Source: The Pueblo Star-Journal and Sunday Chieftain
Date: April 18, 1982
Spinning…New Mexico woman champions her art
By Mary Jean Porter, Scene Editor
Rachel Brown is not the spinner of fairy tales, not an old woman bent over a creaking wheel. She is bold and dynamic – much like the art she loves.
The Arroyo Seco, N.M., resident was in Pueblo recently to conduct a two-day spinner’s workshop at El Pueblo Museum. Surrounded by piles of sweet-scented wool and treadling the sleek wheel she helped design, she was the furthest thing imaginable from a fairy tale character.
Lean, with bright blue eyes and weathered cheeks, Ms. Brown looks like the Southwest which has inspired her work. She speaks softly yet knowledgeably and almost crackles with energy – energy she says she gets from spinning.
The spinner said her art has changed and is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. There is new equipment available to do the tedious work of carding, there are new wheels available that allow the spinner to spin various weights of yarn without changing spindles. Some wool growers, too, are beginning to cater to the hand spinner and are producing the long, course, clean fleece needed for hand spinning.
Spinners are spinning wool from the Southwest, silk from China, alpaca from South America, cotton, flax and even dog hair. The art of spinning has become so popular that a Wisconsin spinners’ guild – which has more than 200 members – has a side guild of 26 members who spin dog hair.
“It used to be that spinners did not have the stimulation, the supplies weren’t available, nobody had wheels. That has changed. Spinning today is at the level weaving was 25 years ago,” Ms. Brown said.
That was when she moved to Arroyo Seco from New Hampshire, homesteaded land and began weaving and spinning. “I knew right away this was it,” she said about spinning.
“I do consider it my art form. I get energy from it. It’s very relaxing – I can’t stay away from my spinning wheel.”
She spins because she loves it but also because she wants to make the yarn she weaves. And to be sure it is the color she wants, she dyes all her own wool, sometimes using natural dyes.
When people began asking questions about her work, she wrote “The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book.” She also operated her own shop with eight apprentice wool dyers and worked with a Santa Fe equipment manufacturer to produce the spinning wheel she uses.
“One of the most valuable things I have to contribute is to try to dispel the fears they (beginning spinners) may have – that it is time-consuming and difficult. They can spin any way they want.”
To illustrate her point, Ms. Brown quickly spun a handful of silky multi-hued karakul sheep wool into yarn. “All it is is the drawing out and twisting of fibers,” she explained.
The revolving wheel did all the work, and in no time the thick gray-brown yarn was wrapped around the spindle and she was reaching for more wool.
“I want to make people realize it’s not for a little old lady sitting in the corner by the fireplace for weeks. We’re now spinning great big gloppy yarns for weavers to weave into rugs,” she said.
Ms. Brown said she can spin about three pounds of “jumbo” yarn in about an hour, and can spin the yarn for a 4 -by 6-foot rug in less than a day. Another two days at her loom, and she has completed the rug.
“Some weavers and spinners complain that they aren’t recognized. But it really is becoming a wonderful medium for artists to work in. I think there’s as much worth in a nice striped rug as in a fancy sculptural piece for a gallery.”
“’There are no politics in the world more important than spinning,’” Ms. Brown quoted Mahatma Ghandi.
“Ghandi spun an hour every day. He figured that was what it took to make the clothes to keep the economy going. So you see, it’s not just for dumb little old ladies.”