Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Learning to Fly: Siddhis, Balance and Cotton Yarns

We had a gathering of the yoga teacher trainees (now officially teachers) the other night.  A few of us came together for drinks, snacks, chats and a practical application of the Yoga Sutras, in particular the section on siddhis/magical powers.  Things went pretty well:

Photo used with permission of Kathy R.

I'd like to say I stayed there for a long time.  It seemed like a long, long time before my balance shifted and I did a face plant.  There are no photos of that nor are there any of the equally impressive bum splat I did while trying to balance on the backs of my thighs. It was great fun and I have to say that I was impressed that I could balance at all in any direction. The secret to finding balance in this pose was to look up and let go.

Every summer, I haul out my stacks of fleeces and play for a few weeks.  The wool is fresh; I love sorting locks, spinning in the grease, flick carding and combing aligned locks into smooth, smooth yarns.  Around mid-July, I shift to cotton spinning, working once again on the enormous stash of organic cotton tops, sliver and rovings I have in my fibre room. Cotton behaves very differently than wool.  I've heard many spinners declare that they "are afraid of cotton and don't like spinning it," which, to a person who has met few fibres she doesn't like, seems strange. (Well, there's Merino fleece. The grease in that wool defeats me every time.) After all, cotton has a long and rich history.  It's been spun by people all over the world on simple spindles and wheels. It's the go-to fabric world wide for relatively inexpensive comfort, although synthetics are increasingly encroaching on that territory. I think the fear of spinning cotton fibres comes from the discovery that, no matter how experienced we may be, not all fibres behave as we expect. What works for wool spinning doesn't necessarily work for shorter fibres.  Wool will show a great tolerance for a spinner's tendency to clutch the fibres and watch for every small lump and bump in the yarn.  Cotton, not so much.

I enjoy that shift from warm, long-stapled wools to cool, short-fibred cottons, but the transition from one to the other requires a shift in perspective and spinning styles.  Wool fibres tend to be very forgiving, but cotton fibres, which may be as short as 1/4 to 1/2 inch, are more demanding of a spinner's attention to balance. Just as the slack line requires finding the sweet spot between effort and relaxation, so does cotton. In order to spin cotton well, I have to look up and let go.

I spin cotton on my Louet Victoria wheel using an unusual drafting style-for lack of a better term, let's call it, "long forward draw."  (I know, I know. The last thing the fibre world needs is yet another term for a drafting style.  I'm sure I didn't invent this one.  At the first available opportunity, I intend to have a few spinning buddies watch me spin cotton and tell me what drafting technique I'm using, but for now, long forward drafting is the way my mind explains my movements to my body. It's a style I use only when spinning on my upright, scotch tension wheels. With my tahklis or charkha, it's long draw all the way.) If you're familiar with long draw, you'll know the sensation of allowing twist to travel from the forward hand (or near the orifice) to the back hand holding the fibres, as the back hand draws away, against the building twist.  Now, imagine that same feeling, but with the forward hand pulling the fibres away from the back hand. My hands are a good 8 to 12 inches apart; my back hand is stationary and propped on a table to support that arm. Once enough twist is built up between forward drafting hand and the back hand to make a stable yarn, I add more twist as required and allow the yarn to feed into the orifice and onto the bobbin. I need to know and find the moment when I've added enough twist to make a stable yarn, but not so much that my yarn kinks. That's the point of balance. It requires both acute attention to awareness of the fibres and the fullness of letting go, of trusting that my hands know more about what my fibres need than my eyes may be telling me. That's where looking up enters into the picture-when I shift my gaze away from the twisting fibres and allow my body (in this case, my hands, fingers and feet) to do the work required, my cotton yarns find balance.

Although I found enough core strength to hold myself up on the slack line, I could not begin to come into balance until I trusted myself to let go.  Even then, letting go was not quite enough.  After several attempts at lifting my hands off the ground, someone watching me said softly, "Look up a bit." That's when it all came together.  My awareness changed from looking at to looking up and then seeing. My vision shifted up and away to what was not there-no ground, no heaviness.  Just me and my body, floating, balanced on a 2 inch wide piece of nylon strap. In that moment, I learned to fly.

Cotton spinning works the same way for me.  When I trust that my body knows the balance point between enough and too much, when I learn to let go and look away, away from the forming yarn, away from the twisting fibres to a point just beyond the place where it will either happen or things will fall apart completely, that's when twist and fibre and action come together. In that union of letting go and looking up, the yarn appears.  It's spinning siddhi, if you will, a magical moment attained by practical exercise.  For a time, all is perfection.  And I have yarn.

Easy to Spin Green Cotton.  Boiling will darken the colour.


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