Spinning Yarns (Literally)

I have the Roycroft Festival in East Aurora, New York, to thank for pushing me over the brink into the fiber world.

In 2013, I went back home for a near yearly visit on the last weekend in June. Each year, there is a festival of artisans, antique dealers and visual artists held throughout this small and beautiful town that was the home of Elbert Hubbard and his Roycrofters.

My grandfather, Walter Jennings, was a copper and silver smith there.DSC00658

My father, Rix Jennings, grew up there and delivered Saturday Evening Posts M0161 to the shops as a young boy. It’s in my blood, to be creative and curious.

This particular year, there were demonstrations by some fiber artists in one of the buildings on the Roycroft Campus. There was a person demonstrating fiber preparation called “drum carding”. Another was demonstrating tapestry weaving on a PVC tapestry loom. And a third was demonstrating rope making. I was fascinated, and said I’d knit and crocheted all my life, but never thought about how yarn was made.

In the back of my mind, I remembered watching someone spin yarn with a drop spindle at a flax festival years before. Had the seed been planted then?

I came home and found a yarn store nearby called Natural Stitches. They had spindles and fiber and I bought my first supply along with a DVD called “Respect The Spindle”, by Abby Franquemont. I was anxious to begin learning, so I watched the video and then tried to do it. It was fun, and in no time, I’d spun up 4 ounces of wool. As is my pattern, I went back to the yarn store to get more fiber and to show them what I’d done. Oddly, I remember thinking that it was pretty good for my first try (see my previous post on Being an Expert). Their first comment was: ” It looks like dreadlocks”, rather like those of one of their employees. I laughed, too. Yes it does look like dreadlocks.IMG_0076_1024

I did buy more fiber, and was determined to improve the quality in this batch. I’d fallen down the rabbit hole, for sure, because I just couldn’t get enough of using my spindle. I’d spin everyday. I’d watch videos on YouTube.

I visited another yarn store called Bo Peep while I was spinning some of the Grape color way. This place was friendly and full of yarn, but no fiber. They had spinning wheels, but I told them I was not at all ready for that step. They said they couldn’t believe I’d spun my yarn on a spindle it was so fine, though it was on the spindle when I went there. IMG_0080_1024They led me to a spinner’s guild called Loyalhannon Spinners of which I am a member. They also led me to a farm not far away called Autumn House Farm. I drove right over and met Harriet Knox, the owner. This charming, gentle woman has been raising sheep, preparing and selling fiber and yarn for years. After selling me more fiber, she invited me to come to her Fall shearing in October. (More on that in another post).

When I look back on my childhood, I remember learning to knit and crochet at a very young age from my Aunt Isabelle. She knit the most beautiful Barbie doll sweaters, and crocheted afghans and slippers (usually packaged in empty Kleenex boxes) for lots of people. So, I’d been working with fiber since a very early age, but never gave a thought to where it came from.

OK, to be realistic, it came from a department store, and was spun by some big commercial operation, and was probably made from some acrylic animal rather than a sheep (yuck, too itchy).

The spinning guild and my yarn store led me to ravelry.com, a large online community. Fortunately, it is also a place to record my spinning project details. A number of things I’ve read have suggested that you keep track of your work. That appealed to the organization nut that I am, and I’ve entered my fiber, the spun yarn, and the projects I’ve made there.

I’m almost two years into this journey and loving every minute I get to spend with fiber, whether it’s washing a fleece, preparing fiber by carding or combing, spinning on spindles or spinning wheels (yes I did go that route) or weaving. Spinning a yarn or two, or a hundred is now in my blood.

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