Thursday, January 04, 2007

the yarn party

The seven girls start by forming a circle on the floor, a small and shrinking circle as they crowd closer and closer to me. I place a pinkie-sized sliver of loose wool in each of their left hands, and mirror how I wanted each girl to hold her wool like a toothbrush. This left hand, I say, is your fiber source.

Take your empty hand and pinch a bit of the end of your piece of wool, and pull your hands slowly apart a few inches… now twirl the pinch of fibers between your fingers of your right hand, and pull a little farther apart. It’s an experiment: we’re just seeing what happens. Notice that the few fibers you hold, drag out a few more fibers. The only difference between loose wool and yarn is one word: twist. Our job is to add twist.

Look at yours! It’s a long triangle! That’s called The Drafting Triangle. Yours broke—that happens a lot in making yarn. A lot. Trust me. Pull out another pinch, slowly.

Next I want you to take your left hand-fiber source and your right hand-drafting hand, and put your pulled out fibers onto your right knee. Flatten your right hand and roll the fibers toward you, up your leg. Now let’s all pick it up again and look at it at eye-level. Congratulations! That’s your first piece of yarn! Without letting it untwist, place it on your right knee again and roll it up your leg with the flat of your hand. Now show it to me again as you lightly pull your hands apart. Yarn! How about that? Want to try again? Roll, and pull your hands apart. Watch carefully as the twist enters your drafting triangle, and moves toward your fiber source. Twist, triangle, fiber source. What do you think?

Two lucky girls had an immediate sense of drafting, pulling a long and even piece of yarn out of one pinky-sized fluff of wool. It’s not that easy for most of us.

Denise, how do I keep it from untwisting, Denise, mine broke again, Denise, can I have red next time and not blue? Denise, Denise, Denise. Education—it’s a beautiful thing, even when it’s like being picked apart by seagulls begging.

Take. One. Giant. Step. Back. And make a circle. No one sits on my lap. I look at them with mock sternness. This is a great bunch of girls. I believe I could teach these nine-year-olds engineering, if only I knew it. But we are engineering yarn.

When spinners make more yarn than they can hold, often they will wind it onto a stick, and eventually the stick evolved into something to put the spin into the wool, as well as a place to wind the wool. Brendan, can you bring me the basket of spindles? He proudly walks to the big basket full of shiny disks on sticks. The girls burst into happy ooh-ing and aah-ing. “I maked these myself, for Madeleine’s birthday party,” and it’s true: he drilled the holes with his hand-crank drill, into the ends of the dowels, then sanded the dowels and watched carefully as I threaded on the rubber grommet and the discarded CDs. (I'll get you a link to directions here.)

Do we get to take these home?!!!

Of course you do! It’s your party favor. Raucous cheers break out. Now, some of these spindles will spin better than others, so you have to tell me if you find one you like perfectly, and I’ll put your name on it. Brendan, can you bring me a Sharpie? I handed each girl a spindle with a tail of yellow yarn.

See this yellow yarn? A spindle needs a leader. The leader grabs your loose fiber so you can get started. Lay the leader alongside your tuft of yarn, in your left hand. Give the spindle a quick spin like a top, with your right hand…

And so the party went on, girls inching the circle into a crowded knot, girls exclaiming Denise-Denise-Denise, what’s next, what am I doing wrong, can you put my spindle back on because it fell off, laughter.

Guess how long it took me to learn to do this well? They name all kinds of numbers of minutes, hours, months. Three years. I just kept trying. You are already doing so well! Remember, it’s just an experiment. Your first yarn will look like an experiment—lumpy and funny. It takes time. But you—I can tell you are fast learners.

Two girls are ready for the next step, and Madeleine helps them get started plying, which in this case means folding the lengths of fiber in half so it twists back on itself. Two girls have asked for more colors of wool, and Brendan has already agreed in advance to be The Yarn Waiter—that’s how he got into this party, as the only boy and the only seven-year-old. He earned his way. Two girls are feeling quite challenged and I let them try a simpler-to-use “pencil roving,” which needs less coaxing to become yarn. Madeleine already knows how to spin, and she decides to be a hostess, like Brendan’s waiter-role. “This is what you do next. Let me help you ply.”

The same Denise-Denise-Denise’s happen, but each a little less urgent and a little better paced for one single Denise. No one says “I don’t get it” after the first few minutes, and looks of concentration are deeply furrowed. Slowly the girls make a wider circle, each moving to her own little piece of spinning space. We start by spinning and stopping the spindle between the knees, called the “park and spin” method. Soon all the girls are trying to spin without “parking,” simply watching to make sure the spindle doesn’t unspin the wool. Some yarn is just plain crazy with lumps and clumps—but some is quite, quite good for beginners.

We break for lunch after ninety straight minutes, and I truly thought we’d be lucky to get this far—but I look up and see that the girls have draped their heads and waists and necks with strands of “funky yarn” as they call it, in bright combinations. Elizabeth holds her spindle on her lap, sneaking spins between bites of lunch. They eat Madeleine’s favorite chili and cornbread, or not, and they eagerly jump to get back to their spindles. They barely break for cake and ice cream, and then I hand out tufts of hand-dyed roving with color combinations that charm and satisfy—they spin more, and all of the yarn is either passable for adorning Christmas packages, or truly beautiful. I demonstrate a spinning wheel, just so they can see, but the girls are absorbed in their own spindles. They show their moms, who spin a bit more.

Madeleine announces that it’s the best birthday party she’s ever been to, “and it’s MINE!” And each of her friends says the same “this is so cool!” They leave with yarn, with shiny spindles marked with the girls’ names, and more beautiful fiber, and everyone hates to see the party end.

I smile when the last one goes. The floor is filled to brimming with twenty colors of wool, mixed together in piles all over the floor. Two spindles fell apart, so there are CDs and double sided tape to contend with. And a sink and table full of dishes. But it’s not far from clean, either—we’ve done a lot of cleaning chores to prepare for the party and our house will be more ready for Christmas than it’s ever been. Beneath the dishes and wool tufts, it’s tidy. The tree is lit, the children lit up as well.

Scott drives Madeleine and Brendan to an art afternoon at church, still glowing from the excitement of the party. Only I know that I’m going to pick up a new kitten, who will be waiting at our house at the end of a very exciting day, along with a simple dinner. Scott tells them on the way home that there is a special guest waiting for them, and they name a dozen people they’d love to see—but they don’t guess. Somehow we’ve kept it secret. Brendan practically fell to his knees in kitty reverence, whispering, “oh, Mama, is this kitty ours?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such whole-hearted satisfaction as we experienced with our dinner and dessert. We took turns holding the new kitten—who hides much of the time but cuddles and purrs when he comes out. Brendan tells me he has been wishing for a baby brother, and a boy kitty counts. Madeleine tells me “Now all my wishes have come true—a birthday party and a kitten.” Two days before Christmas, and we are practically done, with everyone going to sleep happy and tired.

A party, a kitty, and wishes coming true. Sometimes it’s like being picked apart by seagulls. But sometimes parenting is really, really good.


Lara said...

I'd like a yarn party, Denise. Can I fly you out here? :)

Denise said...

absolutely-- never been to California, but I'd come to see you. Any REI stores nearby? meet you there.