The onset of shearing creates spring fever in spinners. We do not even have to raise sheep to be eager to see them shorn. A trip to a nearby farm during shearing season can provide a year’s worth of daydreaming—just looking at wool on-the-hoof can plant visions of the yarn, sweater, or blanket the fleece would become in our hands! Once the wool is liberated from the sheep and brought to the skirting table, the sheep (shorn of all dignity) joins the others shivering in the pasture. Meanwhile our detailed examination of the fleece has begun. Like students in anatomy lab, we tug and test, part and separate, sort and pick, remove and discard the fleece until the full beauty of the locks and luster lay revealed before us. Once home, a day of scouring removes suint and surface dirt. The wet wool is laid out on old screens set on chairs as the enclosed porch turns into a drying room. To the uninitiated, this activity must appear “shear” madness.
Several of you have voiced a similar experience in your group’s newsletters. Jude Daurelle of the Northwest Regional Spinners’ Association learned to spin in the late 1970s when she missed the Edmonds Ferry, saw a spinning wheel in the knitting shop, and went home that night “richer by a pair of handcards, a spindle, and a wonderful soft, sweet lanoline smelling, spectacularly charcoal gray, lovely, warm, comfy, great, splendid, fleece. All mine!” She worked away at that fleece for two years in every spare minute. “I kept saying I was making mittens for the whole family. In the end I had enough to make hundreds of mittens and some socks, too. . . .”
In a recent newsletter, Rosemary Papp of the Spinner’s Flock (Michigan) recalled the pros and cons of early debates on spinning “in the grease” and the misconceptions about using handspun yarn as warp. Many years ago, after carefully reading advertisements in an issue of Spin-Off , she sent away for samples from some distant sheep producers. One fleece was shipped to her at work where she was notified by the mailroom that her order of “fertilizer” had arrived. She says, “It really was not that odoriferous, just a sharp contrast to its surroundings.” After trying different approaches, she learned to reinvent her own method of spinning. For her, Spin-Off “reinforces the experience of being part of the spinning community and (is) a validation that our handspinning is a significant and worthwhile pursuit.”
Member Birdsong Sundstrom of the Foothill Fibers Guild (California) wrote how spinning is about process, even more so than knitting. “Planning a project from start to finish, including selecting the right fiber choice for the desired yarn is deeply creative and deeply rewarding.” She thinks yarn shops have helped us recognize the qualities of different fibers, but she gets “much closer to the sources when spinning and seeing how the fibers differ in length, crimp, and feel, as well as opportunities for choices about how to handle these differences in turning fiber into yarn.”
Whether we card that fleece by hand or have it milled into ready-to-spin sliver, those dreams of its potential and our enjoyment grow with the turn of our spindle or wheel. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I believe that the yarn we spin is capable of mending the broken warp and woof of our life.” His words voice our own understanding of how spinning is often a healing activity and last year’s fleece becomes the dream of beginning again. Perhaps the motto is not shear madness, but sheer inspiration. Happy spring!
Has your group finished a special project or planned a spectacular event? If you would like to see it pictured here, send a photo and brief caption of the activity to us for the column. Are you traveling this summer and hope to connect with other spinners? Check out the Spinning Guilds located along the way or at your destination by visiting Spinning Resources on this website. Your newsletters form the content reported below, and I love to read them. Please continue to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s stay connected!