spinning stories into yarns

i’ve been thinking a lot about the stories we tell ourselves. not good/bad self talk per se, but where we place ourselves in the narratives we create, and how those stories can become a tool.

a wooden spinning bowl in my lap with teal fiber being spun on my spindle

when i first started journeying as a teen, it was mostly accidental. i would take my sketchbook or cross stitch and whatever fiction i was reading at the time and go outside to sit under a tree, or take a long walk to the park or set up a blanket tent on my bed or shut myself in a closet to get away from the noise of my large family. 

then once i was settled and knew for certain that i would be undisturbed, i would calm my anxiety with deep regular breathing and tell myself a story. stories became a trance trigger for me. and also a gateway to journeywork. 

as i sat under that tree in the backyard, and drew the needle and thread of my cross stitch in and out of the pattern i was sewing, i would start with a title. “this is the one about the frog,” “this is the one where we are walking thru a glass corridor and outside the walls we can see time shifting and changing” or one one of my favorites still, “this is the one where i am tiny and live underground. what does my house look like and who are my friends?”

three wool nests in red black and white

sometimes i would base those stories on things i watched on tv or movies i saw or the book i was reading. building elaborate hallucinogenic fanfiction daydreams that were never entirely attached to the original story, i was just playing with the characters, themes and sets like dolls.

over time, tho. i lost interest in other people’s stories and created more and more detailed and elaborate worlds in my head with characters that would react and speak and move in ways that i didn’t expect or have control over. and that was ok! i had a very rich inner life during a time that was very tumultuous and uncertain and i made deep friendships with people in the Otherworld that i still have and continue today. 

but that part of my life all started with storytelling. 

i’ve been interested in fiberarts all of my life. i started out with plastic canvas and a blunt darning needle and chunky bright yarn sewing x’s and making patterns while i sat with my mom. when i was a little older i made constant dandelion stem cordage for bracelets and in middle school i would tear banquet napkins into strips and twist them into cordage and then braid that into doll forms that i would then weave clothes for out of even more shredded and twined napkins. in adulthood, i took up knitting and crochet as well as embroidery, sewing and currently i’m learning weaving.

brown wool on a spindle waiting for me on my messy desk

every one of those projects were meditative and trance inducing and i was able to use trial and error to decide which method worked the best for the level of trance i was looking for and the level of safety that i had. working with a project in my lap both gave me an excuse to trance out and also gave me a focus to keep my hands busy and bring a physicality and motion to my experience. (and afterwards i got a cool thing that i made!) 

nowadays, i tell stories as i spin and process fiber. the process of scouring and picking and combing and carding to get ready for the actual spinning is just as meditative and trance inducing to me as the spinning itself. and i do most, if not all of it in the company of my Sisters. having constant company with my Gods and Spirit Allies has been a staple of my life for as long as i can really remember and the stories that i tell and am told in Their presence are the basis of my practice. it’s a way of getting feedback and being instructed in the work that i’m doing as much as it’s for comfort and companionship. 

part of that instruction i call “right time, right place.” it’s knowing when to push that red button of no return and when to watch and wait until things fall into place. knowing when to follow the threads of a situation to their source and when to let a mystery be a mystery and accept that i may never really know why. 

naalbinding a pink and purple blanket on my lap

spinning for me has a lot of “right time right place” to it. a lot of places where gentle pressure is needed, but an all out assault of productivity will only lead to a repetitive strain injury that will set me back months to heal. time is as much an ingredient in this work as the materials and tools themselves. 

there is a history of spinning and storytelling. yarn and thread and spinning a tale are all used to describe it. spinning is a communal activity, what with the constant presence of it in pre industrial people’s lives and even long after mills and factories became a thing. it’s only been recently that spinning has become an almost forgotten hobby in the west. and many of our well known folk and faerie tales have come out of days and nights of spinning in groups and around the fire engaging in stories and gossip and conversation. 

