Monday, May 17, 2010

Spinning in Public, Wheaton edition

So yesterday I spent several hours in The Yarn Spot's booth at the annual Taste of Wheaton event. Okay, I don't live in Wheaton, I live a couple of neighborhoods away in Aspen Hill (sadly more infamous for sniper shootings than livelihood or commerce), but the shop is in Wheaton. We had a great turnout and a lot of people were interested in the shop. Since I was spinning, I did get a good bit of attention, but there were two "stand out" moments.
Let me start by mentioning that in the US, commercially spun yarn has been widely available since before the Civil War. Remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books? Ever think about how she mentions knitting and sewing several times, but never spinning? Even they on the edges of the frontier at times were buying ready-to-knit yarns. Certainly there were pioneers who travelled with spinning equipment, but in much of the US as commerce progressed there wasn't a big need for home spinning, and people took the opportunity to spend their time on other, more pressing, needs when they could buy yarn as a commodity and didn't need to spend the hours spinning it themselves. However, in much of the world, even today and certainly throughout the twentieth century, spinning in the home (or while engaged in daily activities) isn't and hasn't been uncommon.
With that explained, you won't be surprised to hear that both my special spinning encounters yesterday were with people who emigrated to the US from elsewhere.
The first was with two women who came to see what I was doing. One spoke English, her friend only Spanish. She happily but suspiciously asked just what fiber I was spinning and I knew I wasn't really surprising her when I answered that it was not sheep's wool but alpaca. Still, her companion was surprised; they were Peruvian, and couldn't believe that in the US we appreciated the wonders of alpaca. I told them the fiber I was spinning came from a local farm (we have several alpaca farms between Damascus and Thurmont, MD, in the foothills of our local low mountains; alpacas seem to do quite well there). They made sure I knew that alpacas really were "theirs" and came from Peru, talked about the spindles we had, and generally left delighted that people knew about real life and real animals and their importance even here.
The second was a woman who came over to our booth as she ran an errand from her own. She stopped to gaze at the various spindles on the table, and then began to tell us of her own childhood in Italy. Her grandmother, she said, spun all the time on a drop spindle; she demonstrated to us with her hands and an imaginary spindle her grandmother's thigh-flick, and talked of how fast the spindle would spin. She herself had tried to learn as a child, but all she remembered was her grandmother yelling at her that she was no good at it! Several times she showed us her grandmother's motions. I know that flicking a spindle in that way can give an extremely fast spin, and I'd love to have been able to see her grandmother in action (though not the part about her scolding!). I hope this woman does come in to the shop (the other two also), maybe to finally learn to spin now.

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