It’s a practice that may seen outdated-or even antiquated-but it has its proponents, and they’re closer than you might think.
On a roughly semi-monthly basis, the Sunset Country Spinner’s Guild members tuck themselves into the Fort Frances Public Library and do their magic, turning tufts of fibre into workable yarn.
Simone LeBlanc and Felix Blasky are both members of the local Spinner’s Guild, and LeBlanc explained that it was serendipity that led her to joining the guild.
“I got a spinning wheel last February, so I started spinning in March 2019,” LeBlanc said.
“I thought, you know, ‘Nobody else is gonna do this unique craft.’ There’s a guild in Thunder Bay, and I reached out to them for a question about some equipment or something, and they said, ‘Oh, there’s someone in Fort Frances who just joined our guild. Would you let us put you in contact with each other?’ So then they did that and I got an email from Felix, and we said, ‘Well, let’s start meeting.'”
Both women were sitting in the back of the library building in front of spinning wheels that wouldn’t look out of place in a fairy tale. Blasky explained that while there are several different styles of spinning wheels, they all serve the same purpose.
“So this is what would be considered a traditional spinning wheel, with the single treadle, with the single drive,” she said, referring to her own device.
“Its probably the most basic, and then as the wheel evolved, they started getting into a double treadle, so you could operate it with both feet, so a little more even control, probably.”
LeBlanc was working on what they referred to as a traveller wheel, a variety that is much more portable than larger, more traditional models.
“You can get a backpack for it,” she said.
“The outcome is the same, it just depends on preference, like [Blasky’s] takes a bit more space and this takes a little less space.”
The end result, regardless of wheel, is that the user ends up with thread that can then be used for other projects, like knitting. Blasky noted the end product is what tends to lead people to the spinning wheel in the first place.
“I think most people that start spinning start because they’re knitting or they’re crocheting or weaving,” she explained.
“It’s just a natural extension in terms of wanting to have more control over the fibre that you’re using, so you start creating your own. And I mean, partly it’s being able to use the resources. [LeBlanc] has access to sheep, so being able to use the resources that you’ve got . . . being able to use the fibre that comes from her animals. How cool is that, to be able to make something from that?”
“Similar to what Felix said, I started knitting and then a lot of the knitting community talks about spinning and weaving, so it made me a bit curious,” LeBlanc agreed.
At first glance, one might think what the two women were doing seems easy, but even a short amount of time on one of the wheels makes it plain to see that a great deal of practice–and a steady foot–is required to get a useable thread in the end.
However, Blasky said that despite the time it takes to learn, overall it’s a very worthwhile and relaxing craft.
“This is obviously very labour intensive, it takes you many hours of practice and time to get it going,” she said.
“But then you end up with this very neat yarn, and you prepare it, there’s a whole preparation process you go through. I started that and then that made me curious about a spinning wheel, so I just started researching it and watching YouTube videos on it, but it’s incredibly relaxing. It’s very meditative.”
While it might seem odd to think that anyone would be using a spinning wheel in the 21st century, the women point out it’s not so unusual.
“You’d actually be really surprised,” LeBlanc said.
“A lot of crafts are coming back.”
“It’s a reflection of our economy,” Blasky added.
“You couldn’t afford to do this if you didn’t have the time. It’s no longer out of necessity. It’s the craft itself.”
“It’s out of pure joy,” LeBlanc continued.
“There’s something special about it. My grandmother was a spinner as well and her family were spinners, so there’s something, just to maintain it. The analogue crafts are very on trend right now, knitting and crocheting and weaving.”
Even as both women stress that it is a worthy and relaxing hobby, Blasky warned that there’s still an expense involved in the craft, whether it’s through buying the equipment and fleece to be spun, or through the investment of time.
“It’s not cheaper, simply because I value my time,” she noted.
“Knowing how long it takes to get a skein of yarn, I can now appreciate the fact that hand-spun yarn is not cheap. And even hand-dyed yarn is not cheap. Because you do value your time, but it’s more about the process and the end result, being able to say you had spun it or dyed it yourself. All the processes definitely take a little more time when you’re doing them by hand as opposed to a machine.”
Anyone interested in joining the spinners’ guild, or even just wanting to stop by and check them out in action, is welcome to.
“If somebody had an old spinning wheel in their closet that was their grandma’s, come and join us and we can see if its for you, because to buy a new wheel is quite a significant investment,” LeBlanc said.
“It’s about the enjoyment of the process.”
Anyone interested in joining the guild or learning more is invited to email the Sunset Country Spinner’s Guild at firstname.lastname@example.org