CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Spindles & Flyers Contemplating 60 Years

Based on aging memories and hearsay, we claimed 1955 as our founding year and published a ‘history’ in Spin Off magazine in Spring, 2005 ( used with permission) As we then noted, documentation of the early years is about as fuzzy as angora yarn. We know that wheel-maker Anthony Cardarelle (1905–1970) and his weaver/dyer/teacher wife, Frances Siminoff, encouraged spinners to gather together at their home. When Frances tired of dealing Cushing dyes in the 1960’s she suggested Susan Druding take over and open a shop, which was named Straw Into Gold.

cardarelle castle wheel

cardarelle castle wheel

Cardarellee Saxony Wheel

Cardarellee Saxony Wheel













When our 50 year history was written, Spindles & Flyers was just five years into an outreach program that has become a well-organized tradition. We take fibers and spindles to any and all events and public places, encourage people to try spinning and send them home with all they need to continue. We have gone to the Exploratorium Museum several times, and annually to the CUESA Farmers Market Harvest Festival in San Francisco, the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Stitches West knitting conference in Santa Clara, Forest Home Farms historic park Farm Days in San Ramon, schools, fiber festivals, and just about any place and event that invites us.  In exchange, we find new friends and members, people who admit they have always wanted to spin and people who tell us stories about spinners they know.  When we run short of demo fibers, we schedule a carding meeting where members bring any and all quantities of clean fiber and their drum carders and play, with the only requirement that finished batts be easy to spin.

Spinning Comes In Circles
At CNCH Oakland 2013, the Special Sample Service honors Helen Pope, the influential weaver and spinner who belonged to many guilds and encouraged so many of us to excel in textile arts.  I brought Helen’s orange Columbine spinning wheel to the demo area for anyone who wanted to try spinning. Helen Pope gave it to Helen von Ammon (1922–2014), expert in musk ox and qiviut, writer of children’s fiber stories, knitter of designer sweaters, and benefactor of symphony, ballet, and CCAC textile students, who handed it on to me.  Also missing our conference, after decades of participation, was Lydia van Gelder (1911–2012) whose generosity in passing on techniques and information will be difficult to duplicate. These guild members are missed.

Susan giving a spinning demonstration onHelen Pope's Columbine wheel

Susan giving a spinning demonstration on Helen Pope’s Columbine wheel

Spindles & Flyers first brought spindles and fiber to demonstrate spinning at CNCH 1999 San Rafael. Organizers of CNCH 2000 then challenged us to make spindles for all the attendees at the Santa Clara Convention Center.  Using the CD spindle article in Spin Off magazine Spring 1999 and the help of a component engineer, we converted our wood toy wheel whorls to compact disks held with grommets. Some 15 years later, our CD spindles still grab attention and entice new spinners.

Teaching with  the CD spindle

Teaching with the CD spindle

Guild Traditions
New members have enriched our spinning guild and helped lead us out of the difficult late-1990s and make 60 years possible. Membership had dropped and expenses increased substantially when, through the clever minds of guild president Margaret Jaeger and program chair Jessica Sewell, spindle outreach and a few new traditions were created, which helped to increase guild membership and participation.

For the first time, at the 1997 holiday party and one of the last held at Helen Pope’s home, Margaret read her newly composed “Legend of St. Fleecia,” about a mythical creature who brings fleece to productive spinners, but leaves dung in the shoes of those who have not been spinning. We toast St. Fleecia with Helen Pope’s egg nog at each December meeting and party, and distribute “dung” (chocolate covered raisins, almonds, soy and coffee beans) to all members, productive or not. A photograph of Margaret with her St. Fleecia crown of Wensleydale locks and spinning implements was published in our Spin Off history.

St. Fleecias day 2009

St. Fleecias day 2009

We reserve each June for our Sit Some, Spin Some, Yak Some, Snack Some meeting, a spin-in and pot-luck picnic. The title comes from Katie Flynn’s memories of gathering at San Francisco Fiber on what was then Army Street in San Francisco in the 1970’s.

Each September is reserved for our Stash Sale, a chance to move excess stuff into someone else’s stash. When the delightful Joan Gilmore died several years ago, her daughter Wendy unloaded a truck full of treasures: wheels, looms, and bins of books and fibers that were lined up three deep, filling the basketball court outside our meeting place. Joan could dress head to toe in handspun.  At this year’s sale, wheels, fibers, books and tools spilled out the door and down the basketball court again. A new member danced with joy when she bought her dream wheel, a cherry Jensen production wheel. Most of us were amazed that a wheel like this would need a new home.

Demonstrating the fiber arts

Demonstrating the fiber arts

Another guild tradition, started by Margaret Jaeger and continued by each guild president, is adding yarns to the ‘nostepinne of power’. Margaret shaped and smoothed a closet pole, wound it with a small ball of her fine lace yarn, and handed it off to her successor, Elaine Matsui. Elaine added bombyx silk she spun for her son’s tallis, a prayer shawl for his bar mitzvah woven by Alfred Eberly.  Alfred returned in 2013 to reel silk for us and show his deeply colored, naturally dyed silks.  Current president Alicia Woods plans to add twisted cassette tape when she passes on our presidential ‘nostepinne of power’.

This Decade: 2005-2015
Our 50th Anniversary Project, 50 by ’05, to collect 50 wool samples, 50 other spinning fibers, and blend 50 colors consumed more than a year of programs.  Guild president Nancy Alegria led us through that extensive collection of fibers and information.  Then, Darlene Hayes, followed by Amy Kuhlmann led us into spinning and textile history, yarn design and use, woven textile manipulation, and natural dyeing with Rebecca Burgess.  Rebecca’s Fibershed movement has encouraged us to look more closely at the sources of our fibers, dyes, and the clothing we purchase.  Several of our members are Fibershed Producers and many of us are supporters.  I wonder if Helen Pope and Lydia van Gelder, both active textile artists in the Arts and Crafts era, knew San Francisco native, Raymond Duncan “brother of acclaimed dancer Isadora Duncan, . . . who only wore . . . garments personally woven only from the wool of sheep he herded . . .”1  Raymond sounds like a perfect member today for Rebecca’s Fibershed Producers.

Zero to 60! Treadle to the Metal Our 60th Anniversary Celebration
Recently members have found great similarities between their 50 by ’05 fiber sample reference binders and the recently published Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. We hope our 60th anniversary project, Zero to 60!, will encourage spinning of many different yarn structures as described in Sarah Anderson’s Spinners Book of Yarn Design.

To honor our 60th year, we designed a progression of programs starting from scratch and accelerating into 2015 with spinning and plying many yarn structures, perhaps as many as 60 different yarns. October’s program will focus on wool washing, hopefully without arguments on the best ways to wash from those who have cleaned many fleeces themselves.  In November, we will focus on preparation with one fleece prepared in 4 different ways: hand carding, drum carding, wool combing, and flick carding.  Each of us will spin four preparations. We anticipate subtle differences in yarns of experienced spinners as they automatically adjust to the different fiber preparations.  New spinners will be able to try all four ways of preparing wool for spinning and to spin each preparation.  With the start of 2015, our 60th anniversary year, we will focus on all the many ways to spin and the many ways to create the yarns we want to have.  Perhaps in 2020, we will use our 60 yarns to recreate the Long Legacy scarf we spun and knit for CNCH 2000 to see what remains the same and who is still spinning.


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