I have long admired functional art. The idea of handcrafting the items we use in our everyday life have always had a compelling lure. It is comforting to surround ourselves with art that can be both beautiful to look at and satisfying to use. Have you ever walked on a lovely hand-hooked rug? Washed you hands with the foamy lather from a bar of homemade goats milk soap? Or warmed your feet while wearing a pair of hand-spun, knitted wool socks? Drank out of thick handsome mug, thrown and then glazed in that perfect natural color from the earth, as it holds just the right amount of tea? To do so is a pure tangible joy!
I encountered spinning for the first time in my home town in 1971. My Mother and I were walking in the quiet seaside village of Manhattan Beach, California, where recently we had noticed a new structure being built on Pacific Coast Highway. It had pretend battlements, towers of all kinds with stone embellishments, rather like a small Scottish castle. We were excited to discover what kind of store or office building it was destined to be. On this day, we were pleased to see it completed and open for business!
Mom and I entered the building, and my world changed forever. It was a weaving and spinning shop! Inside were all manner of weaving looms, weaving supplies and spinning wheels. I will never forget the aroma of the fresh Australian fleece! There were bags and bags, all opened and perfuming the air. I could smell the scents of wood, polish, and the cones of fiber. It was an epiphany, and with crystal clarity I knew what I was meant to do.
Almost every day since that time, I have spun, knitted, washed, or dyed wool of some kind, and its magic has never waned. Now, the soothing creak of the spinning wheel and the soft whir of the spindle remain my constant companions, as if they were a dear old friend. Forming yarn out of an explosion of soft fibers has never lost it’s allure and there have been very few days in my life since that I have not woken to the thrill that sometime that day, I will spin or knit.
In the eighties I discovered spindles and was intrigued, because it sounded too good to be true; a hand held spinning wheel? Unfortunately, the spindles I was able to find at that time, were heavy, rustic and all bottom whorl. I had a stressful time learning this new way to spin. In fact, my children were much better than I, and took to spindling with ease. Frustrating! Luckily not many years later I found a spindle-maker who was creating spindles top whorl style. These spindles were much lighter, and well balanced, and enabled me to learn quickly and with sufficiency. In fact spinning with spindles became a constant, ongoing occupation.
I soon learned that spindle spinning opened up vast amounts of time which had previously been wasted. I could take spindles on car trips, traveling on vacation, shopping, to Doctor appointments, and even camping! I realized that making spindles was the logical next move. However, the bulk of the spindles makers at that time were gentlemen, and for the most part they were craftsmen that did not spin, but knew how to turn wood on a lathe. I had quite a few ideas about spindle design, and there were items not even being made. Since I was the person always frightened of power tools, that I would soon become skilled on a lathe was something of a surprise.
Discovering turning, and all the possibilities was an outstanding adventure. Since our first attempts in 2000, we have learned so much about ratios, from shaft diameter to the whorl size. Learning how extremely we can take material from the center of the whorl, or reverse, how much we can keep the weight centered around the shaft? How will that work? Quite a few ideas in design during research and development were discarded. However the ones that we discovered have become workhorse styles that have proven themselves time after time.
Our learning about wood and the myriad combinations continues to this day. We discovered that wood defies common repetition, it is like a snowflake. Wood is made of the same grain and components but never, ever exactly the same.
Wood has always been a visual treat for me, for I have often admired table tops, parquet floors, and any number of exceptional pieces of furniture. Delving into the various species of native hardwoods and exotics, we made one surprising discovery after another. Did you know that beautiful burls are cut from dieased wood? Fungus and bugs create the stunning and unique Masur Birch, which is found only in Scandinavia. An injury to the trunk or limb of a tree can cause wonderful eyes or a change in the grain. Movement in the grain is called “figure”. Some of the common types of figure are whimsical. Did you know some of their identifying titles are called: quilted; curly; flame; plum pudding; fiddle back; bee’s wing; and waterfall? When ordering my first board of Rosewood, the woodsman asked “what kind of Rosewood?” I replied, “you know, Rosewood”. That is how I found that there are over 45 different varieties of Rosewood, grown all over the world. We had a lot to learn.
As we became proficient at crafting spindles, we incorporated the bottom whorl style to our spindle line. I have overcome my earlier experience with bottom whorl style which could have been eliminated had I found an able teacher in the eighties. All of our spindles can be crafted in either top whorl or bottom whorl design.
I enjoy making spindles. It is a dream come true that I can work in a field, I could only imagine in 1971.