The web browser you are using is out of date and no longer supported by this site. For the best TractorSupply.com experience, please consider updating your browser to the latest version.
Buy Online Pick Up in Store Now available - Tractor Supply Co.
Navigate to Shopping Cart
Cart Item Count
 
  • Left Arrow
    My Account
  • Left Arrow
    My Account
  • Make My Store

    Your nearest store doesn't match your preferred store. Do you want to change the nearest store as your preferred store?

    CONFIRM CLEAR INFO?

    Click "YES" to clear all the customer data, cart contents and start new shopping session.

    Your current shopping session will get automatically reset in seconds.
    If you are still active user then please click "NO"

    Changing your store affects your localized pricing. This includes the price of items you already have in your shopping cart. Are you sure you want to change your store?

    Your nearest store doesn't match your preferred store. Do you want to change the nearest store as your preferred store?


    • To Shop Online
    • To Check In-Store Availability

    click here
    We do not share this information with anyone. For details,please view our Privacy Policy

    The Art of Spinning Fiber | Summer 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Heritage craft is 'almost a spiritual thing' for talented spinner

    hands feeding the yarn into the spinning wheel
    Spinners like Mary Nichols use such techniques as the "drafting triangle" to control the thickness of their yarn as it feeds into the spinnning wheel.
    Out Here

    By Jodi Helmer

    Photography by Blake Madden

    As a child, Mary Nichols faithfully saved her allowance to buy a Learn-to-Knit kit from Woolworth's five-and-dime store.

    Carefully following the instructions in the kit, Mary knitted and purled until the colorful yarns created a scarf. With each row she knitted, Mary fell more in love with the craft.

    As her knitting skills grew, so did her frustration.

    "It was hard to get yarn back then," she recalls. "Woolworth was the only place around that sold it and their yarns then were skeins of cheap acrylic."

    With no other options, Mary spent decades using whatever acrylic yarn she could find to knit scarves, shawls, and sweaters while dreaming of knitting with natural fibers such as merino, silk, and cashmere.

    When she moved to Arizona in 1998, Mary joined a knitting group, hoping a shared love of fiber arts would help her make friends in her new community. When one of the members offered to teach her to spin, she declined.

    "I was interested in the process of using the yarn," she recalls. "I had no interest in learning to make it."

    But the offer stuck with Mary, who decided it might be worthwhile to learn the traditional craft that transforms fibers from sheep, rabbits, alpacas, and other animals into handmade yarns. Eventually, she agreed to take a place at the spinning wheel.

    With the help of her mentor, Mary learned how to take raw fiber, like the freshly shorn wool from a sheep, and use a spinning wheel to twist the fibers into a continuous thread until it formed a skein of yarn.

    "After the first lesson," she says, "I was hooked."

    She began spinning wool, cotton, silk, and alpaca fibers, experimenting with spinning separate skeins together — a process known as plying — to create blended yarns such as cashmere-silk or merino-wool.

    She delighted in being able to create yarns that were as thick, thin, textured, or smooth as she wanted.

    "My whole world opened up because I was no longer limited to the wool I could go out and buy," she explains. "All of a sudden, I could make beautiful yarns from natural fibers."

    'FEEL THE MAGIC'

    Fiber is time consuming. It takes Mary up to 16 hours to spin a skein of fine yarn such as silk and half that time to spin heavier fibers such as wool — and countless hours after that to knit a sweater or afghan from the handspun wool.

    While it would be faster for Mary to order skeins of cashmere or camel online or purchase rare fibers at the local knitting shop, she prefers sitting at her spinning wheel.

    "The fiber has such a sensual feel as it slides through my fingers," she says. "I can feel the magic happening in my hands."

    When Mary moved to Asheville, N.C., in 2001, she met other spinners through the Blue Ridge Spinners group and continued learning.

    During one of her spinning meetings, a shepherd from the group took members to the barn where one of her sheep was lambing. Mary watched a brown Corriedale sheep named Flop Ears come into the world and knew immediately that she wanted to spin his wool when it was thick enough to be shorn.

    "I bought the whole fleece!" she says.

    During a spinning demonstration, she explains the process "from sheep to shawl" to help visitors understand the steps — shearing the sheep, carding the fiber, spinning it into yarn, and knitting the final product — that go into transforming raw wool into a colorful sweater.

    Mary began working with other local suppliers to get raw fibers from sheep and rabbits. She processed it in her workshop, washing and combing the fiber in a technique called carding, which separates and aligns the fiber, making it easier to spin. Carding also allows her to blend different fibers.

    Over the past two decades, Mary has worked with traditional fibers such as angora and wool, as well as more unusual animal fibers, including cat hair. Most of the fibers she spins come from local sources but she also orders more unique fibers, including camel and cashmere, from international suppliers.

    As knitting gained popularity, the market for new fibers expanded, allowing Mary to experiment with soy, flax, hemp, bamboo, corn, seaweed, and other plant-based fibers, spinning them into gorgeous handmade yarns.

    "I think I've tried just about every fiber out there," she says.

    As both her skills and her passion grew, Mary wanted to share the craft with others. In 2002, she applied to the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild and was accepted as a member artist. She began offering spinning demonstrations at the Folk Art Center operated by the guild.

    "Once I learned how to spin, I wanted to get other people doing it, too," she says.

    During a spinning demonstration, she explains the process "from sheep to shawl" to help visitors understand the steps — shearing the sheep, carding the fiber, spinning it into yarn, and knitting the final product — that go into transforming raw wool into a colorful sweater.

    Although Mary has a passion for educating others about spinning, there is another reason she teaches classes and leads demonstrations at the Folk Art Center in Asheville: She wants to keep the tradition of spinning alive.

    "It's a heritage craft that needs to be passed down," she says.

    For Nichols, spinning is so much more than a craft.

    "It's hard to put into words why spinners spin," she says. "It's almost a spiritual thing."

    Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina writer.

     

    Popular Pages on TractorSupply.com