January 2022

Drawn to Spinning in Spite of a Mind Made Up

During the Month of July, while bicyclists tackle the Tour de France, spinners round the world participate in the Tour de Fleece.
The Tour de Fleece has 3 objectives:

Challenge Yourself.
Have fun.

While there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few basic guidelines:

  1. Spin every day that the Tour rides and rest on the rest days.
  2. Spin something challenging on days when the Tour is tackling the challenging mountain stages.
  3. Wear yellow on the final day to announce victory!

I’ve always thought this would be fun to do. So this year, I’ve joined a team and am trying to spin every day of the tour. My local yarn store (LYS), The Yarn Store at Nob Hill, is helping our team, Team Spinsters of Nob Hill, by providing incentive gifts (cycling caps and water bottles) and spinning fiber, as well as hosting our weekly Sunday gatherings.

I haven’t been spinning much in the past few months, but spinning is something I really do love. And yet, many years ago, I was dragged into this hobby quite reluctantly.

The story, first published in 2013 on the Goshen Commons website, tells that story.


, Goshen Commons

To turn, turn

will be our delight,

‘Till by turning, turning

we come ’round right.

“Simple Gifts”


On Saturday, as this post is being published, I will be at Lindenwood Retreat Center with about 20 other people. Something will be turning — much to my delight. I will be spinning. Not spinning as in a form of exercise on a stationary bicycle at a gym, but spinning as in making yarn from fiber. Some day, the yarn I am spinning will become something warm and wooly.

Spinning seems an appropriate interest for a modern homesteader. After growing my own produce, making my own clothes is a natural extension. (By that reasoning, I should really be sewing as well, but that only happens rarely.) Taking this even further, I would be raising the sheep from which I get my fiber, but I can’t really do that on a city lot. So, I do the next best thing and buy fiber from some of my spinning sisters at this retreat who do raise sheep.

I got into spinning quite reluctantly. As a teenager, I had decided never to do anything remotely resembling traditional household work. So I didn’t cook. While in graduate school, I subsisted solely on cheese sandwiches and ice cream. I did manage to keep the apartment somewhat clean and I did do my laundry. But I certainly didn’t do any crafts: be it sewing, or knitting or crocheting.

One day, a friend told me about a spinning class she had taken at a local yarn store. She was eager to show me what she had learned. She assured me that I would love learning to spin. She was insistent and she was a good friend, so I decided to humor her and let her show me. But I had already decided that I would definitely not like it.

We got together one evening and she showed me what to do. It’s a complicated process in which you have to coordinate hands and feet. You draw out of the fibers (drafting), letting them feed onto the bobbin, all the while treadling to keep the drive wheel moving. But, maybe because I am an organist, I picked up on the rhythm of the movements quite easily. And, in spite of all my internal efforts to reject the entire endeavor, I fell in love with it.

A month later, we moved from Chicago to Seattle. In my first week in Seattle, I found a yarn and fiber store. Before the week was up, I was carrying home a box with a disassembled spinning wheel. That evening, I put it together. And I have been using that spinning wheel ever since – for 23 years.

Spinning is an activity in which I relax. It is the perfect remedy for a hectic day. When I start a spinning project, I usually have no finished product in mind, so I don’t feel driven to get something done. I can easily just sit down and spin for a few minutes or for an entire evening. It is meditative. I concentrate on the rhythm of my hands and my feet. I feel the wool sliding through my hands, the lanolin acting as a natural hand lotion. I hear the whir of the wheel, often the only background noise. It is a time to just be.

So, I guess the moral of this story is to keep an open mind and never say “never.” You don’t know what you will like until you try it.


My Favorite Sweater

First published on November 20, 2013 on

With the cold weather that moved in a couple of weeks ago, I needed to pull out my warm winter sweaters. As usual, the first sweater that came out of the cedar chest was my old Aran sweater.

I don’t know about anyone else, but, when I have a favorite item of clothing, I will wear it all the time.

It doesn’t matter if it is ragged and tattered and rather disreputable looking.

It doesn’t matter if I purchased a replacement for it.

I still wear my favorite. My sweater has intricate cables, a honeycomb stitch pattern and an interesting neckline. I’ve washed it so many times that it is nicely felted, keeping me warm and cozy. It is perfect.

This old Aran sweater did not start out as my favorite sweater. In fact, it started out as a replacement sweater.

Back in high school, I acquired one of my brother’s old hand–me–down sweaters. It was an off-white cotton sweater with the cables and stitches found in Aran styling. I loved that sweater. It became part of my school “uniform”: jeans, T-shirt, sweater.

One year, the high school hosted a “mother’s tea.” Mothers were invited to come to the school, have tea and snacks, and then listen to a program showcasing some of the students. I was asked to play a piano piece for the program. My mother, who worked during the day, couldn’t attend. I carefully prepared for the program, practicing the movement from the Beethoven sonata that I had chosen to play. The day arrived and off to school I went. When I returned home that afternoon, I told my mother that the mother’s tea had occurred that day and that I had played well. She looked at me, horrified, and asked, “You dressed like THAT?” I looked down at what I was wearing, a bit confused. It just hadn’t at all occurred to me to dress in anything other than my regular clothes. So I was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and my beloved sweater, which, by this time, had become quite tattered after years of being worn first by my brother and then by me. When asked what the other children had worn, I couldn’t reply. I paid no attention to what anyone else was wearing. But I did recognize that, perhaps, maybe, I should have paid some attention to my clothes.

Some time later, when we visited an Irish import store, my mother bought me a wool Aran sweater with cables: my now–favorite sweater. But, at the time, I thought it was much too fancy, much too good, much too expensive, to wear much at all. It languished at the bottom of my winter clothes box for many years, only being pulled out for “special occasions.”

When I moved to Seattle, I discovered the virtues of wool. In a damp, misty and drizzly climate, wool is indispensable. Wool is warm, even when damp. Wool wicks and so is perfect for strenuous activities. With need of more wool in my life, I pulled out the Aran sweater and began wearing it in earnest. I wore it hiking. I wore it working outside. It soon became my favorite sweater. And, as such, it started getting worn and tattered.

Over the years, my mum mended my sweater. She darned the elbows and the worn bottom edge. The cuffs are more patched than original. Even though she didn’t match the stitch pattern, her mending blends in so well that it is hard to notice.

This year, when I pulled it out of the cedar chest, I noted that my sweater needs more repairs. The neck edge is frayed; there are more holes in the cuffs.

I can’t go to my mum anymore. Her eyesight is failing and her hands are not steady enough to work with yarn and needle. So I will have to try to fix my sweater. Because, of course, I need to wear it all the time.