Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 31 March 2011


Indulge:  yield freely; take pleasure freely
Indulgence:  privilege granted
                                                      (Concise OED)

Speaking of indulgences:

I ran into friends at Chapters yesterday, who pointed out this little kit, a steal at $2.  It's an indulgence, completely frivolous.  It made me smile.  So, home it came with me.

This is my selection for my April spinning challenge:

Isn't she pretty?  She's a top whorl "Deluxe" by Edward Tabachek, in Bird's Eye Maple with a Purpleheart shaft.  She weighs 44 grams.  Of all my spindles, she spun everything I tested-banana, cotton, qiviuq-as finely as I needed.  Her weight allows me to spin a range of yarns, including bulky and designer creations.

You can browse Ed's site at  I've been buying spindles from Ed since he began making them.  Each spindle spins beautifully and brings me joy.  So do Ed and his wife, Joanne, who tests every spindle.  Ed's spindles can be a bit difficult to find these days, so I treasure mine.

I have a basket of stash fibres ready to go.  I'm not stuck on any particular yarn or fibre, but that bag of qiviuq/silk I blended in 1991 has probably mellowed long enough.  I haven't spun possum or banana; I have samples of both.  I have some lovely batts blended by Sharon at Golden Willow Natural Fiber.  They're calling out to become designer yarns.  It's a start.

Any self-imposed challenge deserves a rule exception or two.  After all, I don't want to become attached to non-attachment!  This is my meditation spindle:

I'll continue to use it for formal sitting meditation.  I'll also have to break my rule in spinning class, since we're moving to wheels this week.  At home and around, exploring the possibilities of one spindle will be the theme.

This is Morris on his walk down the lane yesterday:

He was sniffing for gophers.  Moments after this, we heard a squeak.  Morris was right-there are a few hardy critters out and about. 

Notice all the snow.  At this time last year, there wasn't a bit of snow to be found.  The ice was gone from Wascana Creek and the ducks were paddling around the shoreline.  Yesterday, this was the view across the park to the creek:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Tyranny of Waste Not, Want Not

Last night's spinning class was "Fibre Prep."  I always have so much fun in class and especially enjoy the preparation sessions.  I love working with beginning spinners; they approach everything with fresh eyes.  They teach me so much.

Beginners often lament about the amount of fibre "wasted" when they are learning to spin.  Many expect their first efforts to be useable from the start.  Others worry that they are spending money which could be put towards better causes.

Let's examine these ideas.  In terms of economic value, spinning is like every other pursuit.  It can be inexpensive or you can take "the sky's the limit" approach.  The money you spend is not indicative of the pleasure you derive from what you do.  But, suppose you are very strapped for cash.  The materials to make a toy wheel spindle cost about $5 and a half hour of your time.  100 grams of undyed Romney roving will set you back less than $7; 100 grams of dyed Romney, about $9.  Your total cost to start: about $15.

$15.  That's 3 cups of coffee at an upscale shop.  It's less than a night out at the movies or a few rentals to watch at home.  It's certainly less than your monthly cable fees, your internet connection, or your cell phone charges.  Less than a fast food meal for two.  (And much healthier!)  As far as economical entertainment goes, spinning start-up wins hands down.

Besides, spinning is active.  Sure, you can spin in front of the television, but your mind is engaged with the spinning process.  Your hands and arms move, developing grace and skill.  Your feet and legs work away at the wheel.  Once you catch on, spinning is relaxing.  It can lower your blood pressure and refresh your spirits.  (For those not there yet--trust me, it's true!)

If you insist on practical uses for your first handspun, then know that, no matter what the results, your first fibre can go somewhere, if only into the compost.  Beginners' yarn can be combined with commercial yarns to perk up hats, mittens, or socks.  It can be used as package trim or to stake tomatoes in the garden.  You can put it away and look at it a few years from now, to impress yourself at how far you've advanced.

What can you do with 100 grams of  beginners' bits of handspun?  Well, there's this:

This hat was knitted using scraps of 2 ply handspun wool and alpaca, for a cost of around $10, plus my time.

What about 500 grams of soft Blue-Faced Leicester roving?

I knit myself this sweater from thick and thin singles as a sample for the Beginners' Spinning classes.  The cost of the fibre was $25.  The ceramic buttons cost $10. 

