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What Is Our Community?

I’m feeling pretty good these days. I finished my sweater, the Jurisfiction cardigan by Glenna C. I particularly like the slightly irregular cable. The yarn is handspun woolen style from a California Red fleece that I washed and processed myself. The color you see is the way God made the sheep. The buttons are stamped with pictures of bicycles, because I finished carding the fleece and spinning the yarn while my husband rode RAGBRAI (the bicycle ride across Iowa).

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What’s even better is the loom is all threaded, and I also, finally, managed to spin a quasi-presentable low-twist bulky yarn. Life is good.

Craft work, though, tends to be a solitary activity. I can certainly knit and hang with people. As a knitter, the advantage of being a church functionary is that I spend a lot of time in meetings, and consequently get a lot of knitting done. But that’s not a craft community.

The dictionary defines “community” as “a group of people … who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.” A spinning community understands what I mean when I say the sweater yarn was spun woolen, and knows that California Red is a rare, endangered breed of sheep. A weaving community understands what threading heddles is all about, and how boring it can be. The cycling community knows RAGBRAI, Beekman’s ice cream, and the wonderful Iowa pies.

 Shared interests help bring people together, but true community transcends shared interests. Friendships form. People learn and grow from each other. That means, among other things, that the challenge for community is to be broad enough and diverse enough that we aren’t just like with like. Most spinning and knitting guilds that I know of are overwhelmingly female. Male knitters are a rare breed, and stereotypically gay. What are we missing when so many of our fiber groups are so short of testosterone? There’s also a whole lot less melatonin among knitters and spinners than in the world at large. Thank goodness that young women are picking up knitting. And praise the Lord for the Asian influence in Japanese knitting.

Friends, the world of knitting and spinning isn’t nearly multicultural enough to truly reflect the breadth and depth of humanity. Shall we evangelize? Shall we grow, and learn?



The 99 Percent

Sometimes craft work is just plain dull. At least that’s the way I’m feeling today. I’m working on three projects right now: one weaving, one spinning and one knitting.

For knitting, I’m making a sweater. Progress is good. The body is done and I’m well into the sleeves. Problem is, by the time I get to the sleeves, the pattern is old hat, and it’s just a matter of churning out stitch after stitch after stitch. And I can’t find the buttons I bought. Mutter grumble.

For weaving, I’m setting up a warp in preparation for a pick up double weave. Part of the pain is that this is my second attempt. My first attempt involved linen and the classic set-up for pick up double weave. Problem is, the classic set-up for pick up double weave doesn’t work on a countermarche loom. (Take my word for it. Looms are hard to explain.) One color of the linen kept breaking as well. One can do pick up on a countermarche, but it involves rougher handling than linen will take. So it was back to the drawing board. I’m now using mercerized cotton, which I’ve woven with before, and which will be lovely and handle the stress. The warp had to be rewound and the loom rebeamed. Now I’m threading heddles. Since it’s double weave, with two separate sides of fabric, there are twice as many threads as usual. So it’s one thread at a time. One thread at a time. One thread at a time.

Then there’s the spinning. Part of the homework for my spinning program is to spin 10 yard samples at a specific amount of twist per inch.  Fine yarns need more twist; bulky yarns less. I think I’ve got it right, but then I check, and it’s off. I spin another sample, think it’s right, but it’s off. Slowly I’m chipping away at the samples needed, but the operative word is “slow.”

Edison was right. It’s 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

World Communion Sunday

Last summer, my husband and a friend rode RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. A daughter and I came along as the support team. She drove. I spun. (California Red, to be exact, a lovely sheep.) Towards the end of the trip, we met Don Ganyea and Scott Horsley, two NPR reporters. They’d travelled all over Iowa reporting the presidential race. Now they wanted to see the real thing. They weren’t officially riding for NPR. However, their team name was “No Pie Refused.” As we chatted, someone asked them what could be done to break the congressional logjam. “Make them ride RAGBRAI!” Horsley immediately responded.

