Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Um, can't you just buy yarn from a store?

I was recently asked this question: "Um, can't you just buy yarn from a store?"

The short answer?  No, you absolutely cannot buy this yarn from a store, unless I opened one.  This yarn is a handmade gem and represents skill, craft, and even a little bit of love. 

The long answer?  Keep reading. 

Yes, of course you can buy yarn from a store.  And I do buy yarn from stores.  I can get national brand, workhorse kinds of yarn from big box stores (JoAnn's, Michaels, etc.), and I can get specialty and luxury yarns from local yarn shops and several online stores.  In fact, I have a particular weakness for Koigu yarns and sock yarns. 

So it seems to me that the real question is, why do you spin yarn in this modern age?

I don't resent this question.  The first time I heard of someone spinning her own yarn, I thought it was a little nutty.  "Hm, that's odd.  It's an interesting idea, but isn't that kinda like wasting time better spent on knitting when you can just buy yarn?"  I didn't get it. 

Out of all handcrafts and handmade pursuits, from woodworking to knitting to canning your own pickles, spinning seems to stand out in the public eye as a particularly strange, unfamiliar choice.  The irony is that for thousands of years in all cultures, and still today in a few places in the world, spinning yarn was a daily household chore.  But in the industrialized Western world, spinning yarn is so unnecessary for daily life that it is now extremely old-fashioned, really bordering on archaic, and is therefore a little bit bizarre.  I've thought about this a lot, and my theory is that spinning appears to be an odd choice because it doesn't have a final product that is ready to use in & of itself.  A woodworker creates a piece of furniture, a knitter creates a sweater, and the pickles are very tasty -- and all of these kind of handmade items are immediately functional.  But yarn is an intermediary step to the final product, such as the sweater, and therefore from an outside point of view, spinning would appear a very inefficient use of one's time.

The general unfamiliarity of spinning is actually a very good thing.  I know that I would not want to have the burden of spinning all the yarn that was necessary for my family's life or income.  Leaving the bulk of textile manufacture to the big mills suits me just fine.  It allows spinning to become a deliberate choice, a form of craft and self-expression.

But I still haven't answered the question, why spin? why make this choice?

Spinning just clicked with me on some fundamental level.  Once I picked up a spindle and gained a tiny bit of competence with it (it didn't take much!), I thought, "Whoa, this is awesome.  This is fun, this feels good, this is interesting, this is unique!"

I love to knit, to crochet, to play with paper & ink, but spinning has become my favorite craft.  I experience joy and quiet satisfaction in the competence of my hands while making yarn.  I love preparing fiber for spinning.  I love the feel of the fiber moving through my fingers.  Spinning is a very rhythmic and repetitive craft, and once I'm in the zone so to speak, there is a meditative quality to the work.  My hands know what to do, and my mind is able to wander, but not aimlessly.  I do some of my best thinking while I spin. 

I was so utterly wrong to first think of spinning as a waste or inefficient use of time.  There is actually a gift of time with spinning.  When I grab a spindle or sit in front of my wheel and spin, I am giving that time to myself.  I'm giving myself the space to sit, breathe, think, and feel good. 

So, my final answer to the question is, yes, I can buy yarn from a store.  But no, I can't buy this yarn from a store, and this yarn represents an investment in a good life.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. As a spinner, I never really thought of it that way. I know less people do it, which itself makes it special. I love how spinning yields a unique yarn that only you could have created and that for me is what makes it special.