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The song of the spinning wheel.

As soon as I receive those yearly event brochures put out by the state, I mark the calendar with those that interest my husband, Mike, and me. Little did I know one such weekend adventure would be the beginning of a lifelong delight with a different twist.

This trip took us two hours south of our Brainerd, Minnesota home to a family-owned historical museum that was sponsoring a frontier weekend featuring the art of handspinning. I'd only seen handspinning in action once before and I was looking forward to this event. It was a perfect summer afternoon with bright blue skies and cottony white clouds. As we drove along, windows down, each of us was lost in our own thoughts. Time passed as quickly as the scenery and we reached our destination only to find, much to our surprise and dismay, we were the only ones there. My heart sank.

The family historian met us and told us the spinning group should arrive at any moment and suggested we take a walk through the museum while we waited. We agreed, and our guide led us through the old buildings and explained how they came to their final resting place and the uses of the various tools and treasures each one contained. We enjoyed homemade lemonade and cookies made on a genuine wood cookstove while she discussed how her family gets together each Thanksgiving, dressed in Finnish outfits, to cook and enjoy their meal as their ancestors did.

An hour later the spinning group thankfully arrived. The "group" turned out to be one woman, Laura, carrying her spinning wheel, and her husband, Pat, toting baskets of wool in assorted colors. I thought to myself, "The drive was nice anyway."

We chatted awhile as she set up her wheel and then proceeded to magically transform those fuzzy piles of wool into one long, consistently even strand of yam in a slate-gray hue. My spirits picked up as Laura asked if I'd like to try my hand at spinning and I quickly dismissed my earlier disappointment. It looked pretty easy, so why not?

I sat before the wheel, history abundant around me, feeling somewhat out I of place in my t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I did as Laura instructed. First, feed the yarn already on the bobbin back through the orifice so I'd have a "leader" to start with. Next, take some wool that I later learned had already been washed and "carded" and was called "roving," and place it on the leader so the twist can grasp it. Okay, now, start treadling and,

Whoops! There went the leader back through the orifice and around the bobbin.

After about 15 times of losing that leader, I'd realized this was as it looked. How did my ancestors do this? I began to feel fortunate that my family did not have to rely on me for their garments. Laura helped me get started by holding the leader and the piece of roving together until the twist grabbed ahold. At last! It was thick and lumpy and could barely fit through the orifice but it stayed together.

I continued for another hour or so while we talked about the basics of handspinning and the sheep farm that Laura and Pat shared. It was soon time to say good-bye and I left with a small ball of the magical yarn and I knew then I was hooked. There was no lull in conversation on our return trip and Mike shared with me a quote from Pat that "you don't find a spinner on every comer". I felt delighted to consider myself at the edge of this rare circle and I detected a hint of appreciation in Mike's eyes as well.

Little did I know locating a spinning wheel would be a project in itself. Of course I wanted an antique spinning wheel. After all, this was a craft with roots and I wanted a wheel with them also. Disappointment soon set in when I learned it is not wise to use an antique wheel, as parts might be missing and each wheel tends to take on the characteristics of its previous artist and might cause glitches in the production of yam. K-mart and the local hardware don't carry them, so where in the world can you get one?

My search was temporarily interrupted when life decided to take us east to Michigan and ultimately to the 40 acres on which we now reside.

Handspinning was meant to become a part of my future and as luck would have it, a trip to the county fair yielded a spinning guild! My first meeting unfolded a feedbag of new terms such as S-twist and Z-twist; roving, rolag, and sliver; Lazy Kates and Niddy Noddies. Where do they come up with these? Here I learned of a great magazine specifically for handspinners entitled Spin-Off, which is published by Interweave Press, Inc., 201 East Fourth St., Loveland, Co. 80537, 303/669-7672. It is published quarterly and a subscription costs $18 per year. This magazine is loaded with information and sources for equipment, fibers and anything related to spinning.

That Christmas yielded my very own spinning wheel. Each Christmas and birthday to follow brought a new addition to my craft and thus began my intimate relationship with handspinning.

I've come a long way since my early attempts and have vastly broadened my scope of this art. I finally completed my first fiber-to-finish project... a pair of hunting socks for Mike. I'd been promising I'd make him a pair for almost two years (you know, time certainly does fly) and it wasn't until I was expecting our first child last November that I decided I'd surprise him. Our son (who was born at home with a midwife attending -- ah, that's another story) was born two weeks late to the day. In those two weeks I completed the socks in time for opening morning and I went into labor the next day. There is nothing quite so fulfilling as completing a project and knowing you are preserving a lost art at the same time.

Being a handspinner gives me one more reason why I need and feed those critters in the backyard and it gives me an excuse to raise different animals. There are so many fibers -- wool, mohair, angora rabbit, llama and dog plus many more -- in a variety of colors as well as plant fibers such as cotton and flax. My first fiber animals were two kid Angora goats I received as a Christmas bonus from my boss -- and he always thought I was backwards!

Being homestead-minded, I'm always on the lookout for entrepreneurial ideas that will enhance and develop the things I enjoy most as well as provide some income. One day I thought to myself, "You should start a mail-order spinning supply! This is a great idea. Why didn't I think of it before? Others are doing it, you can, too!" Then the "what if's" raised their ugly heads and doubt doused my enthusiasm.

Not for long, though, and I am now many involved in the growing cottage industry and I've learned a great lesson: If you don't do it, someone else will and if you're thinking it now, someone else is probably doing the same thing. So don't stand where your foot can reach your behind. As the famous saying goes, Just Do It!

It has been about four years since I was first lured into the yearly guild registry published in Spin-Off affirms a growing interest in the natural fiber industry. It's a pleasurable and resourceful craft that allows me to stay close to the simple things in life and has added another strand to the rope that binds my family together, as my husband wholeheartedly supports my craft right down to the odor of soaking fleeces and the constant balls of hair around the house.

The melody of the spinning wheel... such an inviting sound.

For more information on spinning and spinning wheels, send a large SASE to Maryanne Ladensack at Promenade, 1850 Knepp Rd., Fairview, MI 48621.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ladensack, Maryanne
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
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