How spinning can help you stalk wild animals

Meet a Natural Spinner

DeAnna Dailey came to spinning in a very normal way (through the accumulation of hair from a pet)—though the direction she's taken her spinning is not very common (spinning is part of her daily life as a nature skills teacher). We've asked her some questions about her unusual journey.

DeAnna Dailey applies her knowledge of primitive skills to spinning.


Nettle is just one of the many spinning materials that could be in your own backyard!

DeAnna, how did you become a spinner?

One early spring, I was living in the country, and a very hairy orange cat adopted me. At the time, my prize possession was a red velvet couch. As the season warmed, there was more and more orange hair on my red velvet couch until one day there were huge tufts of orange hair, and I thought to myself, "There has to be some useful thing that can be done with all this hair!" My mother-in-law was a quilter and had just started learning to spin, so I called her up and asked her how spinning works. As she described it, I realized it was just a fancy version of making cordage. I had been teaching primitive skills for years already, so I had a good grasp of how to create cordage out of plant material, for lashing together primitive shelters or for the string on a bow drill. So I spent one whole afternoon making yarn out of orange cat hair just using primitive hand-wrap techniques (I didn't know how to make a spindle yet). From there, I was hooked. I tried spinning everything. Mostly, I didn't have much success. I didn't know anything about different amounts of twist for different fiber lengths, so I could only get about an inch out of cottonwood fluff before it would break. But I kept working at it, and my mother-in-law bought me a spindle and eventually let me use her new spinning wheel, and . . . well, you all probably understand what the obsession was like from there.

How does spinning influence your daily life?

I just finished reading Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont, and it has revolutionized the way I spin; since reading it, I spin when I walk. This week, I am living in a little camp spot on the edge of the woods, where I am teaching Advanced Scout Awareness to middle-school kids. It's a 20-minute walk through the woods to the meet-up spot, so each morning and afternoon I spin for 20 minutes as I walk to and from the meet-up spot. I have a spindle that I carved myself out of cedar and big-leaf maple to demonstrate handmade tools to kids, and I teach them to spin various fibers if they need string for a bow. Also, I spin once a week at the local coffee shop with my knitter/spinner crew. I measure walks with the dog in yards spun rather than blocks walked (it's possible that I'm slightly compulsive about it).

What draws you to study spinning from the natural perspective?

When I "discovered" spinning, what I realized is that I already knew how to do it because of my nature skills—I knew how to make cordage and bow string—making the leap to yarn wasn't too hard. But the real connection was made for me when I was trying to learn a particular set of skills that are used for stalking wild animals. The brain space that's required to be invisible in the woods is that same meditative state that many artists experience when they are immersed in a project. I experience it with simple knitting projects, but much more so with spinning. So realizing that spinning would actually help me accomplish nature-related goals really inspired me to see how connected the two things could be.

What do you love about being an outdoor spinner?

What's not to love? I love spinning; I love being outside. For me, spinning brings with it a strong sense of connection to my ancestors and to the many, many people who have spun threads throughout history. The natural world also brings me a strong sense of connection, so the combination of the two places me in the center of an infinitely complex web of connections and interrelations that can really only be described as magical.

What do you think can inspire a spinner to head outdoors?

In my experience, most of us wish we had more time to spend in nature. And most of us wish we had more time for spinning. I don't feel like it's my job to inspire people to want to go outside. Mother Nature does a much better job of that than I can. What I can offer is a way to combine those interests so that not only can you do both, but each of them actually enhances the other so that the quality of your spinning and the quality of your connection with nature are both improved. You will find yourself empowered to spend your time on the things you already love to do, without missing out on either one.

DeAnna Dailey is teaching at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR), October 24-­30, 2010, in Delavan, Wisconsin. Register today at



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