Artifacts: Caution! You are Entering a Go Spin Zone.

It’s a warm sunny day in a quaint suburban park. Children are in line for a turn on the slide, but a bakers dozen have gathered around a picnic blanket under a nearby tree. Puzzled parents suspect a stranger is handing out candy, or has a Spongebob episode playing on their laptop.

With closer examination, they see a tiny woman with a Betty Page haircut manhandling what looks like a large fluff of purple cotton candy. She tears a chunk off and lets the kids pass it around. ” This is what sweaters are made of…most of the time!”, proclaims the woman as she twirls a small drop spindle and continues to draft the fibers into yarn. The young onlookers seem mesmerized. They come and go, but a few inquisitive girls stay for the better part of an hour. Her own children occasionally run over for a drink of juice, but pay no mind to their mother’s usual crafty antics.

In recent years, spinning has been riding the coattails of the knitting craze. It’s a natural progression of the curious maker, but all depends on how far down the angora rabbit hole you want to go. In terms of “artifacts”, this maybe one of the oldest crafts known to man. This passage from Wikipedia summarizes it’s inception:

“The origins of spinning fiber to make string or yarn are lost in time, but archeological evidence in the form of representation of string skirts has been dated to the Upper Paleolithic era, some 20,000 years ago.[1] In the most primitive type of spinning, tufts of animal hair or plant fiber are rolled down the thigh with the hand, and additional tufts are added as needed until the desire length of spun fiber was achieved. Later, the fiber was fastened to a stone which was twirled round until the yarn was sufficiently twisted, when it was wound upon the stone and the process repeated over and over.”

Despite its modern emphasis as a means to an end, many eastern cultures continue to utilize spinning as a form of meditation. I’ve embraced this agenda over the past couple years.

It began with the realization that I much prefer acquiring a yarn stash to knitting with it. Between the stress of getting gauge and expressing guilt over half finished projects, I may have blown a microchip. That’s when I stumbled upon a young woman selling her handspun and roving at an art festival. She offered free lessons with a homemade CD spindle, and I was eager to give it a try. My friend Allison can attest that I was absolutely giddy after a few successful yards.

Simple, sustainable, kinetic… spinning is the bees knees. Supplies are hard to find at big-box craft chains, but you may get lucky at a yarn shop. Thankfully, the internet provides a bounty of resources, and plenty of eye candy to boot.

Getting started and inspired:

  • The Joy of Hand Spinning – This site has oodles of videos to teach you spinning techniques along with loads of info and a good selection of supplies.
  • Spindlicity – An online magazine dedicated to spinning. They have ceased publishing new issues, but there are some great articles and patterns in the archives.
  • KnittySpin – Because you already love Knitty.
  • The Yarn Museum – Amazing photos of handspun yarn.

Purveyors of fine fibers and drop spindles:

  • Northstar Alpacas – I absolutely love spinning with alpaca! It’s oh-so soft and fluffy, and great for beginners or those who have wool allergies.
  • Maine Woods Yarn and Fiber – Sells spinning kits complete with spindle, instructions, and yummy colored roving.
  • SpinSanity Spindles – Gorgeous hand painting spindles. “Wild Flower” is featured in the top photo.
  • The Sheep Shed Studio – Mill end roving from the Brown Sheep factory priced as low as $7.50 a pound. I’ve can vouch that the fiber is super soft and dyes beautifully (patience people, I’ll cover that in future post).
  • CJ Kopec Creations – Beautiful custom blended rovings. “Brambleberry” is featured in the bottom photo.

Recommended reading:

Keep comments pithy: name and fiber, name and fiber, name and fiber, if you wish to opine.

Note: The Artifacts series will return to it’ regularly scheduled programming on Sundays once Autumn gets over her severe case of spring fever, which has caused acute weekend frolicking.

Written by Autumn Wiggins

This 2008 interview pretty much sums it up:

1. How would you describe yourself?
An oddly situated performer of thought experiments

2. Do you have any anecdotes about your work (how you got started, frustrating moments, or funny stories)?
At this year's Maker Faire in San Mateo, I gave a presentation on how the trend of green crafting can ultimately address the problem of consumption and waste. Dale Dougherty,the publisher of Make and Craft, later had a gift delivered to me, a staple bound book of poetry: Music Like Dirt by Frank Bidart. This is the last thing one would expect to take home from an event so focused on renegade technology. To my surprise, it was an existential reflection on the human need to make things that I now find myself going back to whenever I need some inspiration to look beyond the materials and processes of crafting.

3. What kinds of things do you do for fun?
In my spare time I enjoy amateur astronomy, outdoor adventures, collecting domain names, and hanging out at coffee shops.

4. What interesting projects are you working on right now?
I'm working to organize community involvement in upcycling, and have a few top-secret website projects up my sleeves!

5. Where do you live? Kids, pets, spouse, occupation?
O'Fallon, IL, a suburb (and I mean a totally typical suburb) of St. Louis, MO. Rather than moving to the more culture friendly urban environment, I am staying put and annoying the heck out of Wal-Mart by throwing a massive indie craft show(Strange Folk) in their backyard. I have a husband, Doug, and two sons: a 7 year old mad scientist named Jack, and 6 year old Max, who we think is an aspiring tattoo artist since he's so fond of drawing all over himself with markers. To pay the bills, I do freelance writing, mural painting, and website design, sell my handmade crafts, teach art classes for kids, and work part -time at a local coffee shop.

6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
The concept known as "Cradle-to-Cradle" is a blueprint for sustainability that states everything we manufacture should be either biodegrable, infinitely recyclable, or intended to be upcycled. This is the basis for many of my ideas of how the crafting community can be more widely involved in solving the environmental crisis.

7. What is your favorite food/color/tool?
granola/green/sewing machine!


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  1. What a wonderful surprise to have my shop mentioned and roving pictured! Thank you so much. I enjoy what I do so much and things like this are just icing on the cake! :O) ~Coby

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