Reciprocity: from the Latin word reciprocus, meaning ‘moving backwards and forwards’. I buy wool, worth so much more and on a completely different scale than the money I paid for it. A gift from the sheep. I give back in the skill and love I invest in working with it from fleece to textile.
When I see a fleece I see a gift. Even if I have bought the wool for money there is something more, something bigger than a monetary value in the material. A sheep farmer tended the sheep and the pastures. The sheep managed the landscape and grew the wool. These are gifts that work in a dimension way above and beyond money.
I reflect today on reciprocity. On the sharing of gifts that go backwards and forwards in a slow, sweet and ongoing dance between the souls who once took a first step to the beat of the sharing of gifts.
The gifts of wool
There are so many gifts in the wool. Gifts that come sweetly packed in curls and waves. And, if you look close enough, layers and layers of gifts as you peel them off humbly, slowly and mindfully.
Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her beautiful and important book Braiding Sweetgrass:
“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”
I do my best to listen to the wool with open eyes and an open heart while also reflecting over this on the blog and when I teach spinning and wool handling. I’m forever grateful for the wisdom of book, what it has taught me and what it keeps teaching me as long as I pay attention and listen. Read this book. It has helped me understand so much more and on a much deeper level about the relationships we have with each other and with nature.
The gift of wool in itself
The first and perhaps the most obvious gift is the wool in itself – an exquisite material that will keep me and my loved ones warm and safe. A material that has so many superpowers and so many manifestations as finished textiles.
I’m grateful for that first spinning lesson almost ten years ago when I got a box of just-shorn finull wool in my lap, a spindle and a pair of handcards. Back then I didn’t understand the greatness of this single moment, but I think about it often, smiling in my heart at what it has given me.
The gift of characteristics
The characteristics of each individual fleece, whether it’s the shine, the softness the strength or the colour, are all a gift. Every characteristic is something I can work with and learn from. From all the gifts I get from the characteristics of the fleece I want to give back by making the most of them, by making them shine in the yarn and allow the soul of the fleece to sparkle.
The gift of learning
By exploring the wool as I work with it through every step from raw fleece to a finished yarn or textile I learn what it is about, what its strengths are and how I can work with it to honur the sheep that gave me its wool.
As I tease the wool I learn about the elasticity and viscosity of the wool. As I card or comb I learn about the length of the fibers and how they relate to each other. When I spin I experience the elasticity, viscosity, length and relationships again, confirming my previously gained knowledge, provided I have listen well enough. In knitting, weaving or whatever technique I use, I learn how the yarn behaves as a material in its new shape. The things I learn I pay forward in courses and blog posts to my students and supporters.
The gift of the craft
I have learned so much about spinning and wool handling since that first day when I got the box of finull wool in my lap. Yet I know I have so much more to learn. The aim of my first yarn was to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. While I did manage to spin S and ply Z the yarn was not fit to use for anything really. I had the naïve idea that I would be able to spin something that in both quality and quantity would be enough for a textile that I would want to wear.
Eventually I did spin my first yarn for two-end knitting, from that very first fleece. It was way underspun and way too soft. But I didn’t realize that back then, it dawned on me years later when I spun my third or fourth yarn for two-end knitting. Now, at my fifth or sixth two-end knitting yarn I still learn. How to process, spin, ply and sample to create a yarn I can use and enjoy. Regardless of whether I can actually use and enjoy it I know that I will learn from it.
Crafts leading to new crafts
The gift of the craft is also about having the fortune of actually knowing a craft, knowing how to keep me and my loved ones warm and safe.
By learning how to spin I have also visited other crafts. As my spinning journey developed I realized that I needed to learn how to weave to be able to spin a wider spectrum of yarns. Gifts of new crafts came. I am definitely still a beginner at weaving, but I still love all the weaving I can do. Learning how to weave has in turn taught me about how I want my weaving yarns.
The gift of the process
Mmm… the process. Not only the process from the newly shorn fleece through preparing, spinning, plying, finishing and making a textile, but the process in the hands and the brain during whatever step of the process I am enjoying right now. The process of mindfully picking lock by lock from the fleece, of dancing the teased wool through cards or combs and of feeding the yarn into the twist.
