Control vs. Hard Work

I’ve been engaging more deeply this fall with my job of raising small humans and caring for the physical needs of my family. It’s a complete renegotiation of self-control, self-gift, boundaries, and time. I’m looking for my equilibrium, knowing there will always be fluctuations in the equation.

At the same time, there’s been a theme in my spinning. I keep finding myself spinning woolen prep worsted style.

For the non-spinners in my readership: there are two basic ways that handspinners turn fluffy wool into strands of wool, that we can turn into yarn any number of ways. Those two techniques are called woolen and worsted. Complementarily, there are two basic ways that wool can be prepped into ready-to-spin fluffiness. They are also called woolen and worsted. Two very different things: the way wool is processed before spinning, and the techniques the hands use to spin, but matched with the same names.

Worsted prep and worsted spinning go together to make worsted yarn. The worsted preparation of the wool lines up the fibers next to each other so they are organized and parallel. The spinning technique uses short, controlled movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is even, smooth, dense, and even a little shiny. It’s a yarn of control and strength.

Woolen yarn and woolen spinning go together to make woolen yarn. Woolen prep of wool gets them in a nice ready-to-spin state (usually some kind of strip or tube), but they are not organized. They are jumbled and airy. The woolen spinning technique uses long, instinctive movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is airy, fluffy, matte, and warm, if also relatively lumpy and fragile. It’s a yarn of intuition and warmth.

That is the basic dichotomy. Both kinds of yarn are important and wonderful. Most spinners try to acquire both skill sets at some point.

Spinners, however, being artists, technicians, experimenters, and nerds, do like to mix and match. That’s the delight of making your own yarn: you can do whatever the heck you want. You can spin woolen prep with a worsted draft, or the reverse. There was a whole issue of PLY magazine about it.

Lately, I’ve found myself spinning a lot of woolen prep with a worsted drafting technique.

What that means, as you can now understand, is that I’m taking a very disorganized jumble of fibers, and spinning it with short, controlled movements. But jumbled fibers, even when spun with controlled movements, are never going to become a smooth, shiny, dense worsted yarn.

What they do become is something really wonderful. When you take the inherent zaniness of woolen prep – even a really crazy art batt like the one my mom just gave me – and carefully spin it into even, worsted singles, you get a yarn ready for conventional knitting, but with so much texture and character.

The end result is worth it. But in the process, when I’m doing that worsted spinning on a woolen prep, it’s a bit of a negotiation. My hands, doing the woolen thing, want to see an even singles coming out between my hands. I’m always double checking myself: am I going too thin or thick? Am I letting in too many bumps? The wool itself, meanwhile, is constantly jumping from thick to thin, or between textures, with very little concern about what I want.

The key is to just relax and do the work. I don’t want to control this wool into perfection. That’s not the look I’m going for. I want this yarn to be more interesting, to have a little more character than a totally worsted singles. I know that because I’m using a controlled draft, it will come out as even as I need it to.

When I was first married, I had a really weird relationship with housework and order. I’d grown up in a very tidy house, but was not very tidy myself. I did my best to keep house, but without the inclination or skill set, there just wasn’t any reason to keep really clean except to be neurotic and controlling. I’ve let go of a lot of that control now, as part of a long journey that is tied up with my mental health.

Now I’m doing something different. I’m keeping house, and working hard at it, but it’s for the sake of three tiny whirlwinds of joyful creativity, and their long-suffering daddy. I’m not cleaning to clean. I’m cleaning to give them a space for creativity and joy.

Going through those motions of housekeeping can make the old neuroses creep up. Don’t I want to keep going until the house feels perfect? Don’t I need to keep a certain standard? No. No, I really don’t.

This is what I’m trying to remember: I’m not trying to control anything. I’m just doing the work. I don’t want a perfect result. I want all the texture and mess and color and vibrancy that comes from children and their creativity and inquiry. I am cleaning the table so that they can make a mess in the morning. I am making food they like so that they will have the energy to go outside and get covered in mud.

It’s hard to remember. But then the yarn is plied, and it’s this glorious unique stuff I can’t wait to cast on. But then from the table emerges this costume piece made from sealskin scraps and glitter glue and pieces of tulle cut from an amazon gift bag, worn with a great big smile.

Equilibrium (I hate the word “balance”) is less a place you find and more of a wave you ride. I don’t really get it. I’m still falling off a lot.

But the great thing about a spinning metaphor is this: no matter how much you mess up, as long as you’re doing the work at all, you’ll end up with beautiful yarn. You can always work with what you get.

2 thoughts on “Control vs. Hard Work

  1. So beautifully said, Rebecca! This was so encouraging to me. And that yarn has turned out beautifully!


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