as i spin my thread, i whisper stories to it. some are truths, some are true lies, some are complete fabrications with a core of emotion that i want to embrace. “this is the one that feels like…” and each of those stories leads somewhere Other than here. i twist that feeling into the thread and then weave and knot it into material reality and bring it into the waking world, crafting my reality. 

a grey spindle in my wooden spinning bowl with grey adn green fiber and a small loom behind it.

and just like the spinsters of old, i bring my spindle everywhere with me. i’m never without a project to work on when i have still hands. i’ve been spinning daily, barring illness and RSI healing time, for almost 10 years now. i spin events and thoughts and tiny delights into my threads. when i ball up a skein i see flashes of events and music and feelings that i experienced while i was spinning it, and then i transfer that to whatever i’m using the thread for by layering that project’s own tiny delights and events within it. 

i love colors, the brighter and more vibrant the better but lately i’ve been trying to dye locks for a more muted and neutral yarn to weave a set of divination cloths for my rosebones set. and although i’ve been enjoying the tiny pops of occasional color, as well as the calming nature of the neutrals, i am looking forward to spring when i’ll be able to move on to the red thread of my next project. colors have a story all their own. the dyes i use on the wool i’m spinning create a mood and a setting for many tales and often, i’ll dye first and then choose colors based on the story i’m telling. i’ll wear colors based on the story i currently am living. and i’ll spin colors to match the journeywork i have planned. 

multicolored fabric in blues, greens and pinks in the process of being knit into a sweater

it sometimes seems chaotic and patternless, but the end results are always stunning. mixing up conventional combinations of color and patterns works on my brain to help me see outside of my expectations, keep me from stagnating and it creates tactile memories that remind me of often overlooked moments in my life that i can learn and grow from. change is a constant in my work and i am constantly changing within the boundaries i’ve set. 

there’s a satisfaction in repetitive motions and actions. repetitive tasks create a time-out-of-time where i can curate and sort the stories and experiences i’ve had and form a narrative to work with in my current life. whether it’s spinning or walking or washing dishes, i’ve always enjoyed the process of going thru the steps and doing the tedious work while creating a boundary to be creative in, be that singing or storytelling or color choices or journeying or having a conversation, it’s almost always a good time as long as i keep in mind the dangers and stay within those set boundaries.

red thread on a spindle with a small white ceramic spinning bowl

learning to create my own place within my narrative helped me to become a stronger and more resilient person. someone who has thought out a lot of solutions to strange hypothetical problems while untangling several hundred yards of laceweight yarn, and also learning peaceful conflict resolution with my family thru washing dishes every day. 

the practical is also the fantastical in both waking and dreaming life and it takes a lifetime of practice to master it. i’m still far from that, but i am working towards coming closer to becoming the devotee that my Sisters see in me with every walk, every clean dish, every story and every spindle full of thread. 

winter/summer temple – scouring and offerings and tiny delights

this afternoon as i was taking the kitchen scraps out to the compost bin, i noticed a blue dyed lock of wool in the grass. apparently it has been there for about two weeks now, but i only just noticed it. it’s faded and a bit weathered, but i think that adds to the charm and i’m going to add it as a tiny delight to the thread that i am spinning for a divination cloth to be woven at another time. 

a piece of firewood as an altar with a faded blue lock of wool and the edges of my colorful dress

to me, tiny delights are both an offering of joy in small things and a way for me to bring a bit of light into my less joyful moments. 

tiny delights can be anything, really. but mostly they are tactile memories and visual moments that spark a positive feeling. there have been times when those feelings have been fleeting and in short supply and i have learned to catch and cherish them in little frozen moments in time. 

