What’s the difference between knitting and weaving? How is yarn made? How do you get colorful clothing from white sheep and bolls of cotton? I love teaching children about weaving and spinning and my weaving guild often does presentations in local schools and parks. The answers to these questions are a mystery; not only to the internet generation, but also to a huge swath of adults from 30-60.
This past weekend I volunteered at a children’s camp and again had the pleasure of talking to people who may be mystified by textiles. I sat in the sun spinning wool and when children and counselors came up to watch me, I answered questions and asked questions. After a couple hours I figured out I couldn’t say that I was spinning because that term doesn’t mean anything to a lot of people. I had to say I was making yarn. There was a wonderful volunteer weaver who each year sets up a series of table looms so the kids also had the option of weaving on a camp banner. They could spin yarn with me and also see how yarn is used to make fabric.
Many kids, of course, were mesmerized by the colors. Hot pink and dark purple were especially popular and not just among girls. Plied back on each other they made beautiful “necklaces” and at the end of camp several kids gifted their new creation to a parent.
Some people were primarily interested in the mechanics of how a wheel works. A twirling drop spindle evoked similar curiosity.
A dozen kids and a few counselors were brave enough to sit down and use the wheel. There was frustration in trying to understand the instructions and frustration when the fiber inevitably breaks, but in the end everyone was able to spin.
It is always a joy to watch the wonder in a child’s face when the length of yarn is pulled off the bobbin and plied back and the spinner is presented with their own “first yarn”. Likewise the kids were immensely proud of the 8 inch sections they wove and many a child pulled their parent into the lodge to “see what I wove”.
The average age in my guild must be over 60 and at the CNCH conference in Squaw Valley last month there was scarcely a head in the crowd without some gray. If we don’t pass it on, beautiful crafts are lost, just as they have been lost in indigenous cultures around the world. Children grow up not only without an understanding of where their clothes come from, but also without the joy of “I made it myself”.