Your Favorite Tool: Drop Spindle

Once a month, we ask the current Artist-in-Residence at the de Young to tell us about a tool they use in their work, or that they otherwise find particularly interesting.

Streetcolor, Artist-in-Residence at the de Young through January 4, has been using the tool pictured above—a drop spindle—since she was 18 years old. One of the things that she loves about this tool is how it connects her directly with her materials in their rawest state, creating yarn directly from sheared wool. In the past, she’s even visited farms and used the spindle in the barnyard: “This goes from sheep to yarn with one tool.”

Up until 350 years ago, all yarn was produced with a spindle similar to this one. “That includes the yarn that was used to weave the Unicorn Tapestries, and the sails for Viking ships,” says Streetcolor. The version seen here—known as a “high whorl” spindle—is suspended in the air, so it was adopted by cultures who tended to walk or stand a lot, or who were often on horseback.  More sedentary cultures used a spindle that rested on the ground and could be used while sitting. 

“Remember the first time you felt comfortable on a bike? This has the same feeling, like the tool is an extension of your body,” Streetcolor says. “It turns you into a machine for the production of yarn. I also love how it makes you aware of your body, which seems particularly important today when our physical forms are disappearing into our internet connections.” 

Find more infomation about visiting Streetcolor in the Kimball Education gallery, and read more about work on her blog.

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