Rising to the Spinzilla Challenge: Milissa Dewey’s Story

We’re in the thick of Spinzilla week—how’re your spinning goals measuring up this year? In the Fall 2018 issue of Spin Off, Christina Oliveri interviewed Milissa Dewey who decided spin exclusively on antique spinning equipment during 2017’s event. In the end, Milissa had spun 36,339 yards and placed 2nd internationally in the Rogue Spinner category and 5th overall.

On a narrow, cluttered street in West Asheville in the mountains of North Carolina, a Volkswagen bus sits in front of a small house. The house contains a treasure trove of antique oddities of all kinds, the best of which are related to fiber. Giant barn looms, sewing machines, spinning wheels, and fiber tools occupy every square foot. This is the home of Milissa and Alan Dewey. Together, they are Bobbin Boy, restorers extraordinaire of antique fiber equipment. They create bobbins, flyers, and distaffs, and can reproduce almost anything! Through Bobbin Boy and her latest venture, Mountain Mama Weavers, Milissa has acquired many wild stories. This yarn, however, is about her first Spinzilla adventure.

Spinzilla

Milissa stands with some of the equipment used in her challenge. She explains, “The point of the wide range of equipment was that I didn’t want to falsely focus attention on a specific type of wheel. If you are spinning appropriate fiber on a given wheel, virtually all of the antiques in the whole wide world were [intended] for production spinning.” All photos by Will Dewey

Spinzilla is an annual global competition sponsored by the The National NeedleArts Association (TNNA) to see who can spin the most yardage in a week. Milissa had wanted to participate in Spinzilla since 2016, but having missed the deadline, she sat that one out.

When registration went live in 2017, she was ready. She says, “For some Gollum-like reason, I wanted that niddy-noddy grand prize. It seemed like it was already almost mine—my precious . . . I was seized with the desire to win.”

From that point, the competition consumed her. Forgoing a detailed plan, Milissa pulled out all of her equipment and fiber and spent the day before the competition testing, tuning, and making fluffy piles of fiber. She knew from the start that she wanted to use only antique equipment, being a historian. She says, “The antique stuff was the high-speed production equipment of its time. There was never any reason to question the work capabilities of properly restored antique equipment, including the ancillary pieces (such as the pirn winder, etc.).” From her herd, she decided to use three antique great wheels, an eighteenth-century Saxony-style flax wheel, three Canadian production wheels (CPWs), a lovely turn-of-the-century pirn winder, a squirrel cage swift, two weasels, a bobbin holder, and enormous spools from her antique industrial rug braiders.

Her fiber assortment was made up of various wools, alpaca, mohair, silk, cotton (Pima and naturally colored coton jaune), and flax (line and tow). She chose her fibers based on what she had available in her stash; having just bought an entire shearing from an alpaca breeder, there was a lot of alpaca to spin up.

Spinzilla

Along with the brass and silver niddy-noddy charms that Alan made to mark Milissa’s placement in the international rankings, Milissa keeps a weavers’ guild ha’penny from 1794 on a gold chain.

Milissa’s husband, Alan, took the week off to support her endeavor. He would skein, wind huge spools on the pirn winder, measure, weigh, card, and help out with everything except spinning. Leftovers from the refrigerator and oceans of tea would fuel her spinning. Each day, she woke up earlier and stayed up later, but she managed to get five hours or so of sleep each night.

At the end of it all, an exhausted Milissa had acquired an education no money could buy and a mountain of yarn to show for her efforts!

—Christina Oliveri

Christina Oliveri loves to spin, knit, crochet, sew, dye, and hoard wool. She is also an avid sheep-to-shawl competitor with her team, Spin City from NYC, though she now resides in North Carolina.

To peek inside Milissa’s personal diary and find out just what she was thinking during her Spinzilla adventure, download the Fall 2018 issue of Spin Off.

Featured Image: Milissa hoists the 36,339 yards of yarn that she spun during Spinzilla. The yarns comprise various wools, alpaca, mohair, silk, cotton (Pima and coton jaune), and flax (line and tow). She says, “It is unusual to spin a wide range of fibers, but I needed to do this to show the production capacity of the various wheels.”


Up your spinning game for Spinzilla!

 

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