28 May 2014

hold close a rune-word

I've been pondering spindles as tools.

I've already shown you the spindle I bought back in February during my Ravellenics-induced madness. I've since purchased two more spindles: a mini Turk from the same maker as the first spindle, and a Tibetan-style spindle that's only just arrived and I haven't had a chance to play with yet.

None of these are especially expensive spindles -- the Tibetan, at $35, was the priciest -- but you can certainly spend a lot of money on spindles. There are famous makers in the spindle world, talented woodworkers who make spindles out of rare woods, with whorls inlaid with marquetry, or shells, or brass, pewter, silver. These spindles are, without a doubt, beautiful tools. And yet ...

The archaeologists tell us that the first spindles were probably rocks and sticks, picked up near a nomadic campsite and probably discarded when the pebble was dropped, or the stick broke or was used as kindling, or the camp was packing up to move to the next season's lodging and why move a rock or stick when there would be plenty at the next place?

Then some wiseass got the bright idea of putting a rock on a stick, and the trouble started. Archaeological sites all over the world are full of spindle whorls. Stone whorls. Clay whorls. Metal whorls. Glass whorls. Whorls with geometric designs, animal designs, runic inscriptions. Clearly our ancestors liked beautiful tools as much as we do.  And yet.

The only things you really do need are a rock, or a stick, and some fibre to spin. I've been lurking in the corners of spinning fora watching would-be spinners fret about buying a spindle, listening to experienced spinners talk about being on a waiting list for a particularly coveted model by a particularly admired maker, talking about saving up for one of these precious objects, or lamenting that now that someone's been laid off, they have to spend their spindle money on food and rent instead.

There are also a handful of people who suggest, gently, to the would-be spinners that spinning need not be an expensive hobby, that people have been spinning frog hair-fine threads for millennia without the help of master spindle-smiths. They suggest that you could make spindles at home, out of spare parts, and use your money for fibre (or food, or rent) instead. Do you have a dowel rod, a kitchen skewer, an old chopstick? Can you find a bead, an old CD, a wooden toy wheel? Polymer clay? Then you can make a spindle, and it will spin just fine, spin even as well as that $150 beauty with the bog oak and the silver inlay.

A rock, and a stick.

I will buy more spindles, I'm sure, though probably not the very expensive ones -- for one thing, the famous spindle-makers mostly all make high whorl spindles, while I perversely prefer low whorl ones -- but I spent some time over the holiday weekend making two spindles out of dowel rods and toy wheels. I used a pencil sharpener to taper the bottom ends of the dowels, and I should probably take a bit of sandpaper to them. I used a little glue, and some small jars to hold things in place while the glue dried. If I'm feeling whimsical I may paint the whorls. Perhaps a runic inscription is in order.

from The Exeter Book

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