The gift of knowledge

In earlier posts I have written a lot about the knowledge in the hands, muscle memory, the power of slowness and learning through experience. Today I explore spinning and the learning process in spinning in a spiritual perspective. While reflecting over the gift of knowledge I dig into the why of spinning.

During the autumn I have been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful books Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering moss. She is a professor of botany and blends her scientific knowledge seamlessly with her indigenous heritage in the Potawatomi Nation. I have had to stop reading several time to reflect over the spiritual message of the book and how I can find a deeper spiritual meaning in my spinning.

Gathering moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer is my morning read at the moment.
Gathering moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer is my morning read at the moment.

The gift of knowledge

I read and journal early in the morning in blissful solitude, when body and mind are sprouting fresh out from the stagnant night. This is my time and space dedicated to reflection and becoming a better person in the world.

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“In traditional indigenous communities, learning takes a form very different from that of the American public education system. Children learn by watching, by listening and by experience. They are expected to learn from all members of the community, human and non-human. To ask a direct question is often considered rude. Knowledge cannot be taken; it must instead be given. Knowledge is bestowed by a teacher only when the student is ready to receive it. Much learning takes place by patient observation, discerning pattern and its meaning by experience. It is understood that there are many versions of truth, and that each reality may be true for each teller. It’s important to understand the perspective of each source of knowledge.”

Gathering moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, p. 82

I have been thinking about this quote a lot this morning and how I can apply the gift of knowledge – knowledge as a gift to be given when I’m ready to receive it – to spinning. Every time I spin I do my best to listen to the wool and allow it to be my teacher. As I teach I encourage my students to listen patiently to the wool. But the notion of knowledge being given when I as a student am ready gives even more depth to this process. The notion of knowledge as a gift is like a gift in itself, wrapped in a soft pink silk ribbon.

A conversation with the wool

As I work my way through the wool and through the stages of wool processing there is a conversation going on. My hands explore and get feedback from the wool. Reflecting over the quote above I realize that I don’t ask the direct questions, because I know the answer won’t help me. I need to be ready to receive the the answer. The time it takes to get ready may include investigation, exploration, experimentation and patient listening.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
I’m listening to my Icelandic wool.

I learn by experience over and over again as the wool goes through my hands and my mind. The wool replies in my hands with clues of elasticity, give, length, crimp, friction. Small clues that build up to an understanding of the wool when I am ready to receive it. If I’m not ready to receive the understanding I will make mistakes. Which, ironically, do help me understand, but in a more brutal way.

The clues along the road will eventually help me understand the wool and what I need to do. I also believe that the time it takes to figure out what the clues tell me will give me the knowledge. It may also include silently being with the wool, asking for nothing in return. The time I spend with the wool, the time I give the wool, will allow me to reflect and understand what it is I experience.

Example: Icelandic Lopi style yarn

So how do I get ready to receive the knowledge by my teacher, the wool? To illustrate my thoughts on this I will use my current spinning project as an example. I’m spinning Icelandic wool in the grease from the lock and my example regards the processing of the wool before spinning.

  • When I first met this fleece I wanted to tease the wool with my hands only. But since the tips were a bit stiffened by the lanolin I abandoned that idea. The fibers in the tip didn’t separate enough for a comfortable spin.
  • Next I tried teasing with a flicker. Tip end and cut end. This was a better approach. The teased staples were easier to work with and I could spin a more even yarn.
  • The flicked staples were still worked one by one, though. I wanted to find a way to bundle them together and spin as a mass. From previous experience I knew that flicked locks don’t always separate as evenly as a carded or combed preparation and tend to get dense. I tried hand teasing the staples sideways after the flicking and could arrange the flicked and hand teased staples better as a bundle. It was also more open than separate flicked staples. The sideways hand teasing reduced some of the denseness. It was still a little awkward, though. The drafting got interrupted by tangles and disarrayed and escaping fibers.
  • I worked this way for one or two skeins. Then, out of no special reason at all, I spread each staple in its sideway hand teased state, like an accordion. I layered the accordioned teasings (wow, that’s a new word invention, but I hope you get what I’m after) on top of each other, cut end on top of cut end, tip end on top of tip end. When I had layered an appropriate amount of teasings I rolled the whole accordion pile into a loose burrito bundle and spun from the corner of the cut ends. This works very well. I get an evenly spun yarn that drafts easily over the whole bundle.

The accordion burrito preparation is how I work at the moment. I have spun two or three skeins this way and it is working out smoothly. But who knows, I may find yet another answer as I investigate and am ready to receive new knowledge.

If and when that happens I will work with the new knowledge and develop my technique accordingly. Step by step I get ready to receive new knowledge. The way I prepare this wool now at this moment was not available to me when I started. I wasn’t ready to receive and understand it.

Quick fix or receiving the knowledge?

I have written quite an extensive post so far. Throughout the post I have shared clues in the wool through my experience of it. With time, exploration, experimentation, listening and reflecting I have gained, earned, become ready to receive knowledge about how the wool behaves. From that knowledge I have spun a yarn in a certain way, with certain tools and techniques. I could go straight to this paragraph and spin the yarn from a “recipe” created from the bullet list above. But the understanding would be lost. I wouldn’t be ready to receive the knowledge without the time spent observing and experiencing the wool. As I read the bullet list my hands remember how each step felt and the time it took to take the next. Time is my friend here, slow is a superpower. Connecting this approach to a spiritual level makes my heart tingle.


I come back to the same important factors in understanding the wool I work with – the muscle memory, learning by experience, learning by mistakes and the time I spend with the wool. These are all part of my understanding of the wool. In a way similar to how Robin Wall Kimmerer adds the best parts of western science to her indigenous knowledge to understand plants around her I do my best to understand spinning through both physical, experiential, temporal and spiritual perspectives. They may all lead to the same result, the perspectives are just different.

Through different perspectives I get to know the wool. A spiritual perspective adds a new dimension to my understanding of the wool and the process.
Through different perspectives I get to know the wool. A spiritual perspective adds a new dimension to my understanding of the wool and the process.

I may understand these perspectives on different levels and in different contexts. The combination of them can give me a greater depth of spinning. I find a spiritual perspective to be an important piece that adds new dimensions to my perception of the wool. I can rest in the notion that by humbly and respectfully investigating, listening, exploring and experimenting with the wool I will understand more as I am ready to receive the gift of knowledge.


Happy spinning!

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