Spinning the Edges

Spinning the Edges

Spinning connects me in those moments when I feel alone, when I wonder who I am, where I fit in and in what direction I should go. When I feel lost, I spin. At first it’s subtle. I find the way the colors are working together interesting, then slowly I become those colors intertwining, I start to imagine the ply and see the possibilities. I get lost in the feeling of the fiber sliding over my fingers, seeing the crimp of the staple pulling apart and becoming yarn. It’s a miracle. 

Spinning connects me to my grandmothers and great grandmothers, connecting me to the first person who looked at a Yucca leaf and thought, “If I stomp on that and twist it, I can work those fibers with my fingers and make something useful.” There is something ancient and comforting in spinning and the creation of yarn for me, it’s a rhythm that my soul recognizes and delights in.

When I came to SOAR (Interweave’s Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) in October 2011 as the Evitt scholar, I felt my life spinning out of control. I had left my life in Guatemala, where I worked teaching 1st through 4th graders to knit, spin and crochet. It was a time when I felt as though I was growing as a person and impacting the world around me, I enjoyed my work. I followed a gentle and but insistent voice of the Universe saying over and over, “Let go, return, now.” Much of the time it didn’t make sense to me or anyone else in my life. The voice seemed to be saying, “Drop everything you’ve created and go to the States now.” I doubted and struggled and suffered (all self-induced agony of course) and then finally I returned to the United States of America with my family. 

Being in the States was novel at first, I made a list of things I wanted to do, places to go hiking or camping, friends to see, I planned it out like a vacation. I confidently told people the "schedule," but truthfully, I had no idea where we were headed. 

I arrived at SOAR feeling out of place. Everywhere I looked there were people walking, talking, drafting, spinning and wearing awesome handknits, not just simple handknits, but incredible, handspun, handknits. I was sure the Scholarship Committee had made a mistake in selecting me! I had no clue how I would share what I was about to receive. My impulse was to run. Fortunately, my stubborn determination carried me through to the registration table, from then on it was magical. I cast on my first shawl, a simple pattern, but from my own handspun.

My week at SOAR was amazing, incredible, expanding and life changing all rolled into one. I made yarn, I made friends, I knit my shawl, I grew in confidence that I have the ability to make beautiful things that are fiber related and I was terrified for it to end. When it did end my family came to get me. I had to pack up my wheel, fit it (and all of the new stash I had acquired) in the station wagon with all of the camping gear, cooler, games, books, and everyone else’s stuff. The wheel was at the bottom, buried, inaccessible. I saw the blank slate of my life ahead of me and it was scary. Suddenly I was in a part of my life that I had not visualized, nor planned for. There we were, a family of four, on the road, no obligations, no destination and just one hope, to recognize “home” as we drove by on the highways of the U.S.A. We headed west and came to Chicago. There we stayed with a friend from Peru, eating amazing food that we cooked together and speaking Spanish. 

From there we continued onward to Wisconsin, visiting friends in Mt. Horeb. We were able to meet their two year old and discover that they were just days away from the arrival of their second child. Talk about timing, I would never have planned dropping in on the final days of nesting, but it all worked perfectly. We hiked together, talked about parenting, ate good food, laughed and cried. We saw ourselves reflected in the faces of our friends. We remembered who we were. We talked a lot about my experience at SOAR, new people that I had connected with, new ideas that I had brewing. As it turns out they had just inherited a great grandmother’s spinning wheel and wanted to learn how to use it. It was stashed in the corner of the basement. I checked out the wheel and without too much effort it could be up and spinning in no time. I made a list for them and then I brought my wheel in and taught my friend to spin. She made yarn, beautiful yarn. She was a beautiful Goddess spinning beautiful yarn as she waited for the arrival of her child. 

A beautiful baby girl was born at home nine days later.

It was then that my brother in Memphis, Tennessee, called and said that my Dad’s health was declining. He had been diagnosed with a cancer two years earlier. South we went. On our way we stopped at Land Between the Lakes at the Kentucky and Tennessee border. There we visited the old homestead. Men were making tools from pig iron and carving their handles from local woods. Women were tending the fire in the cabin while knitting and spinning in virtual darkness. (My husband says that he doesn’t remember the darkness, he obviously wasn’t knitting.) At the homestead they raised Merino sheep, so I bought some of their fiber with the idea to spin the wool and knit my Dad a small blanket. 

At my parent's home I set up my wheel and explained to my Dad of 77 years of age what I was doing. I told him that I would spin the wool and knit him a small lap blanket. He watched me spinning and said many times “That work looks tedious,” and “Do you enjoy doing that?” I answered, “Yes, I enjoy spinning very much” and I reminded him of the stories that his mother, my grandmother, had shared with me of her childhood growing up in Greece. Her job as a girl was to prepare the flax fiber for her mother to spin into thread for weaving. I reminded him that the spinning of fiber is the source of most of our clothing and we take that for granted. I sat with my Dad for a week. I spun the wool, designed and knit on his blanket for that week, and then we left for South Dakota.

The beautiful soul of my Dad left his body at home nine days later.

On my journey, I realized that spinning had taken me from one edge of life to another. From birth to death, with the mystery of my own life unfolding along the way. I like to think that as that baby waited to be born and as my Dad waited to leave this earth that spinning was a familiar rhythm for each of those souls. I think it reminded them of ancient traditions and this eased their transitions. I know that spinning is that for me, easing difficult times and transitions, reminding me of who I am, and connecting me with the very fiber of our existence. I recognize through my experience with SOAR that in fact my life wasn’t spinning out of control, it was in perfect order and each small twist was creating the fabric of my life. 

I now live in the southern Chilean town of Pucón, where sheep and wool are abundant. I teach English in a local Waldorf school where my children study. I am maintaining my strong connection to Guatemala by organizing fiber tours there, my first tour being in July of 2013! In this tour we will work with Tzutujil Mayan women spinning cotton, using plants for dyeing cotton, and then weaving. I am thrilled to be coming full circle on a dream, and I realize that it was something I mentioned casually at SOAR, “I can take my first tour to Guatemala in 2013,” and now it is coming true. 

Thank you for the opportunity to attend SOAR, it impacted my life in the most amazing ways, and continues to inspire me in my work.

Annie Touliatos Thorstenson

Evitt Scholar SOAR 2011

annie.touliatos@gmail.com

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