Tossing spindles

I was looking back, waaay back, the other day, at the second issue of Spin-Off  (Fall 1978). This popped out at me: a short article written by Harry and Olive Linder, one of the shining lights and great teachers of the spinning community back in the day. Harry and his wife, Olive, had just traveled in the Guatemalan highlands, and encountered an unusual spinning style in Nahualá, a village in a high mountain pass near Lake Atitlan.

The men in Nahualá spun wool from their own coarse, dark sheep on heavy high-whorl drop spindles. Their method was to spin an arm's-length, run the spindle up their thigh to create more twist, toss the spindle on the ground to keep it still, and back off from it while drafting more wool for the extra twist to run into. They would repeat this thigh-twist/spindle-toss/back-off action three or four times before winding several yards of wool onto their spindle. Harry's little article includes an ink-wash illustration of a Nahualá man wearing his traditional traje (clothing) which included a short woolen kilt of black and white checked wool and a dark woolen jacket.

That was thirty years ago. The men of Nahualá still wear their kilts, but do they spin? Fiona Laurie spent a year in the Guatemalan highlands and  wrote a fascinating article which appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Spin-Off. One of her photos shows a  man in Nahualá spinning wool on a heavy wooden spindle wheel. Sheep raising continues, weaving kilts continues, but friends who live in Guatemala profess never to have seen the hand spindle spinning technique that Harry described. I guess I'll just have to go see for myself. Stay tuned.

The daily wardrobe of men in parts of northwestern Guatemala hasn't changed in decades. Compare this man near Sololá with the illustration in Harry and Olive Linder's article from thirty years ago.


–Linda Ligon

Founder of Interweave and Creative Director

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