The time and money we spend learning to spin is never wasted.  Allow yourself the pleasure of small indulgences.  They're good for the spirit.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I have a whack of spindles (and a few spinning wheels).  They're all over the place--in my fibre room, around the house, in bags, baskets, at work.  I can justify spindle ownership easily-they're useful, beautiful tools.  Spindles hold memories, of conferences we attended, spinning circles we enjoyed, people that we met.  I use spindles for teaching purposes.  No one in my household has ever gone hungry or cold because of my spindle purchases.  (I could argue the opposite-spindles and teaching people to spin has provided me with a source of income for many years.)  Practising what gives us and others joy can only bring good to the world.

And yet.  While I was dusting and sorting through my spindle stash-and it's never a good sign when I feel the urge to tidy-I came across one of the first spindles I used.  It's a heavy spindle, crafted by an unknown maker.  It didn't spin well thirty years ago and it doesn't spin much better for me now.

And yet.  Rediscovering this spindle took me back to a time when all spinning discoveries were new, to a time when owning just one spindle gave me endless possibilities.  Now I own many spindles and while I use most of them, finding new challenges has become more difficult.  This isn't because the challenges aren't there; rather, it's because I've become attached to my spindles, to my fibre stash, to my way of spinning.

Buddhism teaches us that the source of suffering is attachment.  If we learn to let go of our habits, our constant want, while practising compassion for all things, we will be released from suffering.  I believe that a little attachment isn't such a bad thing, suffering or not.  We have to live in this world.  A degree of attachment to our bodies, to our families, to our communities encourages us to care for ourselves and others.  Attachment can help us develop compassion. 

Attachment is harmful when it blocks our path and becomes a distraction away from what is happening now.

That's where I am with my spindle collection.  I have so many that I'm distracted by the effort of choosing the right spindle to use with a particular fibre.  There are bits of yarn on that spindle, some tucked away over there, underneath a pile of fleece, projects that have been parked on spindles for years.  I have multiple bobbin yarn ends from spinning on my wheels.  I'm overwhelmed and suffering from a serious case of attachment.

I've cleaned out my spindles.  I sold a few, set some aside for an upcoming silent auction, gave several to students and friends.  I've taken myself off spindle waiting lists.  (Well, not the wait list for a Bosworth "Moosie."  Non-attachment only goes so far.)

To break the attachment cycle, I've set myself a challenge.  All through April, I will spin using only one spindle from my stash, using fibres from my stash.  (That includes the banana fibre sent by a fellow Raveller yesterday.  Hey, it's not April yet!)  Since I've been foolish enough to announce this publicly, in several places, I'll have to follow through.  I hope.

This could be interesting.  I've spent the last two weeks trying to pick the perfect challenge spindle.  I haven't found one yet.  If I'm discovered under a pile of fleece and spindles, muttering "Not this, not this," you'll know what happened.

Yup, attachment.

Monday, 28 March 2011


Morris Waits for Spring by the Kitchen Heat Register
It's another cold, blustery day on the prairies.  The windchill hovers around  minus 20C, bitterly cold for the time of year.  I'm finding this weather really difficult.  I want to be out walking in crisp, early  spring air, but the icy roads and sidewalks are treacherous.  Each step requires care and attention.  I prefer to ramble. 

I'm working through the frustration by making an effort to turn my walks into mindful meditation.  This is a wise idea, if only because I don't want to fall on my rear end, but, sometimes, I just wish spring would arrive!

Meditation uses the tools and resources we have on hand to help us become aware in the world.  Some practices focus on candles, statues or other objects to help us concentrate.  Ideally, we move beyond these objects as our practice develops, but initially, meditating on "something" helps us with one-pointed concentration.

The tools I use in spinning meditation are simple-a spindle, some fibres and a quiet place to sit.  (Now that I've practised for some time, I can manage without the quiet space, but I do enjoy silence when I can get it.)

For formal practice, I sit on the floor, on my mat, as comfortably as possible, with my spine straight and in line with the crown of my head.  Sitting this way keeps me awake and aware.  If you have limitations that make this posture difficult, practice in any comfortable position, including lying down.

