Wednesday, May 31, 2006

the story of how I feel in love with fiber and then ordered a wheel....

My love of fiber in the form of roving started at Spa in 2005; I trekked my way to the DoubleTree hotel and wandered around a room of vendors with a single goal: find wool to make thrummed mittens. I had heard they were warm and it was a cold and snowy winter – perfect for mittens that would keep my hands warm and dry.

I had no idea what different types of wool were called, why they were different and what was best for thrums so I simply put my hands into bins and buckets of wool until I found something that felt soft and looked affordable. The vendors were helpful but not sure how to help me and no one knew how much fiber I’d need for a simple pair of mittens. I walked away with a bag full of Icelandic wool from the friendly people at Frelsi Farm Icelandic and was hooked on fiber.

I still haven’t made thrummed mittens, but that initial batch of fiber has been a touchstone and was the reason why I got a Bosworth drop spindle at Cummington last year. (well, I also happened to be in the right place at the right time and Laurie and I had a sort of pact that was a bit like “I’ll get one if you get one…”)

Then life got in the way.

The spindle was packed and moved and unpacked and repacked and moved and over the course of the past year my fingers forgot what to do with the wool. I don’t have anyone locally that could help me out with the spinning process and every attempt I made by myself was simply frustrating. After this past weekend it’s also become clear that (for many reasons) I probably wasn’t in the best place to learn how to use a new fibery tool last year (pre-boards among other things…) but! my desire to figure it out has been simmering. Over the past year I watched and cheered on other new spindlers, saw as wheels were tried and bought and used to make the most amazing yarn and created a sort of “plan” for what my future in spinning would look like….

The plan:
- figure out how to use spindle while in my 3rd/4th year of med school
- try wheels with the goal of buying myself a wheel for graduation (from med school)
- figure out how to use a wheel in residency

there are many problems with this plan – the first being that I’m crazy to think that I’ll have time to learn how to use a spinning wheel during my first year of residency (often known as the “intern” year, or ayearofhell). The other issues weren’t truly clear to me until this past weekend and the jist is that there’s no way I can wait a year to own a wheel. The logistics ran through my head as I wandered around the fairgrounds on Saturday so I focused on getting the technique of using a spindle down.

This year at Cummington it made sense. I watched (sometimes out of the corner of my eye) how others held the spindle and the wool, how they started with a new fiber, how to spin lusciously greasy wool straight out of a bag of fleece, and how to pick it up when it falls on the floor and just keep going.

That last one was a particularly good lesson. I was initially worried about how foolish and clumsy I’d look, and how the generous and amazing people would feel about repeating themselves and showing me again and again what to do with my hands. Those fears, I soon learned, were completely unfounded; everyone was patient and kind and showed me ways to fix what I had done wrong and how to do it another way. I saw and learned more in one evening then I could have possibly understood using a book or video from the internet and as a result sat somewhat self-absorbedly playing with my spindle. I stopped when I was too tired to see straight but wanted to keep it going.

When I knit items like simple stockenette socks my fingers know what to do without needing any help from my mind. I can feel when a stitch isn’t quite right, or when I’ve dropped a stitch because, for example, the spacing has changed. Knitting has become automatic and it’s part of the reason I want to branch out into lace and more “complicated” stitches – there are times I want something that I have to think about and concentrate on. Yes, knitting during classes and while studying has been a lifesaver (literally), but I’m on the verge of thinking it’s always something I do when I’m working on something else.

Spinning at Cate’s re-opened (for lack of a better term) the part of my brain that has been asleep for the past four years. My fingers and mind worked together to figure out how much to draft, how much twist was needed or already there and, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, it was somewhat peaceful. Spinning had never before been something I did to reach a state of calm, and yet there I was – calm as could be in a room full of people laughing and talking and knitting and spinning. I wasn’t overwhelmed, wasn’t getting a headache or withdrawing into myself.

I get it now.

Sunday morning I had plans to head south to complete my weekend tour of New England and help a friend move into her new apartment near Providence, RI. While enjoying one last cup of coffee in Cate’s living room I started talking to a gentleman named Doug who was sitting next to me. We talked about where we were from, and at one point he mentioned that he had a wheel that he’d be happy to lend me so I could practice and try it out. He was an authorized Louet dealer and before I knew it I was saying “or I could just buy one.” He tried once to talk me out of it and into just borrowing a wheel (that could be bought if I wanted to) but I was firm that this was something I wanted to do. I’d looked at lots of wheels on the internet and couldn’t see how an ornate wheel fit into my future as a med student/resident and that’s when the Louet moved to the top of my “plan” list.

I’d heard that the right wheel at the right time would speak to me, but in my case it was the right person in the right place at the right time. (beware the power of Cate’s wool room, er, living room and house when it’s filled with people under the influence of a lanolin high because there are beautiful fleeces and wheels and knitting nearby….)

The wheel Louet is an S-17, which is marketed as a budget wheel for the beginner but what really appeals to me is how sturdy it looks. I think this wheel (and the absence of spokes – beautiful as they may be on other wheels) can stand up to being packed and moved around every few weeks next year. It will serve the purpose of being a wheel that I learn on, play with and enjoy. My plan of a new wheel for gradation is still a possibility but now when I start to look I’ll know what I want and what works best for me. It's not here yet, but it'll make it's way here some way or another and I can't wait. (Can't. Wait.)

I think it’s strange that I find myself trying to justify the purchase to everyone – wool people know what I’m talking about when I simply say “I wanted a wheel.” For everyone else I have a long mental list of reasons why this was a good idea and how it will be a benefit to have one now. Life is too short to wait for the calm I felt that night.

(I could go on and on about how I feel in love with fleece(s) on Saturday and how carrying around a lock of fresh wool was near intoxicating and how I continually asked people to remind me that I did not need a fleece (what is the opposite of enabling?) but really wanted one anyway. Now that I’m immersed in surgery again I know I don’t have time to process a whole fleece but someday….someday….)

Re-entry to the world of medicine (a land I was ecstatic to leave behind for a few wonderful days) was and has been difficult. Straddling two worlds (fiber and medicine) that do not often intersect is hard but very much worth it and weekends like this past one keep me going forward. I’m not always happy with what I see and do during my rotations and as a result of that (and other things going on in my life) I can be rather grumpy. It was nice to not feel like one of the least liked seven dwarves this weekend, and what others have written remains true for me as well. It is hard to describe but it was real. I was Real. Med students aren’t often encouraged to be or stay real while in training and it’s a struggle to keep it up. Glimpses into what can and will be help me remember – thank you to everyone.

(links et cetra are going to have to wait – it’s midnight and I have to be up and on my way into the OR in a few hours….)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoo hoo! Congrats. You'll like the Louet - mine has been great. Photos when it arrives please :) - Sara

4:17 AM  
Blogger Carole said...

Blogless Sharon has a Louet and she's very happy with it. I think it's the right choice for your lifestyle. And I also thinking spinning will be invaluable for you during your residency. You will have learned before then, with your new plan, and spinning will be such a fabulous stress reliever for you!

6:45 AM  
Blogger Pumpkinmama said...

Congrats on the wheel. I have truly enjoyed my S-17, it has been/is a great learning wheel and it *is* sturdy an packable. Have fun!

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Kat said...

Congratulations! I thought about buying a wheel too and I haven't even tried a spindle yet. There is no escaping the Spindicate.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Congratulations on the Louet! I'm so sorry I missed Cate's get-together; it sounds like some truly important and Real things happened there (I was busy doing the kid-juggling thing). I wish you much peace and calm in this crazy time of your life.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

Welcome to the black hole of owning a spinning wheel... or is it that the wheel owns us? Are you going to the Fiber Frolic??

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Nancy J said...

I have a Louet S-10 that's a workhorse and a terrific companion. You've done well. And just wait until you knit with handspun. It's better than chocolate!

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hooray, hooray--you'll love the wheel, and by next year's Cummington gathering you'll be an old pro. :)
Katy (knitterpated)--who is supposed to be working--oops!

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Juno said...

I'm so happy for you. I think you made a great choice for a wheel that will happily thrive in the chaotic life you are presently leading, and I KNOW that the meditation of it will be a benefit to you in the months to come.

I understand that med students are being tested in necessary ways, but who says you need to face the test with no reprieve, no outlet? I bet you survive it better because of this.

And you are totally Real.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Laurie said...

I was listening to your frustration across the room. Did you see me drop my spindle at least four or five times? I didn't know Cassie had wound it in the other direction. I'm happy that you found the peace. It is exactly what draws most to the craft, and a valuable tool for the professional (and nonprofessional) life. Louet is a GREAT idea.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I loved reading this post, that's exactly how I fell in love with fiber too. Last year at NHS&W I decided I wanted wool for thrummed mittens and I ended up with a bag of fiber and a wheel! And I've still never made thrummed mittens.

7:10 AM  

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