New generation, old skill: Toronto's young crafters get baaack to basics
Spinning your own yarn — sometimes starting right from the sheep — is a crafting craze in the city
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Toronto’s young knitters and crocheters are taking a different, much older craft for a spin.
On Friday night at Yarns Untangled in Kensington Market, they gathered around a table piled with takeout containers and craft beer cans to listen as Brenna MacDonald demonstrated a technique that literally dates from the Stone Age: spinning wool into yarn, by hand, using nothing more than gravity and a simple wooden tool called a spindle.
MacDonald, 22, co-owns Yarns Untangled and organized the free meetup to teach spinning — a bona fide crafting craze — because of overwhelming interest from her fibre-arts Facebook group; an offshoot of the stuff-swapping club Bunz Trading Zone.
Spinning is part of “a movement to recover some crafts that have been lost,” said Ele Willoughby, captain of the Toronto Etsy Street Team, a group of 1,200 local artisans who sell their wares on Etsy.com.
Spinning disappeared from most homes in the 1800s. According to history author Rebecca Traister, the time-consuming slog, either by hand or foot-powered wheel, was a low-status women’s job — hence the term “spinster.”
As handicrafts go, it doesn’t get more back-to-basics.
“I do work with some fleece straight off the sheep,” MacDonald said. “It’s really dirty at that phase!”
Crocheter Kate Chiang, who makes custom teddy bears, said she came to the gathering to learn to spinning as an alternative to the mass-produced “Wonder Bread” yarns sold in other stores.
“If you spin the yarn yourself, you get to choose everything: the colour, the texture, the thickness of the fabric, if it’s going to be lofty and warm or smooth and sturdy,” MacDonald said.
“The slow and steady method is so rewarding. There’s something very luxurious about being able to make something beautiful for somebody you love.”
University of Toronto economics professor Philip Oreopoulos sees the revival of crafting as part of “a dramatic, ongoing change in the types of jobs people do.”
Globalization and automation have resulted in a “hollowing-out,” of middle-class jobs, he said. What’s left is a polarized mix of low-paying, low-skilled jobs and highly paid professionals —people with an appetite for handmade items that are “unique and cannot easily be reproduced in China,” Oreopoulos said.
Young adults entering the workforce are responding to that demand, he explained. “You look around for a way to make your living, and you make yourself a career, with your hands.”
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