There is something about getting people out of their heads and into something different that allows friendships to be formed and logjams to be cleared. Several years ago, I was at a General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church’s bi-annual get-together and legislation fest. I was staffing the booth for the Association of Stated Clerks. Across the aisle from me were the booths for Presbyterians for Renewal, a conservative organization, and The Presbyterian Layman,  and even more conservative organization. Normally, putting me with staunch conservatives is an oil and water sort of situation – if you’re lucky. This time we went beyond lucky. The woman at the Layman booth was making cord on a lucette. The women at the Presbyterians for Renewal booth were knitting. I was spinning on a drop spindle. We got along famously.

Which brings me to World Communion Sunday. If world communion is ever to be a reality, we need to put down our theologies, and pick up our yarn, or our bikes, or our musical instruments, anything that gets us away from the arguments long enough to appreciate each other as people. Then when we go back to our theologies, we’ll debate as friends, not strangers. It won’t solve our problems. It will make us human enough to solve our problems together.

In honor of World Communion, watch this video:  That’s world communion for you.

If Only It Hadn’t Rained

Having an over-abundance of frequent flyer miles, and nothing else to do last weekend, I decided to check out the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, or OFFF, for short. For those of you who are new to fiber festivals, imagine a fairground full of independent artisans selling their own farm-raised fiber, their own dyed roving and yarn, their own lathe-turned spindles. And then there are the fleece sales. For those of us who love this stuff, it’s a shopper’s dream. “Hi. My name is Barbara and I’m a spindleholic.”

OFFF is a small, friendly festival, tucked into the Clackamas County Event Center. The classes looked to be taught by local spinners. Many of the vendors were locals as well. Which is a good thing, because the Pacific Northwest has an abundance of wonderful craftspeople. Steve Poulson of Spindlewood,, makes my favorite drop spindles. They aren’t readily available in the Midwest. I own a Hansen mini-Spinner,, and love it, and was finally able to try the new lace flyer.  One came home with me.

Above all, I had a chance to try an Olympic spinning wheel, Olympic wheels are small wheels with the treadles on either side of the drive wheel. They are made entirely from quality wood. There is no plywood anywhere. The artist, Gary, works closely with each customer to get them exactly the wheel they want. Of course there are no Olympic wheels anywhere near Chicago, which is what got me to OFFF. The wheel was smooth as butter, a delight to spin on, but because the drive wheel was small, it required a lot of treadling. It wasn’t for me, but if anyone out there is in the market for a small, beautifully made custom wheel, check Olympic out.

It was a lovely trip, despite weather that was horrid even for Oregon. We were stuck under a low pressure system that down trees and caused flooding in Portland. The vendors in tents outside deserve awards for courage and tenacity. A good, if wet, time was had by all.


Introductions, and a Leap into Free Space

I am a handspinner, a knitter, a weaver, and a Presbyterian minister working for a middle judicatory. I’m also married, a mother, a grandmother, and a Midwesterner. My heart belongs to Jesus and my family. My hands, however, belong to craft.

There’s something about craft work that feeds the soul. Crafting is tactile, meditative, and creative. God, our creator, calls us to be co-creators and graced us with the marvels of the natural world. I happen to like wool – and silk – and cotton – and linen – in fact, I like just about any fiber that isn’t plastic. Wool breathes. It wicks moisture, making it cool in summer and warm in winter. It doesn’t like to burn. Dress babies in wool, and they know they’re loved.

I am convinced there is a link between craft work and spirituality. We Presbyterians are great with words. We can theologize with the best of them. Craft work bypasses the language center of the brain. It requires us to focus on the present moment. It connects us with the natural world and with all the generations of crafters who have gone before us.

Spinning is older than civilization. Twisted, dyed linen fibers have been found at sites that are 40,000 years old. Some say the human race survived the ice age by twisting fibers into cord. That’s not a bad heritage to follow.

There’s a two-fold purpose to this blog. I hope to explore the relationship between craft work and soul work. To that end, comment, please. The more the merrier. I also plan to post about current projects. Comment there, too.

So to all you crafters out there, join me. How do your hands pray?