To Spin a Continuous Thread

To Spin a Continuous Thread


Alden Amos at Convergence 1982 shown as part of the Fall 1987 10th Anniversary Issue of Spin-Off. Photo: Corrine Goodman.

Spinning continually reminds us that we are part of living history. When my parents found their place in the "back to the land" movement of the early 1970s, they acquired an antique great wheel and flax wheel. Thirty-five years later I learned to spin and my mother was eager to send me the wheels, but they were thousands of miles away and too large for my apartment. I'm proud to have them in the family, though, and when I feel up to it I want to learn to spin on them.

To be the editor of Spin-Off is to teeter on the edge between paying homage to the magazine's four-decade past and (perhaps iconoclastically) investigating new directions. But unlike my parents' old wheels, past issues of the magazine are ready at hand and eager to divulge their treasures. I was paging through the 1987 issues the other day and came across names we're proud to have in our pages today—Deb Robson, Alden Amos, Sally Fox, Bobbie Irwin, Patsy Zawistoski, Sara Lamb—as well as some treasured authors whose loss we still feel—Persis Grayson, Ella Baker, Linda Berry Walker.

I found an article from Deb Robson in honor of Spin-Off's tenth anniversary in 1987, "Reading History in the Classifieds," that reminds me, well, "'twas ever thus." I hope you'll get a kick out of it; try substituting "2014" for "1987" and see how true it still rings:

 "I've been looking for the thread of knowledge, puzzling over the spindle that has passed from hand to hand. Handspinning—once an essential survival skill—nearly became a lost craft, a forgotten art. The Industrial Revolution began in the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth swept hearths clear of spinsters.

"Nearly two centuries later, handspinners are everywhere. We're not quite as ubiquitous as ants, but as I've moved around the continent in the last fifteen years I've always known there would be other spinners wherever I went.


Fall 1987 10th Anniversary Issue of Spin-Off.

"How did spinning miss extinction? And why are there enough practitioners of this anachronistic activity to warrant a variety of books and magazines, produced by editors who ply their trades with word processors and other tools of modern technology, yet go home to the Saxony wheel and the clay-whorl spindle?"

. . . .

"The story of handspinning in its most recent decade is as interesting to observe as was its close call with extinction. If, in 1977, the practice of making yarn by hand could support a regular publication devoted to its cause, then we can consider it no longer an endangered skill. In 1987, we have access to many different wheels and types of spindles, heirloom and contemporary. We can get a variety of fibers—in many preparations and colors—which the early spinners could hardly have imagined. The early books are still around, and new ones appear steadily.

"For a detailed study of the decade, we'll have to wait until we have a little more perspective—and more space in the magazine! However, this is the time to gather observations, and we've polled a number of spinners who have watched our most recent progress, asking where they think we were then—and where we are now."

—An excerpt from "Reading History in the Classifieds" by Deborah Robson, Spin-Off Fall 1987, pages 20–25.

Happy spinning,

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