04 April, 2011

Why I Spin Yarn and Why You Should Care

This post is about reasons why I spin yarn and why you should care.  Actually, I don't know for sure why you should care.  If you're not one of my friends and relations, probably you don't care that I spin yarn.  As to the question of whether you should care about handspun generally, that will depend. Hopefully somewhere in all my reasons there will be something that resonates with you.

A forewarning: what follows is a fairly idiosyncratic list.  That's the fun of a blog.

I like spinning a spindle in mid-air and feeling the hum of the motion in the yarn that forms under my fingertips.

When I spin yarn, I have control over the final cloth.

Getting the final product right is an enjoyable challenge to me.

I spin yarn and I get clothes to wear, after some assembly.

I get to select the most optimal fibre for the job, which makes me feel clever.

It's fascinating how different techniques can shape the yarn and in turn shape the cloth's properties and attributes.

Practice and mastery of handspinning technique is rewarding and satisfying.

Handspun yarn gives me evidence of my progress, improvement, and effort: evidence I can measure and feel.

I am sensitive and have a strong sense of what I like and don't like regarding cloth.  Handspinning lets me get what I want.

While some area farmers will sell me finished products like mittens and rugs made from their own fibre, what they sell is not always what I want to own.  Besides, often the products will have travelled off-site at some point (for washing, milling, or fabrication) and so are not completely local.

Having the tools and skill to spin means I can access locally-raised fibre the same way having a kitchen knife and a cooking pot means I can access local food.

Buying local supports the regional economy and often has benefits to the community as well as environmental benefits, which in turn benefit my health and well-being.

Talking to shepherds is cool.

Understanding the how and why of handspun is an intellectual challenge.

When I understand handspun I understand ancient and non-industrial cultures better, and it's enriching to understand the history of material culture.  It's a different headspace to be in, like when you learn a new language or read one in translation (especially transliterated or with original syntax order) and you realize that native speakers think differently than you do.

Making yarn with a fancy stick and some fuzzy stuff is my response in the face of future changes and risks that may be coming in terms of how we all meet our basic needs.  Changes like the rising price of gas.

When I spin yarn in public, people are interested in it and they talk to me.  They tell me stories.

I can make a hat with a $15 drop spindle, $8 worth of wool, and a pair of $9 knitting needles for a total of $32, and all the hats after that will only cost $8 for the wool.

I could have a new hat a week if I really wanted.  I can have hats to give away.

All the handspinners I meet are friendly and generous with their time, knowledge, materials, tools, and encouragement, and spinning yarn means I get to spend time with them.

Spinning yarn means I've had to form new contacts and relationships with mentors and suppliers, and that makes me more a part of my community.

Handspun requires well-designed functional tools, and it's great to have a reason and a justification to buy good tools.

Many, many fibre arts tools on the market are made by independent manufacturers and so when I buy the loom, spindle, wool combs, niddy noddy, or whatever I support small businesses with employee- and family-friendly labour practices.

Getting a handspinning tool custom-made to my specs is a thrill.

Many types of fibre arts tools and processes go back hundreds and thousands of years, and they function without petroleum, huge cash investment, strip mines, mass deforestation, water drawdown and pollution, and such.

I believe in handspinning and weaving tools of profound mechanical simplicity that allow a skilled worker to display outstanding versatility and virtuosity.  For example, a simple spindle is less limited than a complicated spinning wheel with flyer whose yarn has to be thin enough to pass through the orifice.

I don't want to wear the products of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) any more than I want to eat them, since I am concerned not only with their effects on the consumer but also on soil, wildlife, domesticated animals, farmers' autonomy, and farmers' debt loads.  Livestock is fed cottonseed from Bt cotton.

I believe the textiles we chose have a cumulative impact on the world's genetic diversity, bio-piracy, cultivation, harvests of wild material, energy use, infrastructure spending, land use, waste streams, trade practices, and the treatment and breeding of animals.  I think these things matter.

