I have not written in a good long while because my work with fiber stalled out a bit. I am one of those people who struggles with some of the more rare side-effects of antibiotics and of late, this has been quite an issue. BUT, I am here to say that yesterday was a gift beyond gifts, and has helped me to find my bearings again.
The Marshfield School of Weaving is hosting a five-day spinning class this week. I was only able to attend one day of the series and was not sure what to expect, but I went ready to absorb anything and everything I could in this limited time. I went to this school last year to take a plant dye class with Joann Darling. You can read about that here. Attending class yesterday, I knew I would have the opportunity to meet Norman Kennedy, the man who started the school in 1974. He has taught spinning and weaving, he speaks Gaelic and sings old and beautiful waulking songs and other traditional songs that can be sung to help keep time during the melodic and repetitive processes of carding, spinning and weaving. He joined Bruce Engebretson who was a visiting teacher from Minnesota. I had never taken a class from individuals who were so steeped in their craft and wondered what it would be like. I was definitely nervous. Primarily self-taught, I prepared myself for having to re-learn ways I do things. I was right to get my mind in order for that type of expansion.
I traveled down with my spinning wheel, some roving, my spindle, a batt I carded from Border Leicester that I processed myself and dyed with willow bark, and a whole lot of eagerness.
Let me say this, I took a lot of pictures but don’t want to post them without permission from those who are in them, so please pardon the lack of visual detail.
Driving up to this school in Marshfield offers the chance to resettle the mind in its own right. I was so struck last year by the functional, humble beauty of the barn, the rooms, the tools and the “stuff” kicking around. It is entirely calming and completely not intimidating. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Bruce, Norman and the four other women in attendance. They were in their groove already because they had been together all week, but at no time did I feel like an odd man out. What shocked me was that I, according to Bruce, was not carding wool at all correctly, so I learned his way. The old way. And it took a long time. So long I worried I might have dyslexia in my hands. For real. But he was kind and patient and kept at it with me. I had introduced myself already to Norman and tried not to be too intense; I have wanted to meet him for a long time after I saw this YouTube video.
While I was fumbling through carding wool, I showed Bruce the batt I brought. I think I just wanted him to know that I know how to do at least something and he was into it, and he asked me to show Norman when he came back in the room. I’ll not go into all of the mini moments that were incredible, but showing Norman the willow-dyed batt led to him showing me how to spin off of a distaff. I had never even seen a distaff in person before, and here was this beautiful man, in his 80’s, with a long white and golden pony tail and kind face, spinning my wool onto a spindle with the merest flick of his hand, his other hand totally free. He commented on the luster of the wool, the strength of the yarn it can make, and he told stories and historical bits about the use of these ancient tools. I was in awe and in love, and then he let me learn.
It took some doing, but soon enough I was spinning right from the distaff onto my wheel. He said I was doing pretty good for a beginner. I’ll take it.
Later, we watched Norman prepare flax and place it onto a distaff to spin. As he spun he sang a tune in time with his treadling. We watched Bruce load and use very old combs to prepare gorgeous wool for spinning. I watched in awe a woman use a walking wheel… truly incredible, and I learned about the spindle that was on the wheel that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. Norman told stories of how it was long ago, when children worked alongside their parents all day, when fiber craft was not a luxury or a hobby, but when it was a necessary and integral part of life. Bruce talked about how children would prepare wool all day and how women would spin all night. I think about this all the time, about how so many fairy tales are about old women saving young women from the fate of spinning all day long, so that they could go about with their husbands and be in their world. Habetrot is one such goddess. More to come on this topic in the future, but I suspect that fairy tales and ancient myth show us the trajectory of the feminine archetype in relation to fiber art and craft. Habetrot and her magic family are underground, hidden away from view, a foreshadowing of changes to come, both positive and negative, to the ways in which people relate to one another, the relationship between people and Earth and the ways we understand and experience time, work and patience.
Some other highlights for me include being called a lass, having my spinning wool technique ridiculed in the most kind of Scottish ways, and simply enjoying the company of people who were all there to learn and be in the company of masters. It was truly a wonderful day.
And, I will be fashioning my own distaff and spindle soon. Tales to come…