finding a faded lock of wool that must have blown out of my lap as i was carding this past summer doesn’t sound very joyful at first glance, but the process of that lock coming to me and becoming what it is is encapsulated in it. and now, every time i see this small variation in the threads of a future divination cloth, i’ll think of my summer temple and the joy i had in finally being able to work with the fleeces i bought as i was recovering from covid last spring and the work that i was able to put into processing them this fall and just the simple joy and Tiny Delight of finding a lock of wool the exact colors that i have been trying to reproduce in the dye pot just hanging out in the grass for 2 weeks. 

the first step to creating sacred thread is to create a sacred work space. a working temple of sorts. this is going to look a lot different than what most people think of when they think of sacred space, but in practice the bones are the same. 

a spindle with grey wool to be spun and a lock of faded blue wool ready to be added to the thread.

materials needed:

a work space – quiet(ish), out of the way and not close enough to disturb the neighbors is what i prefer. 

water- for purification and scouring, but also for drinking! this is hot and dirty work and you need to stay hydrated. self care is sacred too. 

this past summer we had several thunderstorms and i collected that water in rubbermaid bins and buckets to wash my fleeces in. Thunderwater!

fire – a tealight candle in a jar will do. the wind here is pretty constant, so a fire resistant jar helps the flame to not need constant relighting, but fire is optional and many times i just use a bowl of water instead. on red flag days, it’s good to keep the flames to a minimum. 

an offering – to the Land, the wights and the Gods. this depends on Who you are offering to, of course. 

and a small altar/shrine to leave the offerings and ask for assistance and blessings on the work. i use a piece of unsplit firewood turned up like a table, but you can use a bucket or a table or the ground itself. it’s all good. this work gets really messy and i’m always prepared to have to set some parts up in other places as time goes on. 

a summer day behind my garage. there is a table set up for processing fleece and green trees all around the concrete slab.

i begin by sweeping the leaves and brush off of the concrete and setting up my workspace. 

light the candle, pour the water, offer to the Land, wights and Gods for safety, blessings, and good work and give thanks for the use of the space, and then i get to work. 

this time around, the fleeces were very lanolin heavy and unskirted so i wore a mask and gloves to make sure that i didn’t give myself tetanus or trigger my asthma with the fine particulates that shake out of the fleece. safety is important! this is stinky and dirty work and this fleece has been sitting in my ancient open garage for 5 months now. who knows what beasties live beneath that yellowed surface. 

to come back to tiny delights, i find sorting wool and picking out large bits of brambles a tiny delight. it’s tedious, but also calming and relaxing while sitting out behind the garage with some music playing and all afternoon in front of me. 

i sort the wool by usability and skirt out the poopy bits and the felted bits and the bits with too many burrs. this fleece was a shearing demonstration fleece, so there were several second cuts (shorter locks where the shearer missed and went back over twice) that i picked out of the mess. i find that there is really no bad fleece, just fleeces that are not suited to some tasks.

after skirting and sorting, i have a table full of fleece piles! and it’s time to start the real fun! (and the long wait…) it’s fermented suint time!

a white resin table with piles of sorted dirty fleece.

suint is sheep sweat and holds a lot of potassium salts. when mixed with rainwater,  the natural bacteria of that sheep’s microbiome, lanolin, heat and time, then the mixture turns itself into a naturally soapy and soupy magnificent and stinky brew that once rinsed produces a gorgeous and lovely pile of clean wool to comb. i definitely recommend a mask and gloves for this part. the smell is not for the weak stomached; it’s a bit like a cross between a barnyard and a baby’s diaper. hence  placing your workspace a good ways from your neighbors and your house. 

this year i collected the rainwater from a few rather intense thunderstorms. my hope was to energize the process and use the wool that i’ll be processing for spinning thread for divination cloths and the thunderwater adds an extra layer of energetic purification. and that seemed to work quite well! 

i added the raw piles of wool to the bins of rainwater and pushed them under the surface before covering them with a lid to keep the flies out. maggots in the water is not a deal breaker, but it’s kinda gross to have to rinse out in 2-4 weeks. 

a purple rubbermaid bin filled with murky brown water.

