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Why I spin and weave

July 31, 2011

I spin yarn using a spinning wheel, and I weave on a jack loom. New visitors who encounter my wheel and the loom always seem surprised. They ask me, “Doesn’t it take a terribly long time?” and “Why do you do these things?” The answers are “No” and  “Why shouldn’t I weave and spin?”

My fingers possess fine motor dexterity. As a child I dabbled with embroidery, crochet and knitting, and I had a toy loom made of plastic. As a young adult I took classes in knitting, spinning and weaving.  Knitting and crocheting have become wildly popular over the past decade and are now ubiquitous, but spinning and weaving remain rare, probably due to the size and cost of the equipment. The bookshelves at Barnes & Noble are packed with knitting/crocheting books, but I have to special-order all my weaving and spinning books online. I’m not sure why this is the case, for there are probably thirty to fifty people locally who either participate in the local weavers’ and spinners’ guild or pursue the craft on their own, and that number of people deserve to be able to find at least a book or two on those crowded bookshelves.

To some people who aren’t familiar with fiber arts, spinning and weaving appear to be archaic and even irrelevant pursuits, but they’re actually no different than woodworking and metalsmithing — they all permit artisans to make useful and attractive objects for the home. A man who builds his own bookcases or chairs takes pride in his work because he knows his pieces are unique and made the way he wants them to be, using materials he has control over. Similarly, because I spin yarn I am not dependent on what the yarn shops have in stock. Instead, I select the fiber (wool, silk, etc.) and have choice in regard to the texture and fineness of the yarn. It’s the same with weaving: why should I buy napkins, dishcloths, table runners, placemats and even fabric for clothing at a store, when I can craft my own quite easily?

Newcomers always seem obsessed by speed. “How long does it take to spin a whole skein? How long does it take to weave a scarf?” I would never dream of asking a woodworker “How long until you finish that Windsor chair?” It takes as long as it takes!  And anyway, the goal is not to get from Point A to Point B in as little time as possible. My studio is not a sweatshop, cranking out stacks of goods. It’s fun, for crying out loud. It’s not about speed, it’s about enjoying the journey. Knitting and crochetting a sweater or an afghan also take time, but no one ever pesters knitters about their speed. For the record, I can weave a scarf in approximately three work-sessions that each last an hour or so; I could theoretically weave it all in a single sitting were it not for tendon and ligament issues.

I spin and weave because they are deeply rewarding. If you like the concept of Slow Food, you’ll appreciate the idea of Slow Yarn and Slow Cloth. It’s all about pride in one’s output and enjoyment of the moment. Anyone who’s already a knitter or crocheter would be a natural for spinning because it offers such opportunities for making your own custom yarns. And once you possess custom yarns, a loom is the next logical step. Seen that way, yarn is a gateway drug that leads you down the path to eventual weaver status. Don’t be afraid! Give it a try.


From → fiber arts

  1. SilviSherr permalink

    I totally agree. I do lots of things including spinning (not weaving….yet!!!) I do it because I love it, I enjoy it, I get a tremendous kick out of seeing yarn develop from any Fiber I have chosen. It takes as long as it takes..sometimes day’s sometimes Month depending on how I feel. But I do it because of the pure Joy it gives.

  2. I have always wanted to try spinning my own yarn and working with a loom. How did you get started?

    • I took classes at the local yarn shop, as time and money permitted. I spin on an Ashford Traveller wheel, which is one of the most commonly used wheels; it costs under $500. If you want to go less expensively and get involved with really Slow Yarn, you can start with a drop-spindle, which is far more portable than a spinning wheel; but then you might begin to run into cost/benefit analyses of whether it’s worth your time to spin so slowly. (Those who do drop-spindle say it’s not about the speed, it’s about enjoying yourself, so you’re back to the beginning of this argument.) There are oodles of “how-to-spin” videos on YouTube. Take a look through the Woolery’s site, (they also sell fiber prepared for spinning). A spindle will set you back about $30 – $50 (do NOT begin with a big heavy one; go more toward lightweight, which won’t break the yarn with its own weight). Hope this helps!

      • Thanks! I have always wanted to try this. Like you said, it’s not about the time, but the relaxation and the enjoyment of doing it. That’s why I love crafting so much.

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