Meet Bobbi Daniels–a spinner by happy accident

Bobbi Daniels didn't set out to learn how to spin—but spinning came to her when she needed it the most—and in fact, by following the serendipitous path spinning laid out for her, she's found happiness and a career, and lots of bunnies. We asked Bobbi some questions about her spinning journey.

Bobbi Daniels and her Angora rabbit.

Before bunnies came into her life, Bobbi didn't realize that they had such individual personalities.

Between the amazing yarn angora produces and the lovable bunnies, she was smitten.

Bobbi, How did you get started spinning?

For me, learning to spin was a happy accident. Having unsuccessfully tried to teach myself to knit with a book in junior high, I became convinced that I couldn't do it. Many years later I saw a knitting machine and bought it. I became quite good at machine knitting and ended up becoming a knitting machine dealer and a knitting shop owner. However, so many people came into the shop asking for spinning supplies that I finally relented and said, "Fine, tell me what you want and I'll carry it, but don't ask me any questions because I have no idea what you people are talking about." One of my customers (Paula) said to me one day, "This is silly. With all this spinning stuff sitting around, you need to know how to spin." She brought her wheel in from home and sat there and taught me. I learned on Paula's Louet. She sat by my side, sometimes putting her hands over mine so I could get the feel of the draft. She remarked that I learned it very quickly. I didn't feel confident about it at all. I was, however, immediately captivated by the process and spent as much time as I possibly could at the wheel, spinning up quite a bit of the inventory I carried in the shop. I still couldn't knit with needles, so I knit up all my yarns on the knitting machine. While this was going on I was also working on my graduate degree in education and in the process of going through a divorce. Without consciously realizing it, spinning became my solace. When I just couldn't face the sadness of my situation and would find myself unable to be productive, I could still sit and spin, and after some time at the wheel I would feel better and could get back to what I needed to do. Needless to say, I got a lot of practice spinning.

When did rabbits enter your spinning life?

Well, that's a good story, too. At about the same time, one of my sisters worked as an animal control officer for the county. About six months after I learned to spin, she called me one day and asked, "Can't you spin the hair from an Angora rabbit?" I said that one could, but I that had never done it. She said, "Well, we just got one in here, do you want it?" Between my struggling little business, graduate school, divorce, and two little boys who wanted to eat every single day, I was broke. I asked, "What does it cost to adopt a rabbit?" She answered, "Just get the stinking thing out of here!"  The rabbit was a blue female English Angora that my sons named "Bingo Bunny." That was my first encounter with an Angora rabbit, and she opened up the whole world of angora to me. She had been seriously neglected, and it took me all day to carefully cut the matted hair off of her, which was literally one solid urine-soaked piece from her shoulders to her tail. She quickly became a house bunny. She was box trained and stayed in our large kitchen, never showing any interest in venturing into the rest of the house. She amazed me with her intelligence and personality. Before Bingo came into my life, I had no idea that rabbits were such individuals, so interactive and such fun to have around. Between that and the unbelievable yarn, I was smitten.

When did you start your business?

I had merged my shop with Heindselman's, the oldest yarn shop in the country, and became the spinning, weaving, and knitting machine department. The wonderful ladies there assured me that I was capable of learning to knit with needles and taught me in no time. Soon I was getting requests to teach spinning. I discovered there was quite a market for the handspun angora yarn.  Every time I would pluck Bingo and spin the yarn, someone would be in the shop and want to buy it. Of course, I had planned on using it myself, but I needed the money, and the rabbit was always growing more fiber, so I would sell it. After a while, I had increased my herd to six rabbits, and it wasn't until two years later that I got to keep some yarn for myself.

Eventually I moved to Alaska to take the job as the general manager of the two commercial radio stations in Sitka, and I brought my Angora rabbits with me as a hobby. I would occasionally sell handspun yarns to friends. Not too long after that, I was talked into putting some of my handspun angora into a local artists' show and sale in the summer. Customers who bought that yarn in Sitka were carrying it into yarn shops in other Alaska cities asking for more. The shops contacted me and asked me to wholesale to them, and that was the beginning of Raven Frog Fibers. Now that is my full-time occupation, and I teach spinning and supply wheels to people who earn money spinning the handspun yarns we offer.

What do you recommend for people who are allergic to angora?

This is a hard one because I have basically no experience with allergies. I would like to say that one should first make sure that they are actually allergic to angora. There are many people who assume they are allergic, when in fact they are experiencing the result of poorly harvested and prepared angora yarn. Tiny shedding fibers off of angora yarn get into eyes and noses and create quite a reaction. However, properly harvested and spun angora yarn does not shed, and that problem disappears. If it is truly the animal hair that they are allergic to, there is a synthetic angora fiber now being produced. I have been experimenting with it and will have it at SOAR to share.  I will be very interested in having people try it who are definitely allergic to angora to see if they can comfortably spin it without a reaction.

Bobbi Daniels is teaching at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR), October 24–30, 2010, in Delavan, Wisconsin. Register today at www.interweavesoar.com.

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