this is the part where i talk about microanimism and the small friends who are now working so hard to clean my fleeces. when i set out the offerings to the Land the wights and the Gods, i was also thanking the bacteria and yeasts and fungi that ferment the suint and clean my fleeces. several years ago, i got a bee in my bonnet to learn how people scoured fleeces before the advent of unicorn power scour and i discovered the fermented suint method. it works so well, that the first batch of fsm wool i experimented with in a 5 gallon bucket in my bathroom shower (i do not recommend anyone do this.  my house did not smell very nice) came out white and clean and with vegetable matter that just fell out as i was carding. hooray for beasties!

the bacteria is what causes the smell, but they are anerobic and when exposed to oxygen they die and the dry wool just smells like wool and lanolin from that point on. the process of just trusting the little beasties to do the work and clean my fleece is such a tiny delight to me. i spin so much joy into my thread just from remembering the work that was done while i waited almost a month for the beasties to do their thing and live their generations in the sheep soup.

a garden wagon with rinsed fleece waiting to drain a bit and a purple lidded tub of fermenting fleece.

and the best part is, those beasties are still going. i save a couple buckets of the stinky water overwinter and add it to my new fleece ferments to help the process go faster next year. 

so back to the process, after 3-6 weeks depending on the weather, it’s time to take the fleece out of the soup and rinse and rinse and rinse it. this was a cool fall so i left it for almost 5 weeks. (i would have started much earlier if i had been feeling better. the warmer the weather, the faster the ferment) 

if it’s not too windy, i’ll lay the slightly acrid smelling rinsed wet wool all over the grass for some natural oxyclean and to dry out in the sun. a little breeze is good, tho and adds an additional purification process as well as helping to dry faster. it takes a few days of turning and fluffing up for the fleece to dry. this is definitely not short and fast, and sometimes it will rain and the fleece has to dry yet again, but that’s ok. it’s expected and part of the process.

clean dry wool on my desk being separated into locks for combing.

once the wool is dried, i keep it in pillowcases and laundry baskets until i need it for a project. never keep it in plastic unless you know that it is bone dry (which is also bad for the wool) or it will develop mold.

this is the initial ritual. the first scouring and offerings made to begin the process of spinning thread for sacred purposes. 

i save a small amount of the first sample of each fleece to not only test its mettle and find its character, but to spin an offering in thanks for all the work done and as a promise for things to come. 

footprints both human and animal in the snow covering my workspace behind the garage.

it’s winter now and i have a lot of wool to card and comb and spin and weave while the winter winds and snow cover my temple space outside. and each afternoon i walk out to take my kitchen scraps to the compost bins and thank the spirits of rot and decay for all that they do to bring life and cleanse the Land every day. 

i leave offerings to the Land, the wights and the Gods and a little extra to help the critters who live in the miniwoods and fields survive the winter. 

and sometimes i find a lock of wool that escaped my summer escapades and add that as a tiny delight to my spinning. 

creating sacred threads

the act of creating sacred thread requires weaving a web of several things. time, effort, skill, sacrifice, ritual, devotion and divination. and definitely not in that order.

in fact, the nonlinear quality of it almost makes me want to add *chaos* or *uncertainty* or *a thread of randomness* to that list, but that is something that is created within the process and not usually present at the beginning. embracing uncertainty in a ritual format is not usually how folks view a sacred undertaking, but it’s necessary to go with the flow when working with and for my SIsters. Chaos and Need will always make an appearance and if you learn to roll with it and expect the unexpected, then the outcome will be much better than anticipated in the long run.

a large purple plastic bin filled with fermented suint and wool. white wool is floating in brown murky water.

so in a non linear fashion, i’m beginning this post about spinning/creating sacred thread in the middle. 

