At local library, Chugiak-Eagle River residents spin community ties
About once a month, a cluster of spinning wheels joins the bookshelves on the floor of the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.
The Eagle River Spinners meet near the tall front windows. For two hours, they socialize, swap tips and spin yarn, surrounded by the soft sound of whirring bobbins. They bring extra tools and plump bags of loose fiber. Some come to learn; some come to teach.
“I spin to spin,” said Jean Truscott, smooth fibers slipping between her fingertips. “This is so relaxing.”
The spinning group is just one of the community gatherings that take place at the local library. Part study hall, part meeting place, part theater and part classroom, the branch weaves together threads from nearly every corner of Chugiak-Eagle River life.
“This really is a community hub out here,” said Nancy Clark, the Chugiak-Eagle River Library branch manager. “Everybody comes to the library – everybody.”
Students come for after-school study sessions. Parents brings kids for scheduled weekly activities. Retirees drop by to use the computers or spend some quiet time reading. The monthly schedule includes popular regular storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers, science-themed presentations for school-age kids and a Friday night movie night featuring family friendly flicks and plenty of popcorn.
“Most of our programming centers around kids,” Clark said. “We don’t have a tremendous amount of teen and adult programming out here, because we have trouble getting people to show up.”
Led by Eagle River resident Sandy Quimby, the spinning group meetup is one of the few regularly scheduled events for adults. Participation is diverse. While some are first-time beginners, others have been working with fiber for decades.
Truscott first learned to spin in 1982, a date inked in red on the bottom of the spindle she still uses to this day. She weaves and knits, too. At the Saturday spinners meeting, she wore a purple pair of socks she made herself.
“I only wear them around other people who do things like this,” she said, laughing.
Some people, experienced in other textile arts, come to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library to learn something new. Lynn DeWitt, a weaver and lacemaker, said spinning seemed like the logical thing to try next. She attended her first spinning group gathering in March.
“I was watching Marjorie at the guild meeting – I said, ‘I could do that,’” she said, twirling a tiny Turkish spindle in the sun by the window.
“That’s how you get started, you know?” said Truscott, working the treadle at a spinning wheel next to her.
Years ago, Truscott said, her neighbors were some of the founding members of the local spinning group, and she’s been coming to gatherings almost ever since. Jane Wheeler, another longtime member, said she first began spinning in the 1990s, and joined up with the Eagle River group about 15 years ago.
“You’ve been here a long time,” Truscott said.
“Time does fly,” Wheeler said.
Before they met at the local library, the spinners gathered at the Eagle River Nature Center. Before the current library space was a library, it was a Safeway.
Back then, the Eagle River branch library was located above Garcia’s Cantina, then in a strip mall across from Tip’s Bar, Clark said. About seven years ago, Clark said, the library moved into its current location at the former grocery store — approximately 18,000 square feet of packed bookshelves and cozy reading nooks.
The space includes a special teen corner and three free-to-use group study rooms available for public reservation. It draws plenty of use, the branch manager said. Storytimes can see upwards of 60 people. Other Friday activities can draw up to 100.
“This community really supports its library – I couldn’t ask for better, really,” Clark said. “I figure if the funding fell out for libraries, this one will be left standing, because they’ll be out there with pitchforks, defending us.”
The library hosts occasional youth art classes and regular Lego play sessions. At bi-monthly chess club meetings, kids and teens have the opportunity to learn rules and strategy. For adults, there was a recent book discussion, for veterans and civilians alike, focused on the military experience and reintegration.
While youth programs continue to be the most popular, the library draws people of all ages, Clark said.
“We’ve got multiple generations who know some of my longtime staff members bringing their kids in, and they know each other from when they were kids,” she said. “It’s really fun.”
At the Saturday spinners’ meeting, Truscott and Wheeler and Quimby showed young newcomers how to work the the wheel and twist the spindle, turning loose fiber into handspun yarn. Pinch, spin, pull, release, repeat.
“It’s just nice to be around people who do the same thing,” Truscott said.