Learning to spin, take two

We invited Lory Widmer Hess of Chestnut Ridge, New York, to share her insights as she learned to spin on her second attempt. Lory is the Managing Editor for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.

Realizing the potential of spinning

Lory Widmer Hess

My first attempt to learn to spin, on a homemade drop spindle in a Waldorf teacher training program, ended in total frustration. Years later I asked my husband, a lapsed but capable spinner, to show me on a wheel. His method was to sit down and spin away, telling me to copy him. But when I sat down at the wheel, I felt I was facing a monster that either snatched my fiber away or sulkily refused to take hold of it at all. I gave up.

When I heard about a year-long course at the Fiber Craft Studio near my home in Chestnut Ridge, New York, though, I jumped at the chance. Given a whole year, I might make some progress.

The Fiber Craft Studio classroom. Photo: Shana Welkin Kestrel.

Our class of eighteen women met on one Saturday per month, slowly following the transformation of an entire silver-gray Romney fleece that we washed, teased, carded, and finally began to spin. In further stages we would go into the process of dyeing and knitting a garment; but I had to get over the spinning hump first.

I took up the drop spindle once more. I tried to trust the weight of the spindle, letting it do its work while I did mine: finding the right rhythm between motion and stillness, and sensing the right amount of fiber to feed to the twist. As beginners tend to do, I fed it too much and the yarn clumped up, then too little and it broke. But when I found the right balance, it was as though something outside me met its counterpart within; the chaos of life was brought into order. Around me, groans of frustration followed by cries of joy showed that my classmates were experincing the same.

Lory with teacher Renate Hiller. Photo: Shana Welkin Kestrel.

As the wool transformed under our hands, personal stories of transformation began to emerge. A kindergarten teacher told how a fearful six-year-old boy in her class, who usually had his hands completely closed up, finally relaxed and opened them in the tub where she was washing a fleece. A tired mother of a toddler noticed how bits of carded wool liked to cling together, an image of the warmth and love she wanted to create in her home. For a troubled sleeper with thoughts spinning out of control, the act of spinning paradoxically brought focus and calm.

Our hands form our bridge between outer and inner; with them we can transform physical matter to make something new, never seen before in the world, but also representing our deepest creative selves. What would I create, now that I had finally learned to spin? More than just yarn, I suspected.

—Lory Widmer Hess

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