i am not a beginner anymore. no matter how much it feels that way. i have been doing this Work for decades, but i also learn new things every time i pick up a spindle or fill a tote with rainwater for the first suint ferment of the season. it’s just that those lessons are not beginner lessons for me. the spiral of experience means that every new lesson is a layer built up upon the lesson learned the last time it came around.  so i am going to tell this story of how to create the tools and materials for worship and offerings in my practice from my perspective of 30 years along my path, and 5 minutes into learning my current lesson. (practically, that lesson is “how to manage nalbinding with stretchy thin yarn”, and it’s a hard one!)

my Sisters request service as an offering and i have been serving Them for a long time and the time and potential bound in the things that i have been asked to do for Them over my lifetime is an important part of that ritual framework. this practice is not made of a quick spell to cleanse your house or protect your family, altho those can be boons asked of Them. to see the threads of this pattern of practice, one must comb thru their entire life and find those ends and changes that occur at seemingly random times and for uncertain reasons and trace them forwards into their present, meet and converse with past selves within this lifetime and follow the patterns into the futures and between the worlds. 

deeply knowing the bones of your own timeline is necessary for seeing the patterns woven in between your lives and finding the rhythm where you live and spin your own story for the greater tapestry of community bonds and social obligations with both humans and other beings. seeing yourself not as a master of your domain, but an integral piece within an ecology both spiritual and mundane.

some thread takes decades to spin. it starts with the idea of thread, yarn, wool, whatever it is you call the stuff that weaves and knits and knots. my own path took the trajectory of learning to crochet, learning to cross stitch, tying knots and macrame, to embroidery and stumpwork and dying fabric and yarns, to knitting to spinning to felting, to weaving, to scouring and all the while processing experiential knowledge as deeply as i could go within the boundaries of a fixed income and the unmoored life that i have been shaped to live within.

tools for spinning on a purple towel and a red and orange hand woven divination cloth. a wooden bowl, a supported spindle, a set of combs and white wool in various stages of preparation.

some rituals are seemingly quick to perform, spinning a length of thread and knotting it in a pattern and then gifting it as an offering for the first fruits of the season or the liminal time where it is both winter and summer. henbit and yarrow growing up thru the snow. but the time required to gain the skills so that that offering is swift and easy and well practiced is much longer and included within the offering. i am grateful for the skills and the time i have had to hone them. i offer that time and those skills to Those who gave them to me. 

and it seems easy and effortless on the surface. a linear line of skills performed. “skirt, scour, pick, prep, dye, comb, card, hackle, blend, nest, draft, spin, ply, set the twist, finish with herb wash, dry, reskein, store with lavender to be used in future projects.”  but those steps are never as cut and dried or as straightforward as they seem. and that’s ok! some projects take more time than others and many many end points are not the same as what was originally planned. 

it’s not that precision has no place, but that that place is highly overrated in places where it’s not needed and in all honesty hinders actual results. you might begin spinning yarn for weaving an altar cloth and end up knitting it into a veil 5 years later. but you might spin yarn to knit a veil and end up using a completely different design and learn an entirely new set of skills along the way. the only right result is if you end up with a tool that is accepted thru divination and is tailored for the job that it was created for. 

purple, pink and white blanket in the process of being made with a bone naalbinding needle.

my Sisters tell me that no learning is ever wasted, but some times and places are more right than others. there are opportunities that lead to paths that are more fulfilling than others and it is a skill learned thru hard experience to know which paths to take and which patterns to follow in the threads. when to say emphatically YES and when to take the hard step and walk into the unknown. and also when to be cautious and say “not now, thanks.” knowing yourself and your limits and having strong personal boundaries is one of the most rewarding lessons of all and the foundation to all of the skills you need to walk this path. 

over the next few weeks, i’m going to be talking about the practical details in how to spin sacred thread for worship, devotion, tapestries and offerings and get into the gritty and nasty(sheepy) details as well as the sublime wyrdweaving of the Flow. i hope that those of you who follow along find value in this telling and share your own journey and lessons learned along the way.