August 17, 2012

Doing It Backwards

I seem to do so many things "backwards," at least by everyone else's standards, simply because it makes more sense to me that way. Spinning turns out to be one of them.

I'm right-handed, but I usually spin singles counter-clockwise (S-twist) and then ply clockwise (Z-twist). I just sort of did this instinctively when I first started spinning (at Gulf Wars, an SCA event). I had a few people laugh at me in a friendly way for "doing it backwards" -- including rolling a drop spindle up my left thigh instead of down -- before I met my first spinning and weaving mentor, Ann.

I met Ann while I was doing Tarot readings for tips at a local bookstore cafe. It was a really slow day, so I was sitting there spinning, and all of a sudden there comes a voice from behind me, "Oo, is that a hand spindle!" And there was Ann, who pulled out a small support spindle to show me the silk noil she was working on. We hit it off immediately.

Ann was also pagan, and she and her husband did all kinds of remarkable things. Animal rescue, breeding peafowl (she had a peacock who threw white chicks), raising chickens who laid green eggs, raising the occasional sheep or goat for fiber (Vincent van Goat had recently passed away when I met them, and was much mourned), built a clay oven out of red clay they dug from the side of the road (this was when I lived in Tallahassee, which has a lot of it), all kinds of stuff. Ann had a cotton shirt that she had grown herself, in four shades of cotton, two off-whites and two greens (yes, cotton naturally comes in more colors than just white or off-white; it can be an olive green or even a pinkish red). She showed me her Tyrian purple yarn that she'd dyed by irritating snails in Mexico, and told me about her amusing run-in with customs on the way back.* When The Fellowship of the Ring came out, there was an article in a handspinners' magazine about the Fellowship cloaks, and the farm in New Zealand where the special breed of sheep were raised, that had its own spinning and weaving mills, and had produced the fabric. Ann promptly sent off for some of their wool, and spent the next two years spinning, weaving, and sewing her own Fellowship cloak. She spent hours poring over stills from the movie, trying to figure out the drafting pattern, and then hours more trying to figure out the sewing pattern, but she had it done in time to wear it to the premiere of Return of the King. She even made her own leaf brooch for it, using precious metal clay.

All of which is to say that Ann's a really nifty person, and very impressive. I fell out of touch with her after I moved to Seattle, and I miss her, especially now that I'm getting heavily into fiber arts again. I can't write this blog without talking about her a bit.

Ann was the one who told me that S-twist thread was called shaman's thread or witch's thread. That started me thinking about the meaning of clockwise and counterclockwise, deosil and widdershins, and how it applied to spinning.

Deosil is the direction of the sun, the direction of life. Widdershins is the direction of stagnation, of blocking things out, of decay. A spinner who knows energy work can catch energy in the fiber, and spin it clockwise (Z-twist) to catch and boost the energy, to spin it together to make it stronger and more useful, just as spinning does with the fiber itself. Or she can spin it counterclockwise to catch the energy and damp it, trap it within the thread or yarn to keep it locked up.

But a lot of yarn is plied, and plying always goes in the opposite direction of spinning. Decay is part of a cycle. A yarn spun widdershins and plied deosil pulls energy caught into it down into decay, where it ceases to be what it was and becomes something that can be used for other purposes, and then spins it back up into new growth and new intensity, transforming it into whatever the spinner needs it to be, the way rotting plant matter feeds the new growth of other plants. A spinner can grab the negative energy in a room, catch it in fiber, trap all of it, then ply the yarn back on itself to renew and improve the energy, and release it again, even in quite short lengths.

Thread spun deosil catches and builds energy, and each length can catch a different energy. The differently charged lengths can be plied to together widdershins to lock the energy into the thread, combining the different energies into something new, and then the charged thread used in a weaving, knitting, or crochet project which is then charged with all the different energies put into the yarn.

You can catch myriad emotions in different singles and plied lengths, or the energy of every moon, full and new, for a year, and put it into a shawl or a length of fabric to be made into ritual garb. There's magic that can be done with storebought yarn, too, in the making of whatever project you use it for, but the earlier you start working your materials with your hands yourself, the more layers of energy and magic and meaning you can put into it.**

*True Tyrian purple used to be made from the shells of sea snails in the ancient Mediterranean. The color was very difficult to obtain, and involved killing the snails. It was incredibly expensive, and is the origin of purple as an imperial or royal color. The snails were driven to extinction. There is, however, a species of snail in Mexico that produces the same dyestuff, and you can get it without killing them. You just irritate the snail until it pukes on your fiber. Unfortunately, the stuff stinks. And with modern dyes, there's no reason other than historical interest to use it. But Ann was into historical textiles -- indeed, when I last saw her, she was working on a degree in the subject, and worked at a local living history site, making sure they had period costume -- so when she and her husband went to Mexico, she had to take a side trip to annoy the snails. Coming back, she wrapped the yarn in multiple layers of trash bags to keep the stink off her stuff. Of course, the customs agent then selected her bag for a random search. When he found the bundle of trash bags, he was quite naturally suspicious. Ann warned him that he didn't want to open that bundle, which of course only made him more certain that there was smuggling going on. So he opened it up, got a whiff of the snail puke, quickly confirmed that there wasn't any illegal substance in there, and sealed it up again as fast as he could. "You're right, I didn't want to open that."

It was about five years later that she showed me that yarn, and it still smelled bad, although I was assured that it had been far worse when it was fresh. And I believed it. Ugh.

**Yes, that means that if you grow the cotton or flax, raise the caterpillars and harvest the cocoons, shear the sheep or goat, and process the fiber for spinning yourself, you can put even more into it. And many spinner do, at some point.