Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Investing in my Craft

When it comes to new hobbies, I tend to be conservative in my financial investment until I know this is something I truly want to pursue. Since embarking on this journey of Sheep2Socks my biggest investment has been time thanks to the generosity of friends from whom I have borrowed equipment and picked their brains. Given the proximity of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival--one of the pilgrimage stops for fiber enthusiasts--I decided to take a class. Mind you, this was back when I was still spinning wool breakfast sausages in abject frustration.

"The classes fill up at lightning speed," I was told by everyone. So I treated it like trying to get tickets to a popular concert, my finger hovered over the BUY button at the appointed time that EventBrite opened online registration. I sat in the van after market waiting for 2:00 PM. 2:00 PM came and went with no change to the event status. 2:02 PM, "Damn, I need to refresh the page to get it to work," I thought stupidly to myself. Four spots left in the class. Buy. Checkout. Pay with PayPal. Success. I had scored a spot to Abby Frankquenmont's Spinning Bootcamp and I felt like I had just scored front row tickets to Hamilton.

In the time between signing up for the class and the day of the class I had finally gotten the hang of spinning, but the mechanics and lingo were still swirling in the ether of my mind. What was all this about twist everyone talked about? I just knew that my roving was passing through my fingers and on to the bobbin as the wheel spun around.

The day came for class and I put on clothing without horn holes or farm stains and headed south of the Mason Dixon. I thought the class would be at the fairgrounds, but the address led to a convention center at a golf course a few miles past the fairgrounds. Parking the van between a Porsche and Masserati, I hauled out the borrowed Ashford and headed to find the class.

There were eighteen participants, including myself. Women of all ages and a token male. There was an assortment of traditional wheels, both Castle and Saxony, and a few e-spinners, including the instructor's which had a tachometer her performance engine mechanic husband had installed for her so she could prove a point in an online slap-fight with another spinner. Who knew it could be such a competitive arena?

One of the main reasons I chose this class was for the instructor's personal experiences as the child of cultural anthropologists studying textiles in Peru. I knew this chick was going to be as interesting as she was informative. An excellent instructor in spinning as well as history, economics, design and mechanics, Abby is also an opinionated woman; I felt right at home.

Also the wife of a performance car mechanic, Abby was able to explain the technical aspects of spinning in terms with which I was familiar. What held interest for me, though, was the idea that textiles were an act of independence.

You ever notice how when you take up an interest in something it tends to begin popping up everywhere? So there's this wonderful conversation with a group of people about spinning for fun versus necessity.

The following month I listened to Jefferson's Daughters: Threee Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison in which it detailed a number of issues that were discussed in the workshop. At the time of the Revolutionary War most textiles were imported from England. In the struggle for independence, domestic textile production became an act of rebellion. Founding fathers who were also farmers and plantation owners planted flax, cotton and hemp to be transformed into cloth onsite. Young slave girls not yet capable of working in the fields were put to work in small mills processing fibers, spinning and weaving. Young women of the house were traditionally gifted a fine spinning wheel for their 16th birthday although their spinning was limited to the finer wools that were gentle on the hands. Despite Sally Hemming's children to Jefferson were still slaves, he rewarded them with positions of relative ease compared to that of the other slaves. For instance, one of Sally's daughters worked in the textile mill, but she was only allowed to spin wool and was able to remain at her work in the mill far past when most girls were sent into the fields.

Another take-away from the workshop dealt with the physical and mental mechanics of spinning. Instead of spinning for hours and hours to learn a particular skill, Abby suggested just fifteen minutes at a time and then sleep on it so the brain can process what the hands had done. Instead of sitting for an hour to spin and getting up stiff, I now break up my spinning time into ten or fifteen minute increments during the day.

The big break-through came when I began switching from spinning my nep-infested (nep is a new word meaning small knots of fibers that are a result of second cuts during shearing) to professionally carded roving. The first win was with a tie-dyed colored ball of Merino gifted to me by one of my regular market customers. Working with variegated roving allowed me to see the twist thus understanding the dynamics I had been missing until then.

Then I broke into the bag of gorgeous roving given to me by my chicken processor's mother. "Take this, I'll never use it. It's been taking up space in my closet for years," she said handing me a bag of mystery fiber and a huge box of locks. Only after Abby's workshop did I realize the value of her gift. The mystery roving was the color and consistency of an old biker's beard, but the long staple (meaning the length of individual fibers) made roving flow through my fingers.

Now I felt comfortable to begin to experiment with different tension settings and the speed of the flier.

The shearer has been here which means I've been on this humbling journey for a year now. Things I though would be easy have required much practice and patience. With all of the bobbins I possess now almost full it's time to move on to the next step of this process--plying.

Stay tuned......

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