Spinning Up Some Kindness

I began spinning before there was an Internet. Well, not much of one, anyway. If you knew what to do, you could get the weather and baseball scores and that was about it. YouTube didn’t exist yet. No Facebook. Certainly no Ravelry. Nada.

So, if you wanted to learn to spin, you were pretty much on your own to find a wheel and find a teacher. I found a wheel without too much trouble. It was one of those seventies’ artisan-made wheels with lovely inlay and Irish tension (although I didn’t know at the time that was what it was called). It wasn’t a toy or a decoration, but it wasn’t a heavy-duty workhorse, either. It was intended to spin but probably made by someone who didn’t themselves know much about spinning. I thought she was beautiful.

Now that I had a wheel, I set about finding a teacher. In that time frame, to find anything meant a trip to the library or reading special publications. Somehow, I discovered a local fiber arts guild and happily went off to their monthly meeting, my beautiful wheel in tow. It was a complete disaster.

I was easily the youngest person in the room. A few people had very high-end wheels with them, many were knitting, one or two had little sample looms and were doing intricate weaving. All were older. The ones that lowered themselves to speak to me generally derided my wheel as a toy and no one correctly identified the tension, although they all told me it couldn’t possibly be a real wheel because none of them (the experts!) could identify the tension. When I asked about learning to spin, they sneered that “it isn’t our job to teach you” and went off in little groups that shot nasty glances my way. Clearly, I was in the wrong place to want to learn to spin!

One kindly woman did come over to speak to me. She admired the wheel without passing any judgment on it and suggested that when spinning, it was easiest to learn on a drop spindle. Once I had drafting fiber under control, it was then an easy (easier!) step to move to a wheel and add in treadling while drafting. I did have a drop spindle, but wasn’t sure how to get it started. She tied on a leader and showed me how to make a half-hitch and start off. That one small act of kindness started me spinning.

I later learned this kindly woman died of a brain tumor not many years later and I mourned her passing. She was the one person who took a few minutes to a.) speak to me kindly, and b.) share her knowledge. Those two small, simple acts made her immortal in my mind. They did something else. Once I was up and spinning on a wheel, I vowed that if I came across anyone who wanted to learn, I would teach them for free and do whatever I could to get them going, and keep them going. A number of new spinners exist because I taught them, and a number have gone on to teach new spinners themselves. I feel my immortality is achieved as my teaching is handed down.

I bring this up because in a spinning forum I belong to, someone new to the group but a long-time collector, began sharing their wheels. Not being an American, he used a term he was unfamiliar with and the abuse began. Not only should he know better, why didn’t he sell his collection so other spinners could use it? And on and on, until he decamped to start his own forum. And so, our collective knowledge of spinning wheels splinters a little, all because someone used a term they were unfamiliar with. Our collective knowledge splinters because someone owns more wheels than someone else, so they must be castigated for it. Our collective knowledge splinters because we chose to not share our knowledge and take someone into our circle.

Actions have consequences. It costs nothing to be kind. The few minutes of time you do spend explaning something may be all the other person needs. In these unprecedented times, don’t be a jerk. Be kind.

2 Responses to Spinning Up Some Kindness

  1. heather caparoso says:

    Wonderful blog post. I learned to spin in the 1980s, after the birth of my youngest child. I also had no one to teach me, I basically learned from books and trial and error. When I finally got up the courage to go to a guild meeting I felt very talked down to and/or ignored by most of the women there. I also was the youngest person there. I’m not sure why this is, but in my case I always thought it was a class issue. Most of the guild women were older, owned homes (we did not, were just renters), could afford expensive new equipment, mine was used. And that has only gotten worse, new fiber arts equipment and tools are so expensive now, that someone not long ago said to me, “only rich ladies can afford to spin, weave, or whatever.” Really, really sad, though as far as I’m concerned, used wheels or looms are just as good or better than new ones.
    Thank you for giving me a space for this rant, your blog post really hit a nerve with me.

  2. maryinnz says:

    This is really disturbing. I’ve nearly always found spinners generous with their help, both here in New Zealand and in other countries, but the few that aren’t can do so much harm. And I’m sure I’m not the only well-meaning person who tends to just leave when that kind of thing starts, instead of calling out the criticisers. I’ll try to be braver in future!

    Thank you for reminding us of the importance of kindness!

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