Thigh Spinning in the Pacific Northwest

At the end of February, spinners, weavers, and scholars gathered for the 1st International Salish Wool Weavers Symposium (SWWS). Hosted by the Suquamish Museum in Washington State, this was the first event of its kind. Learn more about the symposium in last week’s Spinner’s Connection story.

Shaa (right) teaches Ashli Tyre and other attendees the technique of thigh spinning at the Salish Wool Weaver's Symposium. Photo: Kathy Cadigan.

Shaa (right) teaches Ashli Tyre and other attendees the technique of thigh spinning at the Salish Wool Weaver’s Symposium. Photo: Kathy Cadigan.

Weaver and spinner Ashli Tyre attended the symposium and created some breathtaking yarns using a thigh-spinning method. She tells us more about her workshop:

“At the first annual Salish Wool Weaving Symposium in Suquamish, Washington, Tlingit weaver Shaadootlaa Tinaa’Yeil Gunaxoo’Kwaan, or Shaa, a tribal employee of the Nisqually tribe, taught thigh spinning. Thigh spinning requires no tools; one needs only a hand and a thigh. Shaa’s raw materials include wool from the mountain goat gathered from Alaska and fine strips of boiled yellow cedar that has been ceremonially harvested from beneath the bark of the yellow cedar tree of Alaska.

(Left) Mountain goat wool and strips of yellow cedar. (Right) Shaa's finished warp using wool and cedar. Photo: Ashli Tyre.

(Left) Mountain goat wool and strips of yellow cedar. (Right) Shaa’s finished warp yarn spun with wool and cedar. Photo: Ashli Tyre.

“We practiced with short, narrow strands of wool. With a forward motion of the palm across the thigh, we applied twist to the two strands separately. Releasing the singles while holding at the correct point causes the two strands to twist together. Then, a backward motion with the palm across the thigh further applies twist to the yarn for Raven’s Tail Weaving. As you can imagine, all of this is much easier with a wet palm.


Ashli’s practice skein using angora/merino pencil roving and nettle string. Photo: Ashli Tyre.

“After understanding the basic movements of applying twist in thigh spinning, we added very fine strips of wet boiled yellow cedar into the spinning process. The cedar gave the yarn an entirely different hand, and the necessary strength to use for warp in Chilkat weaving.”

Learn more about the Chilkat Tlingit spinning and weaving tradition, and watch the Suquamish Museum calendar for upcoming events.

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