Meditation on Progress

When I started spinning, I was enamored by the wealth of new options open to me. Not only new (and infinitely more) color choices, but in sheep breeds. I wanted to honor the materials I was lucky enough to be able to work with.

The problem, though, with that being, as I was, a self-taught beginner, I wasn’t very good at spinning. In the early days, I had a tendency to overtwist and underdraft so severely that the singles often snapped before they made it onto the bobbin. I corrected this travesty by undertwisting everything so studiously that it was not uncommon for my plied yarns to drift apart while I was trying to wind them off the bobbin.

Any skill, if you practice it right, should never feel like it gets easier

I often ended up buying braids of fiber I was in love with, then putting them in a plastic tote for some undefined future where I could “honor the wool”, without ever considering what that meant.

The problem with that whole strategy is twofold:

  1. Buying beautiful fiber and chucking it in a bin is not, in fact, honoring the wool; and
  2. Trying to learn how to spin using only wool I didn’t like did not, in fact, incentivize me to spin.
A Three Waters Farm delight

On top of that, I was reading a lot of spinning books, all which emphasized how many different yarns it was possible to spin, how important it was to challenge yourself, break out of your rut, move beyond your default yarn… which is great, if you have a default yarn and a rut to fall into. But I didn’t. I was a beginner who didn’t yet know what felt natural, because it all felt unnatural.

Any skill, if you practice it right, should never feel like it gets easier; you take on more challenging things as you get better at simple ones. But (here’s the key) you have to get better at simple things! And you only get better at simple things by doing them, over and over. So you have to enjoy the journey. Spin with the good wools.

If you can trust your knowledge, and trust the accumulation of your life upon and into itself, no time is wasted unless it is time spent avoiding your body’s wants.

Coming back to spinning this year, I gave myself permission to spin with the good wools. I gave myself permission to not have a plan. I gave myself permission to make something small. I gave myself permission to use the good stuff. I gave myself permission to just let my body do what felt natural.

I dug out my Polwarth/silk Three Feet of Sheep sampler from Frabjous Fibers and spun up the deep viridian bundle on my Ladybug, and when I was done I spun up the red, and it felt good. These are saturated, tonal shades; the silk catches the light, and the final effect is deep and rich and satisfying. I didn’t sample, or measure, or plan. I let my hands figure it out. And they did. It reminded me that taking time away from a craft is just as important as time spent practicing. If you can trust your knowledge, and trust the accumulation of your life upon and into itself, no time is wasted unless it is time spent avoiding your body’s wants. I did not always understand this. I am starting to believe it now.

Woven squares, plied red yarn for holly, caked 3WF singles ready for plying.

Somewhere in the spinning of those two I found this project on the Schacht website for a Zoom Loom wreath. It was good enough! I had a purpose now, and that purpose was to create something I could hang to celebrate the winter season, year after year. It would look homemade, probably more clumsy than elegant. Perfect.

I spun the other two green-family fiber bundles from the Three Feet kit, then wove them up. I got about seven squares of yarn from each one – not a bad supply, but not enough. I raided my fiber stash for other greens. I pulled apart a few hand-dyed braids (mostly from the 2020-2021 Three Waters Farm fiber club) extracting just what I needed and repacking the rest. This is an evolution in my artistic consciousness: viewing these hand-dyed braids as materials for me to use as I wish, and not some irrevocable assignment to leave them precisely as they are.

Digging through the fiber stash, I uncovered some turtles I’d spun on my Turkish spindle in spring/summer 2021. I hadn’t had a plan for those but had just been making my way through a braid. I pilfered the green ones and added them to the plying pile.

In order to maximize my yardage, I’ve been caking the singles and plying from both ends. The Turk-spun singles, however, are much finer, so I chain plied those to bulk them up a bit. They’re still a bit thinner, but I’m entranced by the differences in look and feel, as well as the consistency of the color as compared to the end-to-end two-plied yarns.

At the moment, I have about half the amount of squares I will need, and enough yarn spun up to get me close. I’ll weave what I have and spin more if I need. One of the joys of this process is working through a riot of different textures and spinning a lot of different wools at once—some of them feel natural, and some of them take more effort. Merino is a bit of a struggle, although the yarn I spun from that is divinely soft supremely worth it, while the Falkland wool felt wholly at home in my hands. That’s something I’m going to look out for in the future. After this, I might come back and spin up the rest of that Falkland braid, just to enjoy it.

What I want most of all is body knowledge: to be able to respond to the fiber by intuition and feel

I’m not a scientist. Data collection doesn’t interest me all that much. I don’t want to keep diligent notes of twist angles and whorl ratios and treadle counts. What I want most of all is body knowledge: to be able to respond to the fiber by intuition and feel. To simply know what is good enough, what inconsistencies will smooth away in the plying, the finishing, the working up. And that takes time, and that takes practice.

A day or two’s work

These little Zoom Loom squares are good for me. They encourage me to move through a body of work, to not get hung up on anything large, but to do something good enough and move on. It feels good.

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