Spinning :: Beauty in Simplicity ::

Handpainted Bluefaced Leicester roving, plied on a Kromski drop spindle

Handpainted Bluefaced Leicester roving, plied on a Kromski drop spindle

The new year is here and for lots of people this means time for resolutions and promises. All around blogland you can read lists of things people want to accomplish in 2009 – projects to start, UFOs to finish, stash or weight to reduce, habits to break, you name, they’ll want to achieve it. I’m not fond of this particular custom because let’s face it. Most of these resolutions do not even make it into February. So, no resolutions on this blog. I’d like to take the time to contemplate a rediscovered hobby instead.

Back in 2004 I started out into the world of spinning with a drop spindle kit to learn the basics of creating my own yarn. I was inspired by skeins of beautiful hand-spun yarn I saw popping up everywhere on the internet. The idea of spinning my own lace yarn held a particular appeal because commercial lace yarns were hard to come by 4 or 5 years ago. The technique was quickly mastered and I happily spindled away for a while on my plain but functional bottom whorl spindle. I just loved how a simple tool could turn fluffy nothingness into firm thread. The ever repeating motions of turning the spindle, drafting the fiber and winding the finished thread onto the spindle enveloped me in a certain magic. A magic that connected me with all those women across times and continents who used this tool to provide their family with clothes, to make a living from their own hands. Besides, I couldn’t help to enjoy the portability of a drop spindle. When others dragged their large spinning wheels to our monthly spinning meet-up I got away with stuffing my tools and supplies into a trusty messenger bag.

With proficiency in spindling grew new desires. My drop spindle was a bit heavy to create true lace yarns and something a bit more fancyful would also not go amiss. But alas, the German market didn’t know ANYTHING about artfully turned drop spindles in exotic woods, different sizes, different weights, rim-weighted designs, top- vs. bottom-whorl and such. But thanks to the world wide web a look across the Atlantic turned up craftsmen and craftswomen who were dedicated to provide spindlers with beautiful as well as functional tools for their passion: Jonathan Bosworth from Journeywheel, Stephen Kundert in Wisconsin, Adam Mielke from Mielke’s Fiber Arts, Gabe Jaramillo from Cascables Spindles and Elizabeth from Greensleeves Spindles, to only name a few. In no time a small collection of nearly 20 different spindles formed on my shelves. Spindles seem to be a bit like sheep. They like their herd.

The next logical step seemed to be the purchase of a spinning wheel. Weeks of research on wheel designs, wheel makers, wheel diamters, drive ratios etc. followed. In the end a Kromski Minstrel moved in with me. It was love at first sight and the prospect of spinning even more yarn in a shorter time made me giddy. The Minstrel saw a lot of use in the beginning. The wheel is a well made piece of craftsmanship – nice, classical design, sound construction, 4 different ratios to accomodate different fibers and yarns, double threadle. But it wasn’t quite the love I felt when I first started out on a simple wooden drop spindle. Why was that? A spindle is so much slower compared to a wheel. The process is one of discontinuity instead of fluent motion. After a while spinning took a back seat to other craft hobbies. It sure was never forgotten and the wheel turned every once in a while or a drop spindle whirled but all in all it was pretty much time for knitting again.

Magic Bio Wool, wheel-spun, navajo-plied

Magic Bio Wool, wheel-spun, navajo-plied

December turned into a busy time for all three of us. I started back into a job, even if only part-time but still kindergarten and other appointments and responsibilites wanted to be scheduled. Besides, after a long time at home with a baby work life is a whole other ball game. By the middle of December I was tired of knitting Christmas gifts and in serious need of a change. I sat on the wheel again and finished some yarn that had sat on the spool for much to long. The funny colors of the Magic Bio Wool yarn made me smile even if spinning the coarse felting wool wasn’t all that funny. Filled with a sense of gratification I decided to reward myself with small amounts of nice, colorful roving from etsy.com to do some more spinning. It arrived one by one in letter-sized envelopes. Instead of sitting on the wheel I chose a suitable spindle from my collection because it would make the perfect project for the upcoming holiday travels. For the car I had a sock to knit and for the rest I had my drop spindle. In no time the first 4 ounces of roving – a lovely soft handpainted Bluefaced Leicester fiber – were spun up. And just like all those years ago I felt the magic again. A simple but beautiful tool, the repeating motions, the fiber turning into thread out of practically nothing. What a nifty, practical thing such a drop spindle is. You can stand in the kitchen beside your oven and watch over the pots, stopping the spindle from time to time to stir something. You can walk around to ease pains in you back and still be spindling. No clacking parts to be oiled, no drive band to be replaced. And so many beautiful spindles to choose from. What a joy!

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