Story by Jennifer Linn | Photography by Erin O. Smith
There’s a certain fiber that holds the Georgia Mountain Handspinners together.
The spinning group is more than just a friendly meetup for some of its members.
“It’s emotional therapy; it’s better than drugs,” Georgia Mountain Handspinners co-president Debbie Hightower said.
The women meet at Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville the second Saturday each month to visit, share, spin and learn from each other. Typically 30 women come to each meeting, which started in 2001.
“The fellowship is very encouraging and inspiring,” Hightower said. “You see what someone else is working on. There’s so many types of wheels and spindles, so many different ways.”
Charter member Lynn Johnson said she needs to congregate with women who enjoy doing what she does.
“These are my friends; this is my second family,” she said. “I’ve never belonged to a group of women ever who genuinely care about each other. There’s no division, no cliques.”
The group spins a variety of fiber — from sheep’s wool, to alpaca, angora rabbit and plant fibers — into yarn. They tend to stay away from spinning cotton and flax fibers.
“People can bring knitting or rug hooking or whatever they can carry to work on, but it all boils down to fiber,” said Hightower, who started spinning because she has an interest in old skills.
In fact, Hightower is concerned handspinning may be a lost art if not practiced.
“People ask me what I’m going to do with my yarn,” she said. “I’ll put it in a box and later on I’ll do something with it. My love is the spinning, the feeling of the wheel and the fiber.”
Co-president Marian Cummings also loves spinning.
“With knitting you have to keep track of where you are,” she said. “With spinning you just sit there and feel it.”
The women agreed knitting requires more attention.
“I have never, until just recently, could I sit and follow a pattern, because I didn’t have uninterrupted time,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have time where I could just sit and look at a pattern and knit.”
For Cummings the art of creating yarns in various colors is part of the draw. She started with the group after hearing about a dye day at Johnson’s farm.
At age 74, Johnson has been dubbed the matriarch of the group. She has nine wheels at her home and spins daily while watching TV or listening to audio books. She plans to keep spinning as long as her body will let her, eventually switching to an electric spinner if she can’t use her legs for spinning.
“As long as your fingers work, you can keep spinning,” Johnson said.
For now, she needs some assistance when it comes to dying fiber. Sometimes Johnson needs help moving the pot of water from the sink to the stove.
“On cloudy days I dye bright colors,” she said. “On sunny days I go for deeper colors. Color is very important to me.”
Instead of counting sheep if Johnson can’t sleep, she’ll often start calculating new color combinations in her head as she lays awake.
“First I’m a shepherd, taking care of the animals, No. 1,” Johnson said. “And then I’m a spinner and then a dyer and then would probably come knitting.”
Georgia Mountain Handspinners doesn’t collect dues from participants; however, each year they have a fundraiser called Surprise Ewe. Group members donate an item to be raffled off at the annual event. Ticket sales fund equipment and pays for space for the group to meet.
Johnson said group members are happy to teach anyone who wants to learn to spin. Participants usually bring their own spinning wheel.
“Anyone is welcome to come, even if they just want to come and look and see if it’s something they’d want to do,” Johnson said.
The Georgia Mountain Handspinners meet from noon to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of each month at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville.