I have to confess that I don’t know much about spinning, knitting, weaving or just about anything else that has to do with fiber. I know about taking care of fiber animals – that’s been my job so far at our little hobby farm. Give a shot? Sure. Trim hooves? No problem. Assist with birthing? I’m all over it. Spin a skein of yarn? Um…well, I guess I’ll just have to learn about that. So, that’s what the men’s room is going to be for our first few issues - the trials and tribulations of a man taking up the art of hand-spinning and knitting.
Is spinning and knitting a manly pursuit? Ask the average Joe and the answer would probably be “no”. However, I’ve learned that knitting in particular was primarily a male job way back when - kind of like sewing or cooking. It was very popular amongst sailors. I can understand that – I’ve been out on the open ocean, and even on a warm day, the wind and spray can make for a very damp and chilly experience. Sweaters knitted of raw wool (with all the lanolin still in it) were: a) really warm, and b) largely water resistant – two features the average sailor appreciates even in modern times. I have heard (but not confirmed) that in Irish costal towns, each family had a unique pattern that they knitted into their sweaters. The macabre reason for this was so that when a poor sailor was lost at sea, if he washed ashore, they could tell who he was by his sweater. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t really want to know because it makes for a great story. And besides, it sounds reasonable, right? So I say, let’s be men, and lets not be shy about producing garments that our sea-faring ancestors would have been proud to wash up on shore in!
The earliest known examples of knitting (and other types of pre-knitting that involved tying knots in yarn to make a fabric) have been dated to several hundred years B.C. Examples have been found in Egyptian tombs, but also in pre-Columbian Peru indicating that the art arose independently in different regions. It is thought that the Arabs introduced knitting to Europe in the fifth century.
Over time, knitting has become more and more intricate with the use of different patterns and various colors of yarn to make intricate designs. Mechanized knitting got started during the sixteenth century. Over a couple of hundred years, the process grew more advanced until by the nineteenth century, machine knitted undergarments were commonplace.
History aside, my own experiences with spinning and knitting have thus far been limited. I have tried spinning a little bit. I spun up a ball of yarn on my wife’s spinning wheel. It was pretty slubby, and over-twisted, and in general looked like what you might expect a first-timer to produce. I found the experience somewhat frustrating because I was being too intense and going too fast. I was trying to make it a really impressive ball of yarn, but it turns out that intensity is not what is needed when spinning.
I’ve also tried knitting. In fact I think I’ve got the whole casting-on thing figured out. If casting-on was all that was required, I’d be down right competent at knitting! Sadly, there comes a point where you’ve got to put a second row on the thing, and well…that was a little more difficult.
So, I’m going to take a big step back and start small. I’m going to go “old-school” and spin some yarn using a simple drop spindle. I think this will help curb my intensity and speed problems. After all, you can only spin a spindle so fast, and it’s only going to keep spinning for so long. The spinning wheel on the other hand – let’s just say I was peddling that thing like I was in the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong would have been proud.
With the next issue of Spindle and Wheel, the journey begins! I’ll be documenting my efforts at learning to spin and knit. There will be laughs, there will be tears, and with any luck there will be something knitted to show for it.