Sunday, March 11, 2012


When we last encountered our young (?) hero he had eliminated sheep farming from his list of possible careers in the knitting industry.  Actually, in my mind there are already a few facets of the industry that will not be given serious consideration.  But one must be fair and at least explain why some of these careers hold no appeal whatsoever.  For example: the very next step in wool production, after being a sheep farmer, would be the spinning of yarn.

I love how the term spinning yarn has two different meanings.  First, the actual process of taking a raw fiber and converting it into a knittable product, and second, the telling of tales.  Concocting fanciful stories, if you will.  Or to put it in a very blunt manner, lying.  Usually for the purpose of entertainment, of course, but still, it’s basically lying.  One day I’ll have to do some research as to how the term “spinning a yarn” came to have such a completely different meaning.   I’ll tell you something.  I do have a minor talent for this second interpretation of yarn spinning.  Maybe another time I’ll go into the details of why and how this is.  But right now we must focus on the literal definition of yarn spinning and why it is not something I’ll be taking up soon.

My immediate mental association with spinning yarn is a rather bizarre one.  I start to think of Franz Schubert.  That’s right.  Franz Schubert, the Stephen Sondheim of his day.  Franz Schubert, the greatest classical composer of songs ever.  It would take too long to explain how and why I know this, but let me tell you that one of the greatest songs this 19th century genius ever composed was a German song (or lied, as the Germans call it) titled Gretchen am Spinnrade.  In English that would be Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.  To analyze and explain why this song is a masterpiece is another thing that would take too many paragraphs.  But here is a fact.  At its core, the song Gretchen am Spinnrade is utterly depressing.  So let’s follow the dots that my mind instantly connects.  1.) Spinning yarn    2.) Franz Schubert   3.) Gretchen am Spinnrade    4.) Depression   It’s sort of the same way my mind works when I hear the word “gin”. 
1.) Gin    2.) 16 years old    3.) Ridiculous dare    4.) Queasy stomach    So in less than a second my mind associates gin with queasy stomach and spinning yarn with depression.  Freud would have had a field day with me.

Despite this mental block I have against spinning yarn, I will acknowledge that there is something rather mystical about it.  And we’re talking about hand spinning or using a spinning wheel here rather than industrial spinning.  I’ll leave industrial spinning to the industrialists.  But I suspect that in manual spinning there’s a strong link to the past, to a time when people had to spin yarn out of necessity.  This aspect of spinning must give immense satisfaction to the many who take it up as a hobby or to those happy few who do it as a living.  And in the same way that there is something very Zen about knitting, I’d wager that spinning has an even more intense meditative quality to it.  I also must admit that the idea of knitting yarn that you yourself have created has a strong appeal.  It would double that wonderful sense of accomplishment one gets when finishing a knitting project.  You know what?  I’ve almost convinced myself that this would be a worthy and noble thing for me to take up.  I might even ask Cathy to buy me a spinning wheel for my birthday so I could spend hours spinning at the store and having customers say, “Look at that man spin!  Spin, crazy man!  Spin!”  But then that ultra-sad image of poor broken-hearted Gretchen at her wheel pops into my mind and the romantic illusion of spinning yarn vanishes as fast as that evil bottle of gin did back in 1971.          

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