The process gives me the gift of space, balance, lightness and freedom, such precious gifts. When my hands and my brain are in the process my shoulders relax. I breathe slower and deeper. The wool enters my hands with the gift of touch, rhythm and ease. As a person living with chronic migraines the process gives me a moment of focus on something else than the vize-like pressure on my senses, a moment to breathe easier and be somewhere else than in the migraine.
When I am in the process I am in a room that is my own, where thoughts are welcome to come and go just as the fibers come and go. There is a sense of allowing, lightness and ease in my room. A sacred place where listening and kindness are keys. I like to think that being in my spinning process makes me a more balanced and humble person, gifts that I hope I am able to spread to the people around me.
The gift of mistakes
Sometimes I think I learn more from my mistakes than I do when everything runs smoothly. At least I learn more suddenly. I know by now that mistakes are good – by making a mistake and analyzing it I will hopefully learn – hands-on – why it happened and what I can do to avoid it the next time.
Every time I look at the mistake I will remember the circumstances around it. I embrace my mistakes and am thankful for them. Even if I may growl a bit when they happen I know I will have use for the experience sooner or later.
The gift of time
Time is an essential part of spinning. Not only the time it takes to actually spin enough yarn for a project, but also the time spent with the woo. The simpler the tools and setup the closer I come to the wool. The less of the mechanics that are in the tools the more the mechanics are in me. I become a part of the tool – I am the tool as I spin on spindles, I am the loom when I weave with a backstrap loom and I am the sewing machine when I hand stitch.
All these simple tools take time, but it is also time spent with the wool and with the techniques. This goes for the preparation of the wool too – I want to do all the steps myself and with hand tools, from sorting the wool through picking, teasing, processing and spinning. The time I spend with the wool through all the steps of the process is time and opportunity to listen to the wool and learn. Slow is a superpower and time spent with the wool a gift.
The gift beyond time
Spinning is a space for me, a sacred space beyond time. A space where I get to go with the flow of the fibers, listen to them to understand what steps to take next. In my spinning space I allow myself to just be with the wool and receive the reflections that gently glide through my mind, without expectations, without restrictions.
The gift beyond time is one that goes deeper than any of the other gifts I receive from spinning. I can’t pay back for this gift. But I can express my gratitude by gently dressing my reflections in the sweetest words I can think of and share them with the world.
Reciprocating the gifts
I want to reciprocate al these gifts through the time, skill and love I give back to the wool as I work with it from fleece to a finished yarn or textile. As part of a web of reciprocity it is my responsibility to pay back or forward for the gifts I receive. By being ever curious I want to find the superpowers of the wool and make it the star of the project I make. Even if I can’t give much more back to the sheep and the sheep farmer than my gratitude I can always give it forward by my presence in the wool, by listening to what it teaches me and by sharing my creative process with the world.
Backwards and forwards
I know my gifts will be returned to me or paid forward one way or another. Perhaps someone who reads what I do helps another spinner find a new perspective or listen to the wool. I will continue to return or pay the gifts offered to me forward. Reciprocity seems to work that way, like a dance you dance together, giving and receiving.
I write mindfully about the beautiful wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep. When Elsa a few months later gives birth to two sweet black ewe lambs with white tufts on their foreheads I get the honour of naming them. I pick the names Barbro and Anita, after two of the women who back in the 1980’s and -90’s nurtured a couple of the oldest flocks of what later was established as Gestrike sheep. As a thank you to generations of sheep farmers I give back again to the sheep and the breed by naming the lambs after some of the pioneers.
Today is my 49th birthday. Perhaps writing this blog post is a part of a returning pre-birthday process of contemplating the years gone by and the years to come. I have an old wise woman deep inside and I’m very fond of her. As time goes by I like to think I’m getting closer to her. I do my best to treat her lovingly and respectfully. In return I will hopefully get some of her wisdom.
I receive so many gifts from you, all sweetly wrapped in kindness and experience. This post is a gift back. I’m so grateful for you all, for dancing to the beat of reciprocity and the sharing of gifts.
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