Muscle Memory, but Whose?

I got my spindle and fiber in the mail yesterday so I spent two hours last evening spinning yarn. Whew, I suck at it! And literally every time I would say to myself, “Okay, I think I’m getting it,” I would fuck up again.

That being said, I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to try again. I thought the part that would suck the most is having to stop so often to wind the yarn on the spindle, but really, the part that sucks is that, if you draft wrong, you can’t fix it. Or, at least, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, because I couldn’t see the problem until the twist was actually in.

And should I have set the twist in the single before I plied it? I didn’t. But it did come apart on me a couple of times while I was plying and I wondered if that was why. I mean, aside from the fact that my yarn is literally all the sizes.

Okay, but here’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about. When I started pulling apart the fiber to make it more manageable, I felt something so viscerally that it surprised me. A feeling of “rightness”? I guess?

And then, when I started to spin, I felt both like I had no idea what I was doing and that I had forgotten how to do this, because it had been so long. But something forgotten is not quite the same as something unknown.

I have never spun before. I know that.

But I felt, through the whole thing, the frustration of not quite remembering how to do this.

There’s been a lot of research into whether and how memories might be inherited–but as far as I know, mostly dealing with trauma and how traumatic events leave chemical changes in the body that can then be inherited and “remembered” by the new body in some way.

And when I think of how many women in how many branches of my family must have known how to spin for how many generations? I mean, really, I don’t think anyone further back than my great-grandmothers wouldn’t have known how to spin

Everyone else, whether good or bad at it, would have known how to do it. And some of them would have done it so regularly as to know it in their bones. The muscle memories would have been shaped since they were little girls. And then passed down and reinforced. For, what, thousands of years?

How could it not be sitting in my muscles, too?

I’ve been trying to suss out the connection–if there is one–between the disir, who are a category of female ancestral spirits worthy of veneration in old Scandinavian and Germanic traditions, the distaff–a large stick you tie your flax to while you’re spinning–and the dizz–which is a little circular thing that kind of looks like a button that you pull fibers through in order to get them off the combs and into a spinnible conglomerate.

Dizz isn’t in the OED. Distaff seems to have a kind of circular etymology. A distaff is a distaff, but maybe ‘dis’ is flax or spinning flax? But also, distaff refers to the female line in a family, so there’s certainly, possibly still, seemingly a link between the “dis” in distaff having to do with a lineage of women and the “dis” in disir having do with your ancestral lineage of women.

Wikipedia seems to think that the “dis” in disir goes back to a proto-Germanic word that basically means “to suck” or “to suckle.” If you look at how a dizz works on the fiber, you’ll see it kind of sucking and tugging on it.

I think they’re all the same thing. But it’s just a guess and a gut feeling. A muscle memory, if you will.