Fabrics, sewing and handcrafted items have always fascinated Mary-Helen Binger.
When she moved to Utah five years ago, one of the things she brought with her was a kilogram of unspun Australian wool she purchased as a memento from a business trip to Australia. She decided that she wanted to learn how to spin.
On a whim, she drove out to the Wasatch Fiber Festival in Coalville. At the event, there were fleece judging contests, spinning demonstrations and other activities related to the fiber arts.
"I fell in love with fibers. I loved the look of roving (and) fleece. I asked right there and then how I could buy a spinning wheel and what one to start on," she said.
Binger is now the president of the Wasatch Woolpack Handspinners, a group of mostly women from around the Wasatch Front who get together once a month and on other special occasions to spin together. Luli Josephson, WWH treasurer, said the group is interested in promoting the fiber arts, especially forming a network of community awareness and understanding of hand spinning.
"Some of us are interested just in the process and creation of hand spinning ... (while) others are knitters and want to create their own yarns," she said. "This is a group of people where you can learn how to hand spin and get connected with other people who do various fiber arts. Over the years Salt Lake has been a very active weaving community."
Both Binger and Josephson said the fiber arts are currently undergoing a renaissance, and interest in them has increased over the past few years. Knitting especially has a larger following. Crocheting is also having a resurgence in popularity.
The nice thing about spinning is there is only a minimal amount of equipment needed to start, Josephson said.
"All you need to spin is some kind of hand spindle (and) fiber," she said. "It's portable, very sociable, creative and productive."
Laurel Wright, who lives in the East Millcreek area, said spinning came in a roundabout way for her. She was interested in Navajo rugs and weaving. She bought a Navajo loom and decided that she wanted to learn how to spin Navajo yarn. This naturally led her to seek spinning groups in the area, and she joined WWH in 2001. She now specializes in spinning cotton, which is more difficult than traditional wool to spin.
Spinning is a way for her to unwind from the cares and concerns of her life.
"It's rejuvenating. You get to spend a lot of hours (building) friendships. It's such a relaxing craft," she said. "It's a lot cheaper than therapy."
Binger also feels spinning is a relaxing experience.
"There's something deeply satisfying and meditative about doing a repetitive task with your hands," she said. "Some people whittle birds out of wood and some people knit and some people crochet ... Doing the same motion over and over again is very soothing and calming."
The spinning guild is a family affair for Louise Pratt-Mecham and her daughter Kira Pratt both of Holladay. Pratt-Mecham said her aunt belonged to the guild and used to spin silk to make beautiful shawls. One day Pratt expressed interest in taking a class, and her instructor was amazed at how naturally she could spin.
Pratt-Mecham said although she doesn't spin herself, she still enjoys the guild. She said she and her daughter make a good team. Pratt spins the wool and her mother makes shawls, scarves and other creations from it.
"I'm a member of the Handspinners, but I just don't spin," she said. "I support. I go to meetings ... I crochet and knit."
One of the highlights of the organization for members of the WWH is their annual retreat. For five days they camp out in an area by Park City and spend the entire time spinning.
"Somebody cooks for us, and we camp out," Josephson said. "We escape from the world and fall into spinning. It's an immersion that's hard to come back from."
One special focus for the WWH is dyeing the fibers. Each year members of the group have a dye exchange. They choose one color and everyone dyes a certain amount of fiber, then brings a sample of the color for everyone else. This year's color is gold. In past years they also have done red and green.
Membership in the WWH ranges between 85-100. The circulation for the monthly newsletter is 125. Josephson says there are two levels of membership: the full membership and a newsletter-only member, who receives the newsletter and other spin-off publications.
The Wasatch Woolpack Handspinners have a monthly meeting the third Wednesday of every month at Pioneer Craft House, 500 E. 3300 South in Salt Lake City, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is free and open to the public. Anyone interested in finding out more information or possibly joining is welcome to attend.Comment on this story
Josephson said the group is meant to be a source of information."It's mainly about encouraging and supporting people," she said. "We like to be a resource for people who want to learn but don't feel like there's one way to do everything."