Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | September 14, 2009

Spinning for community

Spinning is a meditative hobby.  Well, hobby for some, addiction for others.

I learned to spin one winter when attending Stitches West about 6 years ago from a very lovely lady named Morgaine, the owner of Carolina Homespun in San Francisco (  She was teaching “Spinning for Knitters” (or something like that) and showing how easy it was to create some delicious yarns from scratch.  I clearly remember her saying that spinning could become an addiction, and as she handed out the spindles and roving, and hearing her laughingly saying, “I’m like a drug dealer – The first hit is free, but you have to pay for the next one.”

I paid attention.  I tried my hand at it.  I learned to draft, spin, park.  After those intriguing, fuzzy, mesmerizing 20 minutes, I was hooked.  Oh, I was hooked.  I bought a good beginning spindle and some roving.  I went home that evening and spun nonstop until the first small ball of roving was done.  It was really yarn.  I was amazed.  I learned to ply the next day.

One of the balls of roving was the color of a fall sunset – all orangey rose and red violet and soft.  So soft.  It reminded me of sunsets viewed from the Oakland hills looking toward SF Bay.  It reminded me of my favorite roses – Royal Sunset – that cover the walkway at the Berkeley Rose Garden.  About a month after learning to spin, my mother was diagnosed with a second bout of breast cancer (she’s been about 5 years clean from the second bout now).  I took that roving and a handspindle to the waiting lobby of the hospital and spun that fluff into yarn.  My thoughts were calmed as the fiber twisted into a single ply of peace.   People watched.  Some grew bold and came close and watched.  I’d say hello and answer their questions if they asked any.  One person would come over and stand carefully out of range (they thought) and watch then walk away.  Another would come over and sit for 20 minutes, then wander on to another diversion.  But mostly we’d sit silently – not wanting to break the quiet of the waiting room – each taking some solace in the spinning.  After about 5 hours of spinning the roving was gone and I had little cones of wool carefully encased in a ziploc waiting for plying.  More importantly, I had learned about the healing power of spinning in public – for both me and others.  Breathing would slow and deepen.  Shoulders would drop.  Frenetic thoughts and worries that showed in frowns and wrinkled brows would ease, if only for a little while.

Soon after that I learned that kids were especially enthralled with spinning.   I was asked to demonstrate spinning at my daughter’s middle school where they hold a Medieval fair to show off research projects at the end of the year to their schoolmates and families.  I’d watch as a student watched me from afar, then give in to curiosity and wander closer.  I’d say “hi” and ask if she had a question.  “How do you do that?”,  “What are you making?”,  “What is that?”  Hooked, I’d reel them in and show them how to draft the wool, put the beginner’s spindle in their hands and teach them to chant “spin, park, pinch, draft, pinch, release…spin, park, draft…”   I’d talk to moms and dads and kids and aunties and teenage siblings who were way too cool until they came within my circle of  gravity.

Teaching a high school kid to spin.

Teaching a high school kid to spin.

Now I am a historical reenactor who demonstrates spinning at Renaissance faires.  This weekend I spoke with dozens of people about the wool processing, the types of yarn I had on display, what a niddy-noddy did, the differences between spindles and spinning wheels.

Teaching woolworking to patrons at faire

Teaching woolworking to patrons at faire

My favorite moments this weekend were:

  • having eight kids between age 4 and 12 sitting on the ground with me, picking weeds out of wool, then learning to card the wool.  Patiently.  Quietly.  Parents were amazed at their children’s focus.
  • telling the father who had learned with his daughter the entire process of picking, carding and spinning to show the woman next to him how to do each step.  The look on his face as I ordered him to teach was great- shock and disbelief.  Then he saw I was serious.  He taught that woman perfectly.
  • watching older children helping their younger siblings get their fingers to master the tasks.  No competition involved.
  • talking with the Bolivian-American lady about the wool and different spinning techniques used globally.  Having her ask for suggestions of what to look for when she goes to Bolivia next month to visit.  Giving her my email so that she could send me a picture of her spinning when she finds that indigenous spinner who will teach her.

Somehow, by learning this old time craft I’ve learned how to spin strangers into a community.  A community of people who can comfort each other and be brave.  A community of people who will believe that they can do something really cool and useful and beautiful with a little bit of patience.  A community of people who will laugh together while learning a new skill.  A community of people who will feel more emboldened to talk to other strangers and learn from each other.

I think that’s pretty good.  I think we should all learn to spin.  Come sit down.  I’ll show you how.



  1. Man, that was real nice.

    • Thanks. Come see me at faire sometime and I’ll teach you to spin.

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