Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why my spinning is nothing more than an indulgence

I've taken up a new hobby, yarn spinning. I have to admit, I'm very infatuated with this so far. I've borrowed a wheel from a friend in exchange for giving her knitting lessons. (Okay, two quick points: first, who in the world has an extra spinning wheel? And second, who has an extra spinning wheel who doesn't know how to knit?! I couldn't make this stuff up.) Anyway, so I've spun up a couple of bats worth of fiber, and I must say that, so far, I believe it is identifiably yarn. Probably overtwisted, and I have not yet attempted to "set the twist"--an arcane process by which I repeatedly dunk my handspun into hot water, apparently until it confesses that it is a witch, and then beat it repeatedly until it recants. I will also be attempting to "ply" this yarn, which means twisting it together with another batch of yarn in ways that I'm sure would make Rick Warren squirm. This comes before the Witch Trials.

For all that, I really love the process of spinning. It reminds me in a way of nursing a baby. "Um, it does?" you say, "Er, perhaps you're doing it wrong?" Bear with me, this makes sense. The health benefits of nursing cannot be overstated, although no doubt many people have tried, but there's another benefit to it that gets overlooked--the psychological benefit of just sitting with your newborn and feeding her. I don't care how expert a nurser one is, for the first few weeks after delivery it is all but impossible to nurse a baby and do anything else--even read a book. And you know what? That is A-Okay by me. In fact, I think that's one of the sneakier successes of our evolution--forcing new mothers to just sit and be with her new baby, letting her body heal and the bond between herself and the baby develop. Nursing a newborn is a very demanding task--both parties are often learning what they're doing, and newborns are somewhat lacking in coordination. Your focus must be almost all on the task at hand.

And so with spinning. You cannot "spin and X" in my (incredibly limited) experience. Okay, maybe you can spin and watch TV, but really, that's about it. If the other diversion besides spinning is not simply shoveling entertainment straight into your gob with no additional effort on your part (like TV), then you just can't do it while spinning. Both hands are needed, and at least one foot. All of these parts have to be doing different tasks (holding the batting, drafting the batting out, and "treadling" the wheel--spinning it with the foot peddle). It's sort of like a more complicated version of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. And the batting has to be drafted out properly--you actually have to be looking at it (or at least, I actually have to be looking at it). Your focus is very pulled in to the vortex of the spinning wheel, the rhythmic repetitive motion of treadle-treadle-treadle, pinch-pull-slide-pinch-pull-slide... It's calming, it's meditative, and it involves your whole being, top to bottom, brain to foot.

Sadly, what it does not do in any significant sense is further my adaptation goals. "Hunh?! But it's like the most back-to-earth, no-power, *gasp gasp* anything that you can do!" True, it is, and I've no doubt that when power becomes scarce, I'll be glad that it's something I can do without electricity (although only during the daylight). But if I'm being honest, in my current adaptation trajectory, it really isn't very practical. I mean, for one thing, I don't own any sheep, alpacas, mohair or angora rabbits, or any other spin-worthy hair-producing animals (except, possibly, my husband). From whence do I plan to getteth my batting, my grease wool, my hanks of fiber? Because while there are plenty of alpacas in this area (middle-midwest, go figure?), you'd better believe that their owners all have their own wheels. My services will not be immediately called upon in times of economic and/or energy hardship to spin wool for anyone. I won't be able to barter this skill for much, because this skill isn't worth much in my area. We have plentiful stocks of yarn around, and frankly, plentiful stocks of clothes too. No one will need handspun wool, they'll need to learn how to cook lentils! Maybe, many many years from now, knowing how to handspin will be a real boon to my family, but for now, and in the immediate future? Not so much.

So why am I doing it? Because it's fun! Because it's a delightful, meditative, low-energy activity that I feel good about doing. I like what I make, even if it won't save my family--so what? Balance in all things. Many, maybe even most, of what I do during the day is ultimately aimed at trying to adjust our lives to a new future. But not everything. And in fairness, there is a sense in which it will be helpful to have more no-power things to do in the future, so it's not like it's off the charts on the adaptation scale. It's an indulgence that I'm enjoying, but one that should be kept in perspective. It's not gonna keep my family in clothes or food in the future.

Now, on to installing the kitty door and learning to use my jigsaw! Updates on the new-heating regimen forthcoming.

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