Way Back When
When I was in grade school we had days during the Winter called Electives. It was a field trip day where the whole school elected for certain trips and adventures. Most kids went skiing at nearby Talisman Resort or Blue Mountain. For some of us that sort of field trip wasn’t a financial option. I deduced at an early age that asking for the cheapest and/or free type of elective was a good idea in my family.
The Magic of Turning Fibres into Yarn
In Grade 4 one of the free Electives was an afternoon working with wool. A local woman came in with her spinning wheel and taught a small group of us how wool fibres can be twisted into yarn. I remember starring at her wheel whirring away as her hands moved back and forth. She was magically turning the fibres into yarn.
When it was my turn to stand beside her, helping guide the fibres, I could feel the twist take up. In that moment I was utterly entranced. I kept my little scrap of twisted yarn for the rest of that school year, holding it like a good luck charm until it was almost felted. That year Electives felt like a gift rather than a reminder that my family was poor.
Fast forward to 2007 when I started working at Black Creek Pioneer Village. I had nearly forgotten the day with the spinning wheel in Grade 4, until someone handed me a drop spindle. A few moments of instruction and something inside of me leaped for joy. I took the drop spindle home and spun for hours that evening. I started carting it around to lectures at York University where I was doing my Masters of Environmental Studies. I spun at bus stops and on the subway. I spun until the lumpy, bumpy yarn turned smooth and the drop spindle stopped dropping to the floor without warning.
An Elegant Technology
As a grad student there was no way I could afford a spinning wheel, but I could afford a drop spindle. A simple, elegant technology that has helped humyn-kind spin fibres into yarn for a millennia.
This winter OHS Year 1 brought me back to the drop spindle. Our project was to spin and ply a 10m skein on the drop spindle. I know many of my co-spinners were dreading the slow process of drop spindling but I relished the opportunity to revisit my old friend.
As I spun my 10m skein, slowly winding the yarn onto my homemade bottom-whorl spindle, I knew that I didn’t have to use a drop spindle outside of this assignment. Today, I am fortunate to have two spinning wheels and enough resources to purchase high quality, local fibres to spin. But once upon a time that wasn’t the case. Once upon a time I was a kid from a poor family that stumbled upon a beautiful art form. Once upon a time I had to scrounge and bargain for every bit of fibre I spindled.
Looking back I can see this humble drop spindle has offered me another Lesson of the Wheel: Just Begin. With whatever you have, wherever you are just begin. The momentum of you trying will spin you forward, bringing you to a time when you can suddenly do all of those things that once upon a time you were just beginning.
Thank goodness for humble tools.
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