Spinning Song | Elemental
Beginning last March when I signed a lease on my studio space, I was not only given a wonderfully energized new building to work in, but also an incredibly talented, spirited and truly knowledgeable studio mate to work along side day by day. Rachel and her fabulous business Dorje live right next to MC; her work as a weaver and understanding of the media steadily rub off onto me day after day. This is a joy and blessing, no doubt. And being the kind soul that she is, it took nothing more than simply asking before finding myself in front of the spinning wheel with someone who has now spent nearly 15 years working to master the many facets of this side of our craft.
I'm searching to trace why I am suddenly so interested in learning these techniques. Part of it is clearly just another expression of my purism. As an undergraduate focused on a two-year stint in our ceramics studio, never once did I work on an electric potters wheel but instead always opted for the traditional kick wheel for the simple gratification of knowing it was the more traditional way of working. When I tailor garments, I find myself having to actively step away from the beautifully old fashioned, but incredibly time intensive ways of working. I feel an obligation to use them, and a responsibility to never set them aside. Sadly, the need to finish orders more quickly and move through new ideas at a steady clip becomes the force that encourages more modern methods.
But beyond this, I feel it is essential for an artist to work toward fully understanding the more elemental processes of his craft. When we can begin to access the core of any experience, we can come to understand it more fully. The same seems to apply to my materials; the more first hand knowledge I can glean on how those materials come into being, the more deft I become in manipulating them into something new. As I understand weave structures, dyeing techniques, and fiber characteristics more intimately, my font of creative fuel becomes ever more full.
Tailoring serves as the perfect illustration of this idea. With tailored garments we are asked to consider the cloth in all its iterations. We work with it in two dimensions, three dimensions, and spend time with the material a mere 6 or 8 inches from our nose, only to find it out of our hands and on another body a matter of hours or days thereafter. Perspectives steadily change leaving the micro, the macro, the flat or the sculptural properties of the cloth constantly interacting and engaging in a dialogue we simply call "clothing."
I can't help but consider it my job to understand this all more deeply, with the heart of an artist; the perspective of someone who is yearning to forever face the questions about our culture and existence as humans that only seem answerable through steady making and constant creative play.
And then, of course, there's my need to try something new in my down-time. Ideally that 'something new' informs the bigger picture. And hopefully that 'something new' helps me relax and find a place of mental calm. We all need that. I know I need that.
I'll even venture out so far on this limb as to suggest that our larger social need for stronger neighborhoods and a more stable central core could be realized through this type of thinking. One of the world's favorites sure seemed to believe so:
"It is not enough to say that hand-spinning is one of the industries to be revived. It is necessary to insist that it is the central industry that must engage our attention if we are to re-establish the village home."
"For the Charkha [spinning wheel] included all the anterior and posterior industries- ginning, carding, warping, sizing, dyeing and weaving. These in their turn kept the village carpenter and the blacksmith busy. The Charkha enabled the seven hundred thousand villages to become self contained." -Mohandas Gandhi
After my first lesson, I am clearly a mere beginner....though Rachel graciously suggests I am a natural. Carding the fleece into this pile of rolags was fun and quite simple. I learned the importance of letting the tools do the work. My tired arms were the teacher for that lesson.
Once it came time to spin, I loved sitting at the wheel...and it felt not unlike being at my sewing machine.
But anyone who knows anything about yarn can quickly see that this is an over-spun, poorly handled mess. Not bad for my first try, I suppose. But clearly there's room for improvement.
I'll keep trying.