Spinning yarn and yarns for more than 20 years

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 09:24 AM

On the second Sunday, most every month, a few cars make the long trek down our gravel driveway at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Most pull up near the sycamore tree at the far end of the circle drive, though a few venture on down the “unofficial” lane to get closer to the building.  This has been happening monthly for over two decades, though no one can remember exactly how many years it is.

The women park their vehicles and open hatchbacks and passenger doors to reveal spinning wheels strapped in as carefully as offspring.   These are not the fairy tale prick-your-finger kind-of wheels but  modern “spin lots of yarn you’ll have no idea what to do with” wheels -- beautiful, efficient, and most of them easily portable.  Spinning fibers into yarn is a rhythmic, tactile hobby that usually creates a peaceful state of mind.  It is satisfying to do alone, but more fun with these women.

Most months you’ll find me, two Maries, Asa, Rose, Elaina, two Lauras and Leslie.  Though she now lives in Maine, Penelope is still a part of us and keeps up via email and Facebook (we are a group there).  Sheila is a member from way back who sometimes makes it over from Raleigh.

Our daughter says she can spot a spinner a mile away.  The hand-knitted wool socks are a tip-off (typically worn with funky sandals and a long skirt).  Most spinners wear something wooly, often paired with an item of denim.  We tend not to use much make-up and our shoes are usually sensible (Birkenstocks or boots).

At our last meeting Leslie gave a short presentation about felting (another product made with wool) and brought items from her trip to upper Mongolia.  We shared various adventures we’d had hauling trailers.  Someone said that her husband always asks what we talk about and another woman opined that’s because our partners think we talk about them.  We don’t.

We were young women when we started this gathering.  Our kids were little, and now some of us are grandmothers.  As a group we’ve been more and less active over the years.  Early on we named ourselves the “Hotwheels Handspinners Guild,” and we have a wool banner that says so.  We’ve done spinning demonstrations and even sheep-to-shawl events -- at which we sheared a sheep and then spun and wove the wool on the spot.  We’ve had beach retreats, a couple of field trips, and each year we sponsor a spinning prize at the NC State Fair.  We even had fairly elaborate newsletters in the past, but these days we mostly just show up and spin.

It is hard to say what makes it so enjoyable.  We bring a few things to eat, but nothing fancy.  We ooh-and-ah over each others' projects and catch up on each others' lives, but we’re never too intense or personal.  We help each other adjust our wheels and solve pattern problems.   We occasionally have a program or take on a topic, like plying.  Sometimes we conduct a little business.  Next month some of us are bringing hats we are knitting from the same pattern, but made unique by our own handspun yarn.

The shape of our year is pretty predictable -- sometimes a spring event, fewer meetings in the summer, a fall “get back together” assembly, a holiday party with a raucous gift-grabbing experience, and a February Fiber-Swap to which we each try to drag a new person.  Other members do come and go, but this core has held the group together for all these years. 

Most of the time we just come together and spin our yarns -- both the fiber and verbal versions.  For me, showing up with this group is like putting on my favorite pajamas and curling up on the sofa.  It is like a cup of chamomile tea, and being with family without the baggage.  I am always comfortable and pleased to be right there, and a new week always starts better when it follows a gathering of the Hotwheels women.  New members are welcome.

A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at sgladin@gmail.com, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.