Jilly D.

My spinning wheel; a christmas gift from Sam

In Holidays, Pictures and memories, The Farm, Time and seasons on December 30, 2010 at 12:35 am

On Warren Pond Farm

It was our second Christmas together when Sam gave me two very important presents that changed my life.  One came in a very small box: a key to the door of Sam’s cabin. He asked me to move in and I agreed if he’d put in a flush toilet. I wanted an oak throne and he turned his cabin into my castle.

The second present came in a large box: an Ashford spinning wheel. He surprised and delighted me with this incredibly wonderful new toy. He never had to give me another Christmas present. This one made up for all past and future gift goofs he could make in my book. 

I don’t remember what I got him that year but it didn’t count as big as this spinning wheel. I forgave him for the first year’s gift of a Hostess fruitcake and almost felt bad that I had regifted it back to him that day.

Because I knit, I learned to love spinning wool. It took me several years before I could spin enough yarn of consistent quality to knit. When I sit down at my wheel I leave the world behind. It requires concentration to make the wheel spin and when you get going you dare not stop the magic.

When I was a child, I spent several summers visiting my mother’s relations in the back woods of northern Minnesota. My mother’s cousin Juanita made quite an impression on me at 10 years of age. Crippled with multiple sclerosis, Juanita used her good foot to push the pedal and spin the wheel round and round while her twisted fingers tugged the raw roving. The wheel seemed to pull the wool from her fingers as she played the fibers like a harpist strumming. Juanita became animated with the wheel and its percussion played her life’s music.

I learned to spin with lots of practice. My memory of Juanita keeps me humble. I am still learning. My first attempt was with a fleece given to me in a large black plastic bag. A friend homesteading in the Finger Lakes National Forest offered it to me free. It had been in her barn for a year or more.

Brown, black and cream colored Jacob’s wool fibers in their rawest form taught me about how to clean and wash wool before spinning it. Then I learned how to card the fibers by doing it until all the burdocks, dried leaves, stems, and other stuff were gone from the roving. I learned a lot from my initial efforts. I also learned not to take anything free that comes in a large black plastic bag that has been sitting in a barn for more than a year.

Try and try again. I read the how-to books and stared at the diagrams and images. I tried again. And again. Every day I sat down to practice. Some days I just pedaled the wheel to get a steady rhythm . Other days I pushed myself through the frustration and got a few yards of yarn onto the spindle. I kept at it even though the yarn twisted back onto itself. I adjusted the tension of the wheel. I got frustrated. I overcompensated and didn’t get enough twist so it looked almost the same going in as it did coming out: thick fuzzy roving.

I sought out an advanced spinner and took my wheel to her homestead in the Forest where two other novices joined us one Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter a decade ago. I discovered I had learned more than I thought about the process. Practice was the best way to keep improving.

Spinning and knitting and felting made me into a Fiberista. Great pleasure is taken from making something with my own hands. I am honored and humbled by these crafts which are centuries old and still serving their purpose today. My spinning wheel, lazy kate, carding paddles, niddy noddy, swift and ball-winder are wonderful gadgets; ancient in design.

Gandhi used his spinning wheel every day. He said if every Indian were to spin their own cotton into cloth there would be no need to purchase the ready-made garments imported from England made from cotton grown in India.

Sam Warren built a waterwheel ten feet in diameter that could make 3-phase electricity for the farm. He had two windmills that went round and round to make even more power. He kept us off the National Grid by installing lots of solar panels and we lived off the land and by the seasons. Sam said if every American were to produce their own electricity there would be no need to purchase energy which destroys the environment or undercuts our economy. Like Gandhi, Sam walked the line of self-reliance.  And so I spin.

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