One of the best souvenirs that I brought home from Squam was a challenge. The challenges – to meet new people, to learn new things – are the reason that I go to camp, but I wasn't really expecting one of them to come home with me. And I certainly wasn't expecting it to look like this.
"This" is a Moosie Spindle from Journey Wheel. It's a beautiful object, with a whorl made of moose antler and a shaft made of of bloodwood. Depending on your perspective, this tool could look antiquated and unnecessary, or it could look beautiful – part ancient tool, part work of art. To me, it's beautiful.
Beautiful, but challenging. I've tried to learn to spin before, two or three years ago, but I never made much progress. Imagine getting into the driver's seat for the first time, but the car is a standard transmission and you're stopped at the front of a line of cars, headed uphill, in rush hour. That's how it felt at the time. Too many moving parts; too many ways to go wrong.
But really, all I had to control was this: a learner's spindle made of dowelling, scrap wood and a cup hook, and some fleece. And my expectations.
I took a class, I bought a book, I watched a YouTube video or two, and I muddled along. It was winter, and I would sit down after dinner and attempt to spin while I listened to the evening news. It was difficult, and each night I'd look at the uneven mess I'd created and be disappointed in myself. After a couple weeks, I stashed the spindle and the bag of fibre away so I wouldn't have to look at them.
Back from Squam with my Moosie in hand, I thought I'd better give spinning another go. To let a beautiful tool like that sit idly by in a pencil jar, a curiosity for guests and a toy for curious kids? It wouldn't do. So, wary of ruining my new tool with my clumsy fingers and my inelegant yarn, I got out my "training" spindle and tried again.
I couldn't believe it. It worked!
It was slow going, but it worked. This time, I pre-drafted the fibre into a shape that was manageable, so I didn't have to wrangle a huge chunk of fleece while also handling the spindle. I used the park-and-draft method that's common for beginning spinners: spinning the spindle to add twist to the leader, then clamping the spindle between my knees and gradually letting the twist play out into the fibre, inch by inch, between my hands. Once I had eighteen inches or so spun, I'd wind the yarn onto the cop, and then start again.
Soon enough, I'd amassed a fairly respectable amount of yarn.
I kept going until I couldn't spin the spindle properly anymore, and then I had to decide what to do with it. I don't possess any other spinning tools: no niddy-noddy, no bobbins, and certainly nothing in the way of plying know-how. But I couldn't let the yarn just sit on the spindle.
In the end, I wound the yarn around a piece of foam core (what would I do without foam core?) then tied it off in a couple places. I followed the directions in the book: a hot soak and a cool rinse to set the twist, and then hanging the skein, weighted, over the bathtub, to dry overnight.
The next morning I popped it onto my swift to finish drying.
And finally, I wound the skein into a hank. There's not much there, really: just 27 grams of single-ply, worsted spun (I think), Blue-Faced Leicester yarn. It's thick-and-thin, knobbly, with lots of twist, and – in this humid summer air – it still smells strongly of sheep.