Volume S of our 1976 Encyclopedia Britannica collection did not have much to say about the Spinning Jenny. What it was: an early machine for spinning wool or cotton. Who created it: James Hargreaves from Lancashire, England. When: 1764. And a short sentence about its significance in the industrial revolution.
I can still see the two-sentence paragraph description and its line drawing of the Spinning Jenny sitting on the page. What I could not see at the time was the 500-word essay being requested by my 6th grade social studies teacher Mr. Jacobson.
So I did what any good writer would do. I improvised!
What is a spinning wheel used for? How does it work? Where does the wool and cotton come from? What was life like in Lancashire? What was life like in 1764? Who was James Hargreaves? What was the industrial revolution?
Et voila! Essay.
Pulling from different sources, I spun together that essay and earned an impressive A- for my effort.
Ironically, one of the reasons the Spinning Jenny was so important is that it allowed a worker to use multiple spindles of material in the forming of thread.
Fast forward 40-something years, and I am still spinning. Still pulling from multiple sources to form threads of thought that get woven into my writing and creative work.
I love the experience of that process. Going down the rabbit hole of “what do we have here?” and finding winding paths to all sorts of unexpected discoveries.
I love the organic nature of those discoveries — what reveals itself as I walk along those paths. A bit like Alice, I suppose, wandering and Wondering in that strange, unexplored land.
I love the challenge of digging deeper to find some key piece of information that completes the story. I love doing research and following breadcrumbs.
The best part, of course, is when it can all finally come together. Tie off all of the threads, weave the ends together. See the conclusion of the hard work: the poem, the book, the zine, this essay.
I suppose, if you think about it, that make me a Spinning Jenny, wouldn’t you say?