Saturday, April 24, 2010

Retreat, and the lure of spinning

My knit group retreat last weekend was short, but idyllic. There was a foot of snow on the ground in the Sierras, but the weather was sunny and gorgeous. Most of our Saturday was spent on the deck:

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Knitting was the excuse for the expedition, but there was also just lots of good company, great conversation – and delicious food and wine. What a blast!

I didn’t do much knitting (although I did finish binding off my Brandywine shawl), but my trusty wheel rode with me and I did do lots of spinning. First some plying to clear my bobbins:
Softly-spun merino-wool in lavender, silver-gray, and sheep’s black. I spun all of each color before going on to the next, then made a two-ply. Where the colors don’t match exactly, there are marled black-gray and gray-lavender transitions. I think it’ll make a nice color-banded hat or mittens.

Then I spun this Corriedale in three coordinating colors the same way (these flash photos are quite accurate):

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The fiber is from Royale Hare - a mixture of dyed and natural gray carded together, for a lovely, complex heathered effect. It has yet to be plied, but should make a nice slightly fuzzy worsted-weight 2-ply.

It’s time for me to tell you my spinning story. When I started knitting, I thought I should give spinning a try, and eventually I had a drop-spindle lesson from a friend a couple of years ago. It was a group lesson, and several folks were instant spinners. Not me – hopeless. With some relief, I decided I didn’t need to spin after all. One less enthusiasm to complicate life.

However. I’ve got a great virtual knitting group – we’re friends who’ve been talking knitting, and other things, for years online.  Many of the group are longtime spinning enthusiasts, and enablers par excellence. After that spindling lesson, I told them I’d been there, done that, no thank you very much. But they knew better. Last summer, a great deal on a preowned Matchless cropped up in the discussion. I seem to have expressed some interest, because before I knew it, the wheel was delivered to my door. As a surprise, the whole group got together to make it happen – and over the cliff I went.

Here’s Ms. Matchless on the day she arrived:


I still haven’t figured out what I did to deserve this incredibly generous gift, but it has proven to be the beginning of a love affair.

My day job is serious left-brain work. Indexing is reading, writing, and analyzing; often I’m thinking about abstruse, complicated topics like identity politics in the Caribbean or the emergence of modernity in the Middle East. Knitting is a great complement to the work I do, because it’s about handling real materials and making real objects. But knitting is just a little bit technical. The lure of spinning for me is that it’s so elemental and so different from my paying work.

A long time ago, I baked for a living for a few years. Knitting is like pastry making; spinning is like sourdough bread baking. Oh, I know, I could be a technical spinner – but I prefer to spin intuitively. It’s simple in some ways, but mysterious and complex in others – so there’s always something to learn. And when spinning, I feel connected to a tradition that goes back thousands of years. It’s satisfying in the same way it is to grow food, or make wine. In short, it makes me feel human.  So thank you, dear friends, for making this adventure possible.


  1. The retreat looks like it was a great time. I'm sorry I missed it!

    I feel the same way about spinning. :)

  2. Your retreat looks like my ideal of a knitting retreat. Hope to see you in Minneapolis for the ASI conference next month.

  3. Great picture of you and your wheel. I'm so glad you fell in love. And that's some nice yarn you're making.