Crafty woman shows off her spinning ways

Sheep's wool turns into yarn as a spinner works and the curious look on.
CANFIELD -- We may not think much about this as we pull our sweaters over our heads, but somehow, a handful of fluffy sheep's wool becomes yarn.
These days, manufacturers mass-process the wool so fast you can barely see how it's done, said Kay Thomas of Monaca, Pa. But she's a master of the old way of doing it, and as she works her little Saxony spinning wheel in front of Sheep Barn No. 36 on Wetmore Drive at the Canfield Fair, you can see it happen.
A ball of sheeps' wool from a blue-ribbon winner at last year's fair, already dyed blue, sits in her hand. It's coarse, she said, unlike the very soft wool of a Merino lamb she has tucked away like a special prize by her side. With other balls of wool dyed green and tan, she'll make a rug that matches her wallpaper.
First, she combs the wool until it looks like a piece of spun cotton candy. Then she pulls on it, feeding it into a part of the spinning wheel that catches it and twists it into a piece of yarn. Her foot pumps a pedal the whole time, which turns the wheel via a drive band. That turns a part of the wheel called a flyer, and produces a bobbin of yarn. Since the fair opened Wednesday, she has produced 12 balls of yarn for her rug.
Quietly works her craft
Thomas doesn't have a microphone and a huge display designed to attract attention. She just sits and spins wool from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day at the fair. But the almost-lost art of spinning yarn on an old-fashioned wheel draws the curious, who wander over to watch her.
She's been demonstrating her craft here ever since she came out to buy wool 38 years ago and a fair board member discovered what she intended to do with it. He asked her to come back.
Though she's a rare sight, there are other people "all over the country" who still spin on wheels, she said, and you can find information about the craft on the Internet. It's a very relaxing hobby -- after you learn how to do it, she said. She's taught all her grandchildren and even three great-grandchildren how to work the wheel.
How she learned
Thomas, on the other hand, didn't learn to spin when she was a child. She and her husband drove to Ripley, W.Va., for a craft show 43 years ago, when craft shows weren't nearly as common as they are today. With no interstate, the drive took six hours. While there, she came across two "old mountain women" who were spinning, and immediately she was hooked. She had an antique spinning wheel at home that she used for a decoration. She used it to teach herself after she asked those women "a million questions."
She no longer uses the antique wheel. The one she uses today was made in 1972 by a man in Winona, Ohio, who has since passed away. It's not common to find wheels anymore, she said, and it can be hard to find parts to repair them.
While at the fair, she'll use only fair wool, she said. So this year's prize wool from the sheep barns will be back next year for a spin.

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