October 23, 2010


Hope to go to another handspinning demonstration today.

The last demo I did, yet another mother told yet another young daughter that "back in the old days, you would have had to do this, all five year olds spun yarn for their families."

I'm sure this is accurate, apart from cultures that wore skins or woven, plaited, and twined unspun plant fibers, and I think kids should understand that there are handy skills that were once widespread and part of everyday life.

But I found myself countering with a different message: "back in the old days, princesses spun yarn, and they had beautiful spindles and wool baskets made of precious metals."

This is also accurate, according to Elizabeth Wayland Barber's chapter, "The Golden Spindle," in her book Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years.  When you think Helen of Troy, you don't think yarn, but apparently Homer puts her in possession of a golden spindle and a silver wool basket with gold-rimmed wheels.  (Why wheels, I ask myself.)

I stressed the princess angle to the girl so that she would associate handspinning more with choice and luxury and less with child-labour and drudgery.  Spinning yarn is not drudgery to me.  I turn my drop spindle and draft wool because I enjoy doing it.  Fleece preparation and dyeing are not my particular joy, but I hear others take pleasure in those tasks as well.

Certainly necessity was a compelling reason to spin back in the old days, but to the typical girl I'm likely to run into who wears mass-produced clothing and watches Disney, I am sure stories of handspinning princesses are much more relevant and captivating.

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