Nothing Like Learning to Get the Wheels Spinning

I have been remiss in actually including yarny, fibery content on this blog, haven’t I? Let’s remedy that.

I begin with two important framing revelations.

Point the first: Learning tends to come easily to me. More specifically, book learning comes easily. It took me years and one master’s degree to figure out that I was confusing being very good at something with really enjoying it. I was that student who wrote one-draft papers the night before they were due and largely earned As. Which is to say, I have not generally had to work at my academic successes like other students, and this ripples over to other learning experiences sometimes.

Point the second: Physical activities that require coordinating multiple limbs don’t tend to come easily to me. (Oh, hush, you, with the 12-year-old snickers. That’s not what I meant, but I couldn’t figure a better way to sum up a tendency that transcends inability at sports.) A few years ago, I took a belly dancing class. Loved it. The first couple classes went well. We learned a lot of the basic moves, broken down one at a time. A shoulder shimmy here, a step and hip thrust there. I felt sexy and had fun. Then the instructor told us we’d be working on a basic choreography by the end of the course. And it was like everything left my brain. I knew how to travel up a row and which foot went where, but the minute I had to coordinate that with an alternating shoulder shimmy or a gyration, I got lost, quickly falling out of formation and nearly stumbling into the woman behind me. Miss Grace I am not.

So this explains a lot of my trepidation about learning to spin on my new wheel. I am a poor student, easily frustrated when I can’t flawlessly pick something up, and for heaven’s sake, I have a double treadle spinning wheel that requires using two feet and both hands. I couldn’t even drive a stick shift.

Naturally, I avoided the wheel for months, letting it sit in the living room where instead of inspiring me to give it a try, it loomed accusingly.

Cat looking concerned about the spinning wheel.

Miss Inara was not too sure about it either.

And then a friend issued a public dare and accompanying bet. Well, that changed things up a bit.

Oh, I was still apprehensive. I dawdled and watched videos on Youtube, I learned a new skill (double knitting) and dove into that a bit, and I slowly brought myself around to getting in and trying to spin. I sat down to my wheel, kind of hoping for prodigy-level instantaneous results.

“So that’s how you make yarn,” my husband said wonderingly at my first attempt.

“No,” I growled. “No, it is not how you make yarn.”

What I had on my hands and bobbin was a mess.

I had watched enough videos to know what I should be doing, and I’d finally figured out treadling, but while I knew you shouldn’t let the twist of the fiber back up into your batt of wool, that’s exactly what had happened. And drafting? The act of controlling and feeding the wool from fluff to something one step closer to yarn? I’m pretty sure I kept changing up which hand controlled the fiber and which pinched it off. I had an irredeemably slubby mess with a twisting snarl where “yarn” met fiber, and I concluded that night’s effort with a pair of scissors and tossing the lumpy efforts in the trash.

It wasn’t all for naught though. I actually did learn a lot from that experience. I figured out what I was doing wrong and what some of my big issues were. I set that effort aside and decided to come back to it another day.

Before I sat down to try again, though, I had a stern talk with myself about it being OK to mess up. I knew that while others were capable of making beautiful handspun yarn that manipulated color and texture in unique ways from commercial handspun, they didn’t get there right away, and neither would I. I knew that every spinner had a lumpy skein somewhere to mark the beginning of their spinning journey. I knew that I was going to mess up before I got it right, that I would probably be swearing at it for a good while before it became a relaxing activity. The screw-ups were the cost of achievement, and the only way past that was to learn to fail quickly and keep moving on to the next attempt.

And then I took a deep breath and dove in.

It was… not that bad, actually. Not that great, either, but I was learning as I went, like when I drafted too small an amount and watched my fiber snap off and go spinning up around my bobbin, where I needed to rescue it, or when I started a new bobbin for the second color of sample fiber that came with the wheel and ended up messing up the placement of my brake band and had to re-figure out how to set everything up. I was messing up, yes, but each hiccup taught me something else about the process.

When my husband got home from work that day, I had something to show him.

“Look!” I said with giddy excitement. “I made crappy yarn!”

Lumpy handspun yarn on bobbins.

It’s nothing special, but like many a childhood school craft, I made it and am proud of it.

One day, I’ll make not-crappy yarn. But that’s not yet, and that’s OK. I’m learning.

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