When I tell people that my hobby is spinning, they usually assume I mean the trendy exercise class. However, you won’t find me sweating it out in a gym hunched over a stationary bike (although it’s a fair assumption to make as I am a physical education teacher by trade). Rather than pedaling, my spinning involves treadling. And it’s more common than you may think.
Handspinning yarn from wool and other materials has seen a resurgence in the last two decades. While I don’t pretend to know all that has brought this about, I do know that it has grown not just in popularity, but the craft also has evolved and flourished as an art. Spinning veterans and newcomers alike are working to preserve traditional knowledge and to push the boundaries by exploring new methods and materials, creating a rich and diverse field of makers and a renewed prominence.
Digital marketplace. Since handspinning’s last wax and wane in popularity, we have seen the development of a global marketplace and communications network. This means that not only do today’s spinners have instant access to information, instructions, and an (amazing!) online community, but we also have easy and fairly inexpensive access to a whole range of materials that were previously difficult to source. With the click of a button, we can have silk from Asia, rare breeds from Great Britain, and Quiviut from the Arctic (ok so that one isn’t inexpensive!) sent right to our door.
Makers movement. Conversely, and likely in reaction to the above-mentioned digital presence in our lives, there has even more recently emerged several co-existing and intertwined movements that push back against the digital age: slow living, the makers movement, and slow fashion.
A sense of place and purpose. Despite how happy we are to have information at our fingertips, it (ironically) leaves us starved for a sense of connection. In reaction, we yearn to savor our creating, to know where the materials came from, and to produce long-lasting, quality garments that can be worn and enjoyed for decades. A step beyond the more mainstream crafts of knitting, crochet, and weaving is spinning your own yarn — possibly even from fleece you’ve sourced and processed yourself.
New modes of learning. And while such an historical craft may seem incongruous with the digital age, it’s an incredibly convenient anachronism. You can take an online course on Craftsy while nestled in front of your hearth. You can order a PVC spinning wheel to travel to guild spin ins with or browse YouTube for videos to help you restore your antique wheel. You can register online for a growing number of educational retreats where spinning celebrities will teach you new skills, and you can join a team of spinners from around the world for the Spinzilla or Tour de Fleece competitions.
Handspinning is an enjoyable, relaxing, and practical craft. It allows us to connect with the past while complimenting current lifestyle trends. It can be a very cost effective hobby and requires very minimal investment. So whether you learn from a YouTube video on a DIY drop spindle you find instructions for online, or head to the local guild to try out a selection of wheels and receive hands-on tutoring, I do hope that you will join me and give this craft a whirl.
Jennifer Huhta is a production handspinner and natural fiber artist in Ontario, where she teaches yarn-spinning classes, writes for fiber arts publications, runs an online business, and works with Canadian shepherds to creatively promote their fleeces. Connect with Jennifer at Roses and Purls on Facebook, Instagram and Etsy.
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