Spinning Yarns

After several decades of resting in the corner of my living room–and basically serving as a decoration–my spinning wheel is back in use. I am again picking through sheep fleece, washing the wool, carding, and spinning it.

Spinning wool into yarn is one way to connect campers with nature and the past. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / joyfuldesigns

I had forgotten how satisfying it is to transform wool into a yarn that can be used for knitting or weaving. I read recently that when we work with fibers from plants and animals, they connect us to the stories of the people who grew and used these fibers before us.

Primitive, nomadic people–the first campers–used the plants and animals around them to provide food, clothing, and shelter. There were no Walmarts or Targets at which to purchase all the jeans, food, and entertainment they could afford. The resources were limited to what they found in nature.

At camp–where we try to connect campers to the natural world–we introduce them to the many uses of natural fibers as an effective way to achieve this goal. Feeling wool as it comes off the sheep, gathering berries, and watching as the yarn turns yellow, or weaving pine needles into a basket engages their senses. As campers create something from natural fibers, they can be absorbed in the pleasure of simple living.


Spinning is the practice of twisting together fibers to create a yarn or string, which can be used for knitting, crocheting, or weaving. No one is sure exactly when spinning began, but remnants of woven fabric date to 5000 B.C. Humans depended upon various hand methods for spinning until the invention of the Spinning Jenny in the mid-nineteenth century led to developing factories to spin fibers.

Introduce campers to spinning by making wool or other animal fibers available to use with a drop spindle. Spinning activities provide hand-eye coordination, the experience of working with natural fibers, and the campers’ pleasure of creating something of their own.

Use the time to help kids connect with the lives and stories of the colonists and pioneers who settled this country (many of whom raised sheep, which the women sheared and spun to keep their families warm).

Teach campers how to make a drop spindle from a rock and string, or from a wooden dowel. Step-by-step instructions can be found in such books as Spinning the Old Way and Spin It.

A variety of drop spindles can be purchased online. Both raw wool and roving (prepared fibers) also can be purchased online or locally. If you use raw wool, campers also have the opportunity to prepare the fibers for spinning by washing and carding them. The advantage of roving is that it is ready to use.

Consider inviting a local hand-spinner or sheep farmer to visit camp. A hand-spinner can show campers how a spinning wheel works and how to prepare fibers, which may raise the level of interest. A sheep farmer, meanwhile, can explain how sheep are cared for and sheared.

Of course, the best experience would be to give campers an opportunity to see real sheep. Christian and Jewish camps can use this as an occasion to discuss biblical images of sheep and shepherds.

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