If you’re a spinner, I’m sure you’ll be able to add a few more in the comments.

1) Spinning is cheaper than buying commercial yarn. Um, no it’s not. In fact, by the time you invest what I have in equipment alone, you would find that spinning is actually quite an expensive hobby. That doesn’t count classes and workshops to improve my skills, or the fact that much of my handspun ends up decorating my office rather than being made into garments.

2) I’m reviving a lost art. I kind of wish I could say this, and I hear it a lot, most recently in the elevator of a hotel at Stitches Midwest when I happened to be carrying a spinning wheel. The truth is there are thousands of spinners across the world, and not only do we do it the old fashioned way, there are many innovations being made both in how to spin and in the technology of spinning. There are a number of spinning wheel makers quite happily turning out new wheels each and every year, and lots of us buying them. So, no, spinning is neither lost nor dying.

So why then, do I spin?

1) It’s a connection to history. Especially with my antique wheels, but even with my modern ones, when I spin, I feel connected to all the generations of hand-spinners who went before me. My family is lucky, though, that they don’t rely on me to turn out enough yarn to keep them warm all winter. I can’t imagine what it was like for the women and men who did. In those days, families were large with lots of children, and just the knitting alone had to be a huge investment of time.  Once I realized how much work it is to make the yarn and then the cloth, I realized why Roman soldiers threw dice to see who got Jesus’ clothes. They were of real value.

2) It’s relaxing. When I spin, it calms me and I get into a state of flow. I am focused and yet at peace. It’s very difficult to be upset or angry and keep a spinning wheel going at an even pace. It requires just enough focus to keep me interested but lets me hold a conversation or watch an interesting program at the same time. (Although I’ve discovered that anything with subtitles is a challenge…spinning does require that you watch what you’re doing from time to time).

3) It gives me the joy of the truly handmade. You’ll find very little plastic in my house. I have a love of handmade objects and will buy handwoven baskets instead of plastic every time (although clearly I buy fewer; handmade is expensive). In my kitchen, you’ll find metal and glass mixing bowls and the pottery ones are my favorite. I don’t have a lot of them but when I use them, I feel connected to the person who made them and using them gives me joy.

4) I have always aspired to be a farmer, and by buying fleeces straight from the farmer, I get as close as I can while living in the ‘burbs.  While my HOA has a pretty strict rule about livestock (darn them), this way I get to visit the farm, meet the farmer and his flock, and take home a little bit of their product to turn into something useful.

So why do I spin? I guess it’s a bit more complicated than I thought. Or maybe it’s like my son used to say, “Call it a hobby and you too can have a sweatshop in your living room.” Working in technology leaves me feeling disconnected from the hand-made, the real, the essential. Spinning, knitting and handling fresh fleeces brings me back to reality.

Or maybe I just always wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s a possibility too.

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3 thoughts on “Why Spin?

  1. I agree with #2 of why. It is quite difficult to spin effectively if you are angry, or frustrated. I think that for me it has become an almost meditative activity. Since I am still pretty new, it requires my (mostly) undivided attention, which is quite different from most of my other activities. I also love the connection to the past, knowing that hand spinners have been around for so long definitely makes me feel like there is a solid link to the past. I have to say I chuckled a bit with your first misconception topic- the price, it seems that with the fiber arts, people assume one of two things; it must be cheaper to make yarn, clothing, ect. with the fiber arts craft, OR you are misinformed and aren’t aware of the fact you can get socks for $1 a pair instead of spending (let’s not put an actual price on sock yarn, no one can win with that) and tons of time on a pair. Great post!

  2. Janet Brosh says:

    I wish that I could be as articulate as you. I have gottten the same comments on my weaving. I was so excited when my Oxabach loom had finally arrived from Sweden. A coworker (male) asked, ‘Why do you weave when you can by any type of fabric?’ When we do fiber arts, we have nearly complete control of fiber type, color, size of yarn, texture, spin, knit, crochet, weave and the design of the product. Sweater, dish towel, afghan, etc. I am not always satisfied with the product of my work, but I enjoyed it and may have learned something from the process.

    • mardeeknits says:

      Thanks, Janet, for the kind comments! I absolutely agree that it’s better to have control of all of those factors and that is yet another reason to do it yourself. I also agree about learning from the process. Every day that I do this, I learn something new.

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