Accepted paper:

Handspinning tradition: traditionalisation, revival, and Honko's "folklore process"


Mathilde Lind (Indiana University Bloomington)

Paper short abstract:

Handspinning in the United States today has lost many of its symbolic associations with morality and self-sufficiency while increasing in vitality as a modern craft practice, providing a case study on the relationship between traditionalization and folklore revivals.

Paper long abstract:

Spinning fibers by hand to produce thread is one of the most ancient and widespread arts and has often been associated with images of rural industry and domestic femininity. Various groups over time have consciously invoked tradition in relation to handspinning for social, religious, and political purposes, attaching the living practice to idealized versions of past morality, self-sufficiency, and traditional ways of dwelling. This paper traces one of these trajectories of discourse and meaning through the American colonies and the Back to the Land movements of the mid-1800s and the 1960s and 1970s to the current state of handspinning in the United States. Handspinning today is at the center of a thriving fiber arts community that has largely divorced it from its earlier symbolic and traditional significance, showing that a reduced focus on traditionalization may have benefits for the vitality of traditional practices. Using Lauri Honko's model of the "folklore process", I explore the relevance of modern handspinning to folklore revival attempts, asking how it achieved and maintains its current popularity and overall longevity.

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Dwelling in craft