Spin and Knit Orenburg Lace

Cold Weather Spinning

 

It’s interesting to me that hard winters and soft fibers seem to go together.

 

When I think of the wind whipping across a frozen landscape, I would imagine that the hardiest, most durable fibers would prevail—that every resource would be turned toward strength. But in addition to that tough exterior, nature gives us softness.

 

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With a handcrafted Russion spindle, a warm fire, and some lovely down, I'm all ready for the cold.  

The softest animal fibers seem to come from beasts who stand strong against the cold, their guard hairs paired with downy and delicate wools that trap air and keep them warm. Himalayan goats, dual-coated sheep, musk oxen—all of them keep soft layers close to their skins, interspersed (to the frustration of spinners!) with the long and sturdy hairs.

 

Spinners need a little softness in winter, too, of a special kind. Downy cotton can be great in the summer, but don’t a warm fire, a handful of down fiber, and a cozy chair sound like the best way to spend a cold evening? Down fibers and sitting still mean just one thing to me: a supported spindle. Not even the tiniest breeze stirred up by a spinning wheel, sitting close to a heat source, drawing out lengths of lofty yarn.

 

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  Galina Khmeleva is an expert on Orenburg lace as well as a spinner, knitter, and world-renowned teacher.

My other winter wonder is that some artisans make delicate, lacy, beautiful things while the cold threatens. If the goal were to beat back frigid temperatures, wouldn’t quick-and-dirty yarns and garments be just the thing? Yet knitters in Orenburg turn the very warm and fine yarns into delicate lace prized for its beauty as well as its warmth. Combining the basic knitting of garter stitch with intricate yarnover patterns and imaginative edgings, Orenburg shawls are the proof that delicate lace isn’t just warm weather wear. We need heavy, sturdy worsted fabrics to keep out the wind, but beneath our hard exterior we need some soft lace loveliness to keep us warm.

Maybe we share that with the goats and sheep and other creatures: the need to make a gorgeous softness to keep between ourselves and the harsh world. We just need to spin and knit it ourselves.

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