i’ve recently bought a spinning wheel. i’m not talking about a modern metal exercise machine but an old fashioned wooden yarn-producing machine. this is quite a peculiar choice of hobby as i can always tell by people’s response to me mentioning it – and by my considerations of who to mention it to in the first place. my passion for knitting already throws people quite often because somehow they struggle to reconcile my feminist convictions with domesticated needle work. but spinning seems to be so positively odd that it seems to defy simple categories of domesticated versus emancipated and most people simply ask technical questions about the difference between knitting, weaving and spinning.
interestingly, the word ‘spinster’ – which is used today in a derogatory way for an (older) unmarried woman without children often seen as repressed and uptight – originates in medieval times when it simply described a woman who spun wool for a job and was therefore able to live independently, without needing a husband to provide: for a long time this would have been one of the very few ‘career’ choices available to women.
so in honouring the original meaning i hereby proudly declare myself a spinster: an independently living unmarried woman without children who loves freedom and spinning – though not quite (yet) as a career choice. i’ve recently been to ‘Prick Your Finger‘ in Bethnal Green and seen the shop now proudly stocked with brightly coloured hanks of wool in all shades and textures mostly home spun and home died: so maybe there’s a new ‘spinster’ movement out there reclaiming the power of sheep and independence…