Much has been written about finding time for ourselves. Especially during the COVID-19 lockdown in the United States, I saw many articles discussing the ways in which one can take advantage of the downtime. “Learn a new hobby!” many suggested. “Read these books this week!” I saw, too. Back when we thought the pandemic would last a whopping two weeks, we saw people find new ways of spending their time.
One thing I noticed, however, was that little was said about being present in the moment. As I look back at media during the lockdown, I recall article after article, video after video, with ideas of how to keep busy and things to do in a time when you couldn’t do too much. Dozens of playlists appeared for things to watch, guaranteed to help you pass the time. Distractions.
Crafters already know that any time a moment arises with a spare minute or two is good for getting in a few stitches here, a row or two there. This isn’t anything new for people who practice the fiber arts. In both pre-pandemic times and onward, I have found myself capable of being able to “shut off” the big world and focus on the in-front-of-my-face present in a few ways. One of these is spinning yarn.
When I sit down at the wheel, there is a shift. It’s like my nervous system already knows what’s up before the actual process begins. Spinning as meditation begins when I grab my trusty wheel – an Ashford Kiwi – and set it down, basket of fluff beside me.
I should clarify and define what I mean when I say meditation before I say more about this sensation. There is the obvious spiritual and religious practice of meditation that many engage in. I am looking at this from a nontraditional approach but with the mindset of focusing solely on the sensation and emotions at hand. This sensation-driven spinning is what I call spinning as meditation, or a practice in mindfulness.
For new spinners, the idea of spinning as meditation may seem baffling. There’s much to consider when we start our yarn spinning journey. What fiber to select, setting our wheels up properly, and then the fiddly business of drafting and so on. Even this time of learning provides room for spinning as meditation. Especially in Western culture, we don’t often see the learning curve as a time of reflection, yet it is rich with opportunity. Think about the way babies experience their world – everything is fresh and new, learning constantly, in awe of all there is to take in. So, too, new spinners have the fiber world at their fingertips. Spinning as meditation in the early days of spinning offers an explosion of curiosity to body and soul. New spinners, what do you notice when you sit down to spin? Have you set up in the same spot? What color fiber have you selected to spin? If you are choosing to pre-draft your fibers, notice the gentle tug. Is it frustrating, soothing? Maybe it’s neutral. As you pre-draft or draft your fiber, ask yourself questions and notice your senses.
Seasoned spinners, I haven’t forgotten about you, fear not! When’s the last time you stopped thinking about wraps per inch? Have you brought your wheel or spindle outside lately? When’s the last time you picked up a new-to-you breed? Stop and smell the fiber. No, really. Take a good whiff! I am sometimes surprised by this one. If I have a natural bit of fluff, I can smell the sheepy, rustic, full-bodied scent. Or maybe you can smell the acid dye. Maybe a wool wash?
What do you notice when you slow down and experience the craft from every angle? Have you ever spun with your eyes closed? Get curious with your fiber. As you close your eyes, reflect on your hands. Are they warm? Cold? Buzzing? What way are you drafting? These are all good starting places to consider the way your spinning impacts your sense of awareness. If you are spinning a less-than-thrilling color or maybe a large quantity of yarn, this kind of awareness can also be helpful in getting the job done.
Regardless of how long you have been spinning, consider the way your body feels. Is your jaw tight? Are your brows tense? How about your back or your chair? Getting curious about your body is an essential part of the noticing process. You don’t have to “correct” anything here, simply notice.
You can find endless pathways to meditative spinning. The objective here is to follow the natural, organic experience of the craft. There is no right or wrong, there is only being. There is only noticing. The point here is really to become mindful of ourselves and the way we are being with the craft. It’s an opportunity to engage with ourselves and our direct environment. It’s a way of slowing down and existing without an objective or an expectation. Like the up and down movements of the treadles, feelings and sensations move right along.
When I am spinning in this way, I like to gently remind myself that this is one place where rules can be broken, where I am not escaping the world but belonging to it fully. It is a practice of presence and acceptance. If you’re anything like me, you might find your thoughts go elsewhere. You might sit down with every good intention of being mindful and then your thoughts wander off, thinking of the laundry that needs to get done and if you did, in fact, pull chicken from the freezer. And that’s okay! Take note of where your thoughts and feelings go.
I invite you to take time for spinning as meditation. Call it what you’d like, make it your own. Get curious, continue to breathe, adjust your body in ways that support you best. Spin on, knowing you are part of the great fabric of a global community!
Tracy Murphy is a knitter, spinner, and dyer of Bosom Femme Fibers. Her fiber arts journey began as a young child where she learned to crochet in her grandmother’s kitchen. She was hooked from the start. Her favorite wool breeds to work with are Corriedale, Polwarth, and BFL. Tracy is always happy to learn new techniques yet also finds great joy in leaning into the gentle simplicity of craft.
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Excellent article! Makes me want to get my wheel out and spin. And take in the moment. Usually I have tv on for distraction. I think I need to take it outside, away from the distractions of cats and wife and the temptation of the television
This resonates so much with me! I am not a technical spinner in the least. It’s about the process, the creation, the way it all feels, and simply being in that moment. Love it!