Thursday, September 3, 2009

A new wheel and a very happy camper

This is the girl who started it all:

Two years ago we took a trip to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. I have loved this place since I was Isabel's age, but whereas I went and fell in love with the horse drawn carriages, my daughter became smitten with the spinning demonstration. She watched, absolutely mesmerized, as the period-costumed demonstrator took fluff and made yarn. It was pure magic and she loved it. At the end of the demo--and every 5 minutes for the rest of the day-- she announced that she wanted a spinning wheel. By the time we were ready to leave the museum, El Husbando and I were starting to think that this not just code for "how cool was that." We were witnessing the beginning of a full blown fiber passion. A quick trip into the gift shop produced a dream shattering case of sticker shock: spinning wheels cost hundreds of dollars. Now, I like to indulge creativity in my children. I believe in crafts and learning how to do things your self, etc. etc. etc. I also believe very firmly that most childhood passions are shockingly brief, sometimes barely outliving the acquisition of the beloved item. We've had cardboard appliance boxes that have had longer lasting entertainment value for my kids than some of their most ardently desired commercial objects. So a spinning wheel was clearly out of the question in the absence of at least some proof of fidelity.

Some wise and good-hearted individual was good enough to suggest that we look into a drop spindle. At a fraction of the cost of a wheel, we could be spinning real yarn and practicing the skills that would also be needed for a wheel. A quick trip to my favorite local yarn & fiber shop produced a $30 kit, complete with a spindle, some fiber, and a learn to spin DVD. The next step was to sign the poor child up for a drop-spindling class, and we were on our way.

Or not. Seven year olds don't really take a lot of notes in class and Mommies who Don't Spin can't really be very helpful when it is time to practice. Isabel tried with limited success to repeat what her teacher had shown her, but the result was snarls, tangles, lots of dropped spindles (hence the name, you know) and the kind of frustration that, in a less refined individual, would have produced language worthy of the golf course. This went on for several months until I woke up early one Saturday morning absolutely possessed by the idea that I would learn to use the spindle myself so that I could help my daughter. I plugged in the DVD, printed heaps of learn to spin articles (yes, the internet really does have everything) and locked myself in my "studio" with Isabel's spindle. Several hours and a great deal of golf language later, I had produced what is politely known as "novelty yarn." It wasn't pretty, but it was yarn and I was hooked. Isabel got a lot of "demonstrations" on how to make yarn, but not too much time with her spindle. A month later, I was asking for a spindle for my birthday and a month after that I had signed up for beginning wheel spinning. The good part is that I was able to teach Isabel how to spin with her spindle and it turned out that when I was using my spindle, she liked to use hers too. When I got my wheel, though, Isabel's crazed "gotta have it" look returned. She learned to use my wheel in about 5 minutes. It turned out she really did love spinning at the wheel and is pretty good at it. She hatched one scheme after another for getting her own wheel and was even (BRIEFLY!) willing to work for it. Most recently, she has engaged in a campaign of terror and torture, alternately surprising me with shouts or sustained (and REALLY annoying) chants of 'I want a spinning wheel.' It worked.

This spring, we began to check craigslist for used wheels. They turn up with surprising frequency but are usually outside our price range or gone by the time I call about them. Finally, last weekend, a used Babe turned up advertised at $80. I called as soon as I saw the listing and was told that there was already someone else interested, but if that person didn't get herself in gear soon, the wheel could be ours. The next day I got a call that the wheel had been sold. More golf language. $80 was a great price. The wheel might not be a 'forever' wheel for my kids (spinning fever was contagious, it turns out), but it would certainly do the job until they could earn their own money and buy their own expensive equipment. I would be lucky if I could find something under $300, never mind something in the $100 range. Golf language, golf language, golf language!

Three days later I was reading a Ravelry thread about finding used wheels and one of the participants had been giving a pep talk to another who was searching for a reasonably priced wheel. "Check craigslist every day," she said. So I took that advice, even though it wasn't for me, and there it was: a used Ashford Traditional for the low, low price of $120. The ad said to call in the evening to arrange to see the wheel. Golf language that! I called immediately. The ad was already a day old and I was sure the wheel would not still be available. But it was. And it wasn't too far away. And I had just received a paycheck in the mail, which seemed like a good omen.

So we went to see it. The wheel was from the late 80s or early 90s and had been in storage for 12 years. The poor thing was unfinished and a little cobwebby, but all the parts were straight and strong. We rushed it home and -- unusual for a pile of professional procrastinators -- cleaned it up immediately. We sanded and wiped and waxed and wiped again. Here are the before and after pictures.

Isn't it a beauty? A real-deal 'forever' wheel that can be upgraded to meet all of our --oops, I mean their -- needs. The few missing parts are on order and are nothing major; they can be (and have been) temporarily replaced by dental floss (no, I'm not kidding here and the cinnamon smell is kind of nice). My junior spinner is hard at work right now on her second bobbin of singles. There is still a little golf language involved, but less and less as she gets used to the wheel. Plus, when she runs in to trouble, she calls me over and says "can you help me" and then I claim that I have to sit down at the wheel in order to fix the problem and the next thing I know she's saying "Mom, can I have my spinning back now?" It really is a nice wheel, and suddenly I'm not sure which of us is the happier camper.

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