Letter Re: The Fabric of Our Lives

Mr. Rawles;
Spinning and weaving are certainly not lost arts. I know many women and some men who spin, and some who also weave. Spinning wheels and lessons are available in many cities, and there are active spinning and weaving guilds. Cards, wheels and looms can also be ordered online, and there are YouTube videos demonstrating the various processes.

It is true spinning is more difficult to learn than knitting, and requires a larger initial investment in equipment. The cheapest spinning wheels start at around $200, from Babe’s Fiber Garden. (I have not used one of these so I cannot comment on how well they work, but I know they have been selling them for ten or twelve years.) It is also possible to make your own spinning wheel from directions available on the internet. The basic principles are not that difficult. [JWR Adds: In my family’s experience, rather than buying a low-end wheel, it is best to look for a used name-brand spinning wheel, such as an Ashford or a Louet. These can often be found for under $250 if you watch Craigslist diligently.]

As to whether spinning is practical as a survival skill—well, maybe. It is time-consuming, especially if you start with preparation of the fleece itself. However, once the yarn is spun, knitting or weaving it goes much faster. But hand spun or at least hand knit wool socks, gloves, mittens, hats, and sweaters are a great comfort, so there is that to consider, too.

As much as I love spinning, knitting, and weaving (I am still very much a novice at weaving), I do think it would be more practical to lay in a supply of yarn, cloth, thread, needles, scissors, pins, etc. (Don’t forget sewing machine oil!) Bear in mind that cloth deteriorates with time and cannot be expected to last forever on the shelf. The fibers will weaken and the cloth will rip or fray when you finally try to use it.

If one anticipates having to do without electricity, treadle sewing machines in working order may still be found in some places. There are also hand-cranked sewing machines, from the British Isles , available on e-bay. I bought one a year ago and am very pleased with it. If I had the right set-up, it could be converted to foot treadle operation, which would be even nicer. There are instructions available on the Internet for repairing sewing machine—search for “how to repair a sewing machine,” or “how to repair a treadle sewing machine.” It would be a good idea to locate a set of instructions and print them out to have them available any time in the future.

My condolences on the loss of your dear wife. The thought of her Ashford wheels standing silent is a very sad one. Sincerely, – Kathie C.


Mr Rawles:
I read with interest the article about the fabric of our life and it got me to thinking about my own sewing. I learned to sew when I was in the 7th grade. I sewed on my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. I still have that machine along with my mother’s and my own sewing machines. For those of you that don’t sew -You Can Learn. This goes for you men as well. Through out history it was the man that was the tailor. There are classes at places like Joann’s Fabrics. Most places that sell sewing machines have sewing classes to teach the basics. Adult Education many times will have classes on things like sewing and knitting. If you contact places that sell fabrics they can direct to places to learn. There are a number of books that can show you the techniques. I like the Singer series of books but there are others out there as well.

Like most women that sew, I have the “fabric stash” and lots of sewing notions. I decided to take a look at what I have and what I needed more of. For men, I have patterns to make basic collared and cuffed long sleeve shirts, pants, men’s underwear, casual jackets, tee shirts and pajamas. For women, there are patterns for blouses, skirts, pants, jackets, bras and pajamas. As all our kids are grown, I don’t have too many patterns for children but children would need the same types of clothing in sizes for them. I like the multi size patterns and just trace out the size I need while leaving the pattern intact. I buy a bolt of tracing pellon (a thin polyester fabric) just for this. After assessing my fabric stash I think every one should have a bolt of white cotton sheeting (it is a little more substantial than regular muslin) It can be used for a wide variety of items and could be dyed to what ever color that you want. You could use Rit Dye or try your hand at natural plant dyes. There are lots of books out there to guide you. A bolt of denim is great for pants and light jackets. A bolt of cotton knit for underwear and tee shirts. If you get a bolt of white cotton knit you can have a lot of fun tie dying it for your tee shirts. A bolt of polyester fleece can make jackets, hats and I like to use it for warm pajamas. You could also use the fleece to line a jacket or pants to have something warmer for winter. A bolt of flannel can be used for shirts and pajamas.

For notions you will need zippers and buttons, snaps or Velcro. I like the no sew jean buttons that you hammer in like rivets. Lots of thread especially in black and white. Elastics for pants and underwear waist bands and wrist openings. The plastic snap buckles and webbing are great for pants self belts. Plush elastic and plastic parts for bras. The hook and eye part and plastic parts can be recycled from your older bras if they are still in good condition. You can order bra patterns and notions online from places like So Sassy Fabrics. Bias tapes in the single and double fold. Make sure that you have lots of needles for hand sewing as well as your sewing machine. It is a good idea to have lots of straight pins and safety pins and several pairs of scissors and tape measures. Interfacing is used on lots of thing like collars and cuffs. If you check out the back of your sewing patterns they always list the notions that you will need and when you see the same things listed over and over again you will know what you need to stock up on. For those that have not tried sewing give it a chance you might find that it is not as hard as you thought. Best Regards – Glennis