August 07, 2010


I read John Mercer's The Spinner's Workshop: A Social History and Practical Guide, an earnest consideration of the meaning of handspinning. The topic is set within the context of social change in 1978 and the movement for transforming society through personal responsibility toward it, beginning with scrutiny of one's own way of life.

Unlike modern authors who write about how to spin yarn by hand and get fuzzy feelings, Mercer writes about all the reasons why one would and should spin yarn to save the world. He challenges me to examine the validity of both my current material culture and the means by which I get my needs met.

While the book is new to me, I've examined these questions before.

You might remember from my introductory blog post that I took up handspinning partly as risk management. I believe it is possible that, in my lifetime, the conventional system for getting clothes might suffer interruptions, decline, or become expensive to the point where the economic advantage tips toward those who know how to make clothes from the fiber up.

I am not so much trying to save the world as ensure that my wardrobe carries on, but I get what Mercer is driving at.

The benefit of this book is the degree of focus the author brings, and his credibility as someone living out his convictions.

Mercer considers handspinning primarily as production work, not a hobby or an outlet for artistic expression. He includes statistics on workshop output. He writes on page 118 that historically the "normal range for spindle-spinning is 60-120 yards" per hour for fine yarns, including fiber preparation.

My output cannot be anywhere near that, and I cannot think how I would have to change my technique on the drop spindle to achieve that much. Not and retain quality.

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