Friday, January 15, 2010

Spinning yarns. It's what I do... one form or another, it would seem. And when I need to take a break from writing, to clear my head or, paradoxically, to fill it up again with imagined plots and characters, I look to two things - a walk in the woods with my ever-present Budster, or a hobby that incorporates some sort of repetitive action like quilting or needlepoint or knitting. If any of you have spent any time in Montreal in January, you know it means I'm more likely to choose the latter. I prefer doing the background bits of a project because there's no thinking or following a pattern involved, so it allows my imagination the freedom it needs to run rampant and perform the mental equivalent of jumping up and down on the bed. (Isn't 'rampant' a great word? Makes me think of rumpus room.)

I've been emailing a couple of friends who share my fibre addiction, and we've been comparing notes and tips on where to buy wool. That's the thing with yarn or fabric or any sort of textile based hobby - it's like heroin. Yarn heroin. Yaroin. You convince yourself you're just going to try it, you know just to see what it's like, just the once, because all the other cool soccer moms kids are doing it. Sure enough, after the first hit scarf, you're hooked like a rug.

One of my yarn buddies said she'd like to take up spinning (with roving, not those exercise bikes <shudder>) and I'm reminded of the brief time I joined a spinners and weavers guild to learn how to spin wool.

I purchased my wheel around 20 years ago in a Prince Edward Island antique store, and it has mostly served as a decorative item ever since (and let me just add, it's a son of a gun to dust. Yes, I dust. Occasionally. In years with the number nine in them.) This was way back when we'd drive across the country on vacation with our three young kids in the back of the van armed with crackers, juice and Raffi tapes. (Tangent Alert: I could recite this whole song in a heartbeat, and so could my grown children. It brings me right back to that battered old van.):

Anyway, after dickering and haggling over this spinning wheel with one Dave Jardine for hours, (a whole other story, ending with grins and handshakes all round, and Dave treating me and my husband for lunch) I wanted to learn how to use it and so I joined this guild with that goal in mind. Little did I know that this group consisted mainly of robust German women with strong opinions on everything from spinning wool to raising children (a lot of discipline for both, as I recall.) Some of them were delightfully warm and kind, while others were absolute tyrants. As a woman with a more liberal, laissez-faire attitude in general I was a poor fit but I persevered because all of them were very talented.

Honestly, I believe most of these women really meant well, but unlike the pound cakes and cookies, their advice was sometimes delivered not on a silver plate but with a ball-peen hammer to the side of the head. An innocent remark would bring enlightenment in the form of a swift rebuke. I remember asking one of them about angora. "Are you schtupid? It comes from rabbits, not goats. Goats make mohair." Schtupid?! Oh no, she di'hint. But resistance was futile. I learned to stay silent and observe like Elmer Fudd advised.

The clincher for me was when one of them decided my spinning wheel was "too dirty" from the 100+ years accumulation of lanolin on the inside of the wheel. She went rummaging around the host's kitchen looking for rags, then returned and put her FOOT on the fragile structure and started pulling on it. She was met with resistance, both the creaking wood and my weak protests that perhaps it might break, but she kept twisting and grunted through her clenched teeth, "Yah, it might, and then you'll have to find a good vood-vorker to carve you a new one because they don't make these anymore, but at least it vill be clean." Two other members finally, literally, pulled the woman off, and I decided that was enough spinning guild for me. Relaxing, it was not.

But who knows? I could take it up again, this time on my own, maybe with YouTube as my guide, and I could be spinning circles around you before you can say angora goat. I mean, rabbit.


Yutha said...

I've heard Heather say "trapped in a zoo with buffalo poo" many, many times and I never knew what she meant. And now I do....Leah didn't listen to Raffi - we had Sharon, Lois and Bram....over and over and over and over and over and over and over........

Deniz Bevan said...

Great story(ies)! Laughing my head off here... Do you think it would be easier to master the spinning wheel or a drop spindle? I've tried drop spindles on my own but my abject failure leads me to think I might need some assistance...

A Novel Woman said...

Oh yes, Sharon Lois and Bram AND Raffi were staples for long car trips. Little Rabbit Foo Foo anyone?

Deniz, I've never tried a drop spindle but Lauri from the CS forum uses one and loves it. I found it pretty easy to learn on the spinning wheel, but they take up a lot of space. And there's the dust factor.

Brenda said...

Pam, the OFFICIAL website of the Syndicat des Producteurs de chèvres du Québec (,
"Le mohair est la fibre naturelle produite par la chèvre angora." It says angora GOATS, NOT rabbits. Vindicated!! You were right as rain, back in your spinning days!
If you need a gang to help you go back and reclaim your good name, count me in!!

A Novel Woman said...

Yay!! You'll have to tell her, though. She still scares me.

Hey, check out this angora rabbit. The woman who hosted had these in her garage and they almost took her hands off when she brushed them. Make sure you cut and paste the entire address. Oh, and beverage alert.

nightsmusic said...

The actual angora comes from angora rabbits AND angora goats. The angora from goats is woven into mohair while the angora from a rabbit remains in its angora form.
They have more info there too. I've been to that mill (about 50 miles from me) and it's full of awesome!

And Pam, you always amaze me! I'd love to learn to spin, but I think I'll pass on that particular group, thanks :-)

A Novel Woman said...

Oooh, Theo, nice link! I see they make wool batting for quilts. Now that's worth the extra $$. When you quilt with wool batting, the needle just slips through the layers like buttah.

nightsmusic said...

Makes for a much more even fill too. And a lot warmer :) Expensive, but I've bought them there a few times. If you ever get to Michigan, I'll have to take you there.

BB said...

Oh FUNNY!!! The mental image of that woman attacking your spinning wheel will be with me all day... hilarious! Do you still have it? Pics?

I love it when you take a break from 'writing' and blog... and I also love your comments at Deb's place! (Mine too of course, but Deb really brings out the best of you!

Debby said...

Maybe you should start your own spinning circle. Invite the angora rabbits and the mohair goats though. Stay away from those women. They sound schtupid and mean. A deadly combination.

Nightsmusic: I lived in Midland for years. I've been to Frankenmuth many times.

nightsmusic said...

Isn't Frankenmuth fun? I could spend days at Bronner's.

Midland is a nice area.

My DH's family all live in PA. Indiana, Blairsville...small world :D

A Novel Woman said...

BB, I still have it. It's still dusty, but functional. I'll have to take a pic and post it.

NM, I don't have any plans to visit Michigan, but if I do, I'll let you know.

Debby, for sure they weren't schtupid, they were quite talented, and I don't even think they were mean, just insular, opinionated and forceful about sharing their opinions. ;)

Gayla said...

I found your blog from Debby and thought I would drop by and say hi.
I also wanted to tell you that we have alpacas and soon I will be learning how to work with our fibers after they're sheared, which is coming up in March. Right now our herd is boarded in Missouri, our future home one day, with a wonderful gal who owns Mid-Missouri Alpacas. Right no we have a heard of 7 with two more on the way. It's so exciting because we only started out with 2, one was pregnant and now look at us. There are some really great companies that we send our fiber to after shearing and it comes back so soft, especially the fiber from the crias (baby alpacas).
Just thought I would share that with you and hope it wasn't too boring.
Take care~Gayla

A Novel Woman said...

Hi Gayla friend of Debby's! Lucky you, raising your own alpacas. My daughter just completed a large scarf using baby alpaca (chunky) and it was incredibly soft and heavy. She made it for her brother for Christmas. I think that might be my next project.

Let me know how the babies are doing, and I'll be looking for photos. Llamas are so cute.