After spending decades being uneducated and unsophisticated about spun yarn, I no longer think that's a normal, preferable, or acceptable way for me to be.

I am offended that Western buyers will contract for clothing from factories in emerging markets, accept shipment, and neglect to pay.  Also that they will set terms for price and delivery dates that can only be met by suppliers operating un-inspected, unregulated shadow factories alongside the model factories.  Factory workers scheduled seven days a week.  (See Alexandra Harney's The China Price.)  Now, today, after all the activism and the reforms following events like the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York City a hundred years ago.

I love the moment a person sees twist go into the fibre and really grasps the concept of spun yarn.

I have a mad passion for pure linen cloth and I figure if I practice someday I'll be able to spin really good flax for fine linen.

It is awe-inspiring to see what peasants like us can do using seeds, animals, clay, wood, stone, chemical processes, and simple machines.  Open source.

Food and water are vitally serious but hypothermia is nothing to mess with either.

Sometimes I feel like the colours of ready-to-wear clothing are chosen by a conspiracy of redheads.  With handspun, I can commission an indy dye artist to dye me wool in a colour that looks good on me.

I can get more durable cloth with handspun than I can with ready-to-wear by choosing long-staple fibres.  Linen strick.  Longwools.  I've heard cloth from kudzu can be worn for seventy years.

While I won't go into depth about it, I will say this because it has to do with me spinning yarn.  My thoughts and actions–that list I just wrote–are (hopefully) steered by my religious convictions which in turn are based on the Bible.  Be responsible and show a good return for the resources and money we have.  Treat and compensate labourers fairly.  Pay what you owe promptly.  Give cheerfully.  Work with our hands and share with those in need.  Use accurate weights and measurements.  Care for our animals' needs.  Let the land rest.  Rest from work on the seventh day.  Gather together with other people.  Spend time in private contemplation and reflection on the truth.  Understand the times.  Expect inspiration and revelation.  Act disciplined and take correction.  Seek wisdom.  See trouble coming.  Gather crops in summer.  Love our neighbour.  Respect ancient boundary lines (property rights).  Don't crossbreed species.  Walk in the light.  Do our work well for God's glory.  I can give you the verses these principles come from but they're best understood in context and I encourage you to read them yourself.

Also, you may not care but I'd just like to say that I find the Bible rich with symbolism.  Its writers used things like linen, sheep, shepherding, washed wool, weaving, and handspinning to convey spiritual concepts that have a lot of meaning for me.  That's all.  If you believe differently, I respect that.  It's possible that you object to anyone finding meaning and purpose in the Bible.  If you want to talk about it, I would say that we can after you read it, except this is a handspinning blog and not really the place.  Your local pastor might want to talk.  You know, pastor means shepherd.


  1. I like all that i have read in your blog. I have recently started hand spinning with a top drop spindle that i made looking at prices of others and not knowing if i would truly like & enjoy it, I just purchased a few items and made my own that i like because i made it.. But what i truly enjoy about you blog now even more is your Faith & it being in your reasons for spinning you opened something up for me in viewing the importance of living more Godly that even applies here, wow how did i not see that... Your blog is amazing i don't recall how i found it but i am thankful

  2. wow, Ali, thanks for letting me know and all the best using the spindle you made yourself.

  3. I find it very refreshing to find a blogger/spinner/Christian who is very willing to put forth her convictions and beliefs in such an intriguing way. My favourite Psalm 139, also relates directly to our 'fibre world': .......knit me together in my mother's womb..... and ....when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.... and .....my frame was not hidden from You...

    Thank you very much,

    1. thank you, Rita. Excellent verses.

  4. You can also stab a taro or potato with a knitting needle and get a working drop spindle if you can't find your usual spindle and have some fiber that just has to be spun up right that moment.

    How about angora bunnies as "micro-sheep"? You get fiber, they get brushing and you can both enjoy the increased vegetables from putting their "bunny berries" on the garden as fertilizer. One or two angora bunnies go real well with drop spindles.


    1. thank you for sharing your enthusiasms!


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