Spinnin’ ‘n’ yarnin’
BY KAREN SCHWALLER
ALBERT CITY – Sharon Rens enjoys a good session of sitting down to knit something. But unlike many who knit, she takes it one step further.
She also enjoys making her own yarn from raw wool.
Rens, from Orange City, was one of the several working exhibitors on Aug. 10 at the Albert City Threshermen and Collector’s Show.
“It’s very enjoyable being here,” she said. “We had children learning about it last year, and young men sitting down and actually spinning the wool while the young ladies were standing and watching them. It’s fun for people to see how things used to be done.”
Rens was just a third-grader when she became entranced while watching her grandmother, a Dutch immigrant, knit a sweater in just three days. She learned a little about it then, but didn’t take it up seriously until she was a junior in high school in the early 1960s. She knitted off and on after that.
“During the 70s you couldn’t find good wool yarn anywhere – you could find polyester yarn, but it wasn’t what I wanted to use,” she said, “so I learned to spin my own yarn.”
Serious enough about finding good wool yarn, Rens raised her own sheep during the 1970s because she couldn’t find the kind of wool she wanted to work.
She included black sheep and gray sheep in the flock, just to have those natural colors. She had them sheared, then she washed and carded the wool (removing the debris from it and untangling it so it could be spun).
She said she can find lots of nice wool yarn to purchase. She finds it at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival in Adel each year, and she also gets some via the Internet. Her work at the Albert City show featured Merino wool with some silk strands throughout it.
Rens said there are many different types of wool yarns.
“Sheep are like people,” she said. “We all have different kinds of hair. Some have more fine hair, some have coarse hair, some have naturally curly hair, some straight. Sheep are just the same.
“They all have different textures of wool. The wool I’m using today is Merino, and it’s some of the finest, softest feeling wool you could have. The Navajo use coarse wool when making their horse blankets and rugs.”
Rens has a collection of vintage spinning wheels at her home, including three “great” (large) wheels, a Swedish wheel, circa 1889, a 1910-era wheel from Holland, and a variety of other spinning wheels.
“They’re all unique and have a story,” she said.
The wheel she was using at Albert City was a Kromski spinning wheel, which was made in Poland.
Rens takes her spinning wheels on the road to show others what she does, to give her an outlet for her passion, and to educate people about the very old art of spinning yarn. She hopes to get other people started spinning through her living example. She said it takes her back in time.
“The first mention of spinning wool into yarn is in the Bible in the book of Exodus,” she said, plus other mentions elsewhere in other Bible passages. “(Spinning) has been around for a long time.”
She belongs to the Little Sioux Spinners and Weaver’s Guild, which meets twice a month in Spencer and Cherokee.
She said one of those meetings is more of a meeting-type agenda, and the other is a project day, where they teach each other different things and learn by doing.
Top activities on project days include spinning, along with dying yarns and fibers using garden vegetables as natural colorants.
“It’s like riding a bike. Once you learn how to spin, you never forget,” she said.
Rens plans to return at the Albert City Threshermen and Collector’s Show for a few years, spinning, teaching people and demonstrating the art and skill of spinning wool into yarn.
“It’s an art, and people do need to see the way things used to be done, and know that they can do it, too. I enjoy it very much. And for me, it’s cheaper than counseling,” she joked.
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