Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Lessons from the Spindle
I've been avoiding the spindle for a while. For such a simple instrument, it can be quite intimidating. As spinners, we all dream of creating beautiful even wool, free of scubs, strong and useful. But it doesn't work like that in real life; most of us didn't grow up in places where girls learn to spin from a young age and where using the spindle is second nature. Before I started to spin, I was warned by a spinner from Saugerties that when you're learning to spin, you get to know the 'drop' in the term 'drop spindle' very well. I was advised to sit on a bed while I learned, so that I wouldn't have to go too far to retrieve my spindle again. Forearmed with this knowledge, I prepared myself to learn a simple skill that's notoriously deceptively difficult. As it was, when I finally picked up a spindle, I managed to create my first length of yarn without even reading the instructions or watching a youtube video. I read the instructions because I couldn't believe that I was doing it right because this wasn't the skill I'd been warned so much about. I'd heard such horror stories about learning the drop spindle, warned to get a top whorl spindle and to stay the hell away from Merino (all good advice, and thankfully I started with Corriedale). As I continued to spin, I decided that my method wasn't very efficient, and that I would look for some videos on Youtube to try and become faster and better. My first skein was really quite even too for a first skein and I was pleased with myself. Unfortunately though, by the second skein, I was expecting *perfection* from myself. Quite simply, in my head, I'd skipped from beginner to spinner without the practice. Over the next couple of years, I made lots of mistakes, I still do. I found out the hell of handspinning merino, I learned about using different spindles for different weights of yarn (for example, my top whorl spindle is far too heavy for spinning lace or fingering yarn), I went through periods of nervousness of picking up the spindle and especially not spinning in public. I had good spinning days in which I'd never drop the spindle, and would be stood up in order to spin longer lengths and others when all I seemed to do was drop the spindle. I mostly spun skeins for offerings. My first skein was offered to the waters of the Frau Holle Teich with some homemade bread. One could say that learning the spindle teaches persistence and that the process of drafting teaches the virtue of only using as much force as is necessary and not grasping onto things too tightly, but there is also a sense of peace. It's meditative, and at certain points, it's almost as though you can feel some kind of approval from female ancestors long deceased. Perhaps the greatest lesson that the spindle has taught me to date is that of Frau Holle; I became interested in her through spinning, and that interest led to researching her origins - something I'm still working on today. Now, I don't just see her as Frau Holle the character from folklore, but for me she is Frija, the Germanic goddess, and to take it a little further, the spinning goddess depicted on the Oberwerschen bracteate.