Don Rowe reviews Spin-Off, a knitting quarterly with easily as many polemics and features as The Spinoff – only with more staff.
Reports of print’s demise are overstated – and I’ve got proof. It’s contained in the 104 pages of the Spin-Off quarterly, easily the best publication of its name and a giant Fuck You to the prophets of doom who stand foaming at the periphery of this industry.
With four editors, a copy editor, a proof reader, a six person editorial advisory team and a three person board of editor emeritae, Spin-Off might be the most well-staffed publication on the entire planet.
A knitting and yarn spinning specialty magazine published in the United States, the Spin-Off winter 2017 issue contains 14 features by as many writers, two DIY projects, a guide to sourcing ethical wool and what appears to be a make-your-own Tekashi 69 wig.
There are meditations on the nature of work and toil; a celebration of taking a pause.
“The textile arts hold a neverending opportunity for creative expression, if I just give myself time,” writes Kyle Kunnecke, quietly musing on self-realisation through the practice of knitting.
“Knitted hats from Peru and a glass jar of rocks are the last thing I see before sleep, standing guard as I doze off after another day of making.”
Jennifer Bauman meets a Navajo weaving clan in the high deserts of Arizona, traversing the cacti-rich Mojave to learn from the 90-year-old matriarch of the Lane family. Together the pair shear Rambouillet and Churro sheep, specialty breeds developed over centuries to endure the hostile and ever changing climate in which they live.
“Zena tells me the sheep and goats are holy animals made out of rain,” writes Bauman.
“Their wool resembles clouds full of water, holding the promise of new growth. The people are intricately tied to the animals, the land and their spiritual belief system. Everything is done with intention, following guidelines passed down through the generations. Nothing is wasted, and the animals are treated with total reverence.”
Elsewhere Debbie Held traces the history of the Cajun people, French-Canadian settlers with a symbiotic relationship with the brown-cotton plant. The heroines of this people, as Held calls them, forged a society out of breakbacking toil – and saw it through the Great Depression as many across North America starved.
There are beautiful minutiae in Spin-Off, an entire vocabulary of words like loom and treadles and scurf. There are ads for spinners and needles and thread. There are pictures of alpacas and pictures of black wool, which resembles pubic hair dusted with dandruff.
Spin-Off presents another perspective, in which knitting is not in fact really tedious and lame, but instead a magical symbiosis of weaver and weaved. The ultimate union of craftsman and medium, transmuting the product of the natural world into the very clothes on our back.
“The art and craft of spinning yarns” – a motto we in our unhyphenated Spinoff snobbery could learn a thing or two from.
Verdict: Well-staffed and richly researched, Spin-Off is a shining example of how the best writing can elevate even the most banal content.
Good or bad: Good so long as it remains uninterested in pop culture and New Zealand politics.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.