One popular adaption of object meditation is food meditation, with chocolate being a popular selection.  This meditation encourages you to savour a small portion of food, taking the time to notice the feel, the smells, the tastes and other sensations you experience while eating as slowly as possible.  Five minutes spent in meditation on chocolate can seem a very long time, especially if, like me, you anticipate the next bite before you've finished the first one. 

An equivalent spinning meditation is mindful fibre meditation.  Begin by selecting a handful of fibre-raw fleece is best.  Sit comfortably.  Close your eyes.  Rub the fleece in your hands, along your arms, anywhere on your body.  Pay attention to the different sensations as the fleece touches different places.  Smell your fibre.  Hold it to your ear-can you hear it?  Taste the fibre if you can do so safely.  Spend several minutes allowing your other senses to experience your fibre before you slowly open your eyes and look at the fibre.  What do you see?

Make a non-judgemental note of the time you spent on this meditation.  Did you manage five minutes?

For all the time we spend spinning, it's amazing that many people don't take a moment to experience the fibres which form our yarns.  We want to get to the yarn, to the knitting, weaving, crocheting, to the next step and the next.  By rushing through, we can miss the process entirely.

Slowing down is a very simple practice, but sometimes, so difficult.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Spinning Meditation is Not

I don't practise spinning meditation every time I pick up a spindle or sit at a wheel.  There are many times when I spin habitually, mindlessly, for relaxation or within a purely social context.  In the Western World, there is no great need for us to make our own yarns or cloth.  Fibre arts should be fun, not perpetually Serious Business.  We need to find ways not to take ourselves and what we do too seriously.

But, sometimes, we want to explore what we do a little more deeply.  The more I use spinning as deliberate meditation, the more this practice becomes a way of life.  Bringing intention to my spinning has helped me to appreciate the richness of my work with all its flaws and problems.

Unlike the popular belief that the meditative qualities involved in fibre arts requires "getting into the zone" or "zoning out," meditation is actually about paying attention.  As Jon Kabatt-Zinn says in Coming to Our Senses, "Meditation is not Relaxation spelled differently."  Rather, using daily skills to promote a meditation practice requires bringing yourself back to the task at hand.  Each time your mind wanders from yarn and spindle or wheel, every time you are distracted from your knit stitch, non-judgemental effort returns you to an appreciation of what you are doing right now.

Heart Like a Wheel: Spinning and Fibre Arts as Meditation Practice

I was playing around on the computer this morning, exploring what's required to build a blog.  Somehow, before realized what I'd done, there it was!  A blog. Imagine that.  So I'm in and here it is.

I've been exploring fibre arts for several decades and working on a meditation practice for nearly as long.  In the past few years, I've been working to combine the two.  Meditation uses the tools we have, the talents and skills we develop, to teach us how to enjoy this present moment.  The tools are not important, but the journey is.  As fibre people, we practise skills which engage all of our senses.  These skills connect us to human experience and our own growth.

We don't have to do this, of course.  It's perfectly acceptable to spin or make cloth and never take your hobby or profession beyond that; however, if you're here, reading this, I suspect that you are interested in learning to use your fibre work to develop your self, beyond physical talents, into the realm of something meditation practitioners call "mindful awareness."

Because spinning is the basis for most of the cloth produced through the ages, let's start there.  Without spinning, humans and their histories would be very different.  Yarns provide the building blocks for textile production.  We can use our spinning knowledge to develop a practice of mindfulness meditation.  What is "spinning as meditation?"  If we practise it, do we need to abandon our usual spinning habits, the ones which relieve our stresses and bring enjoyment to our lives?  If we give up "thinking" about the yarns we make to focus on "awareness,"  will we lose the technical skills we've worked so hard to develop?

Using spinning (and weaving and knitting) as meditation has not only improved my meditation practice, it has expanded my technical spinning skills as well, although improved skills are not my goals.  Learning "awareness" teaches you to understand each step of the spinning process and how it affects the yarns you make.  Awareness points you to possibilities which expand the range of your yarns.  Awareness allows this to occur without judgement, so that you develop clarity about what works and what does not in your spinning, with no need to chastise yourself for processes and results you see as mistakes.  Learning to live without judgement can alleviate those harsh criticisms we direct at ourselves and others.  We find joy in our ability to simply spin.