Respect the Spindle! Q&A with Abby Franquemont

I did my first spinning on a handspindle. Like many spinners, after I got my feet wet I moved up to a wheel, and there I remained for a long time. I felt that while the spindle was a fun first step, it was just a stepping stone on the way to wheel spinning. After a couple years of spinning, and especially after witnessing a contest between spindlers and wheel spinners at this year's Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (more to come on that later), my view of spindles has changed drastically. These are fabulous tools, and I no longer wonder why many spinners choose to spin exclusively on a spindle. While I still have a lot to learn about spindle spinning, I now know that the spindle isn't the dorky little brother of the wheel, it's the wife to the wheel's husband, the salt to the wheel's pepper—equal, just with a different personality. I think there is one person in particular who could easily be described as a champion of the spindle—Abby Franquemont. Her new book Respect the Spindle is a fabulous primer to the world of spindle spinning. I had a chance to chat with Abby about her book, her spinning life, and why she thinks the spindle is such a valuable tool.

Stefanie: How did you get started spinning, and what led you to the spindle?

Abby: When I was 5 years old, my parents (who were anthropologists with a specialty in textiles) moved our family to Chinchero, Peru, a town famed for producing textiles for centuries. When our new community discovered that I was already 5 years old but didn't spin, they took me in hand immediately and set about making sure I learned. There, everybody—and I do mean everybody—learned to spin starting in infancy, and the spindle has been the tool of choice for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

S: What is it that you like about using the spindle versus using the wheel?

A: The spindle can go with me anywhere! I use wheels too, but spindles are infinitely portable. Plus, they're really fast—you can't beat a spindle for spinning fine. They're also silent and inexpensive, and they're a fundamental tool as old as humankind.

S: Why did you want to write this book?

A: I was lucky enough to grow up in a living textile tradition stretching back to the earliest days of human civilization. For a long time, I took that totally for granted, and never really thought about what I could do with spindles. But in the past decade, I've come to realize the lore of spindles is some of the most at-risk lore there is in any field, and all it would take to lose it would be for nobody to pass it on. Writing it down is a great way to try to keep that from happening.

S: Why should people try spindle spinning?

A: It's affordable, it's fun, it's flexible… I think spinning in general is important for the greater understanding of textiles and yarn that it provides, and spindles are the most straightforward and simple tool for spinning yarn. But even if they're simple, there's no limit to what you can do with them. Even if you already spin with a wheel, spindle spinning can inform that process and help you refine things even further.

S: What's one tip you would give to people just starting to use a spindle?

A: I like what Maggie Casey says—anything worth doing well is worth doing badly for a while first.

S: How many spindles do you own?

A: Let's just say "lots." They range from rustic to fanciful to exotic and I couldn't begin to count them. I'm not done acquiring them either! I love good tools, and there are some wonderful spindles out there.

S: What's your favorite part of the book?

A: I love the step-by-step photography. Spindle spinning is intimate and individual, and working with a great team to find ways to show details and big-picture stuff was amazing. I'm so pleased with how they turned out.

S: Do you have a favorite spindle spinning story (weird spindle adventures, etc)?

A: Wow, just one? I take my spinning with me pretty much everywhere, so that's almost like asking if I have a favorite story about wearing shoes or eating food. It's such an integral part of my life I almost don't see it. My favorite part, though, is probably teaching new spinners and spreading the love of spinning, and so the stories about when that happens tend to be my favorites.

You can pre-order Respect the Spindle from the Interweave store now—it'll be available on November 16th. While you're there don't forget Abby's first instructional DVD, Drafting: The Long and Short of It!



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