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Wool tradition takes another spin

MT. HOOD — Spinner Shelly Duniphin stepped outside the old building to take a cell phone call.

Moments later she was back at her spinning wheel, creating colorful thread, as part of Sunday’s “Spin-In” at Mt. Hood Towne Hall.

“We’re keeping an old tradition alive,” said Duniphin, of Snowden, a mother of two teenage daughters. She and a dozen other women sat at spinning wheels in the gymnasium of the old hall.

Nearby, under a sign marked “stash reduction,” other spinners looked through piles of wool brought in for trade. Cotton, silk, alpaca, sheep, and even musk ox wool were available for sale or trade. Spinners typically build up large stocks of material and are eager to share.

“Believe me, this is addictive,” said Jane McLean of Mt. Hood. “There isn’t a fiber person out there who doesn’t have too much fiber.”

The “Spin-In,” part of the Northwest Spinners Regional Association, was a fundraiser for the Towne Hall renovation project, and a warm-up for the newly-formed NSWRA chapter in the Gorge. Known as an “area,” the chapter will take in members from Portland to Hermiston. Among the area members present Sunday was Barbara Quinn of Washougal, who worked at an “Irish Castle wheel,” distinct with its upright structure.

“Wheels come in all shapes and sizes, from the size of a book, to huge,” Quinn said.

Currently, spinners in the Gorge must travel to Yakima or Portland for events, so the NSWRA was asked to set up a new chapter to make getting together easier during the winter.

“Anyone can join us. You don’t have to know how to spin,” Duniphin said. “You can learn, or just watch and talk. It’s for anyone who is curious about different fibres.” The area group meets at 10 a.m. on the fourth Saturday of each month, at Columbia Art Gallery in Hood River.

“We get together and play,” said McLean, who has spun for about 12 years and teaches locally. Next week McLean will teach about spinning to history students at Horizon Christian School.

“You have here today three generations of spinners,” she said, motioning around the gym as she tested the natural twist of the sheep wool skein she created.

“This is something we’re trying to hand down from one generation to the next,” she said.

“We need to,” said Sue Momberg of Hood River, who taught McLean to spin.

“We’re losing it. It is a basic fundamental tradition we should not lose, Momberg said.

“You have to have events like this, to educate people wherever you can. If people go out and see it enough (it might catch on),” she said. “If you are at all interested, you’re hooked. Otherwise, forget it,” Momberg said.

McLean said spinning is highly social.

“You’re spinning and making thread and yarn, but you can do other things at the same time. We can also sit and talk — and spin a yarn, and by that I mean another kind of yarn, a story,” she said (“Rumpelstiltskin,” with its golden thread, is among her favorites.)

“You can’t spin on the computer,” Duniphin said. “Maybe one day they’ll figure out a way, but not yet. Fiber people need to feel fiber.”

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