Back in my craft show days, I used to bring my smaller spinning wheel to the venue to while away the hours between customers. Spinning fascinates children; at the shows, I was a child-magnet and soon I realized I was also the babysitter.
“Look kids,” the mother or father would exclaim pushing sweaty hair out of their eyes, “she’s making string!”
The kids would gather round and then the parent, after a pause, would slip away, no doubt figuring their children were safe for a bit while they had a few moments to themselves to maybe check out the hand-blown glass booth. At first I was surprised that parents would leave their kids with me, then I felt flattered. Then I felt a surge of parental responsibility. Heck, I figured, I ought to educate these kids. So I would explain how “in the old days” people spun fiber to create thread—not string—to weave into cloth to sew into clothes.
“Why don’t they just buy them at the store?” one little girl asked, unimpressed.
“They didn’t have so many stores,” another child replied. “They only had stores that sold barrels of flour.” (Apparently a devotee of the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series.)
One day I was spinning mohair—the fiber from the Angora goat. The usual crowd of kids was around, so I launched into my spiel. “This is mohair,” I said. “See how lustrous it is? It’s used for—“
“—what’s a Mo?” a boy from the front row interrupted.
Another time, I decided to give them the whole shebang. I began with the carding combs, demonstrating brushing the fibers into line and peeling off the rolags to be spun. Since the children looked so dumbfounded (which I interpreted as amazement) I began to explain the principles of spinning, explaining how the microscopic scales on wool fibers caught with each other—sort of like Velcro—and that was what allowed the thread to form, and was also what was responsible for felting. About this time, a scrawny boy with ill-fitting clothes and scuffed sneakers moved closer to the spinning wheel. His eyes flitted from me to the spinning wheel, back and forth, with more and more urgency as I continued to lecture. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Just do it, already!” he burst out.
His unwashed face and dark-circled eyes, so different from the scrubbed and well-fed faces of the kids who lived in this prosperous town, looked intense; his eyes burned. I began to spin.
The other kids eventually drifted away, or were picked up by their parents, but he stayed, rapt, watching the spinning wheel create thread, as if seeing magic in the world for the first time.