I Am a Spinner: Ellen Hansen, Professor of Geography

Ellen Hansen's research and teaching interests are in cultural geography, specifically in gender and women’s lives in different cultures and various places, and she is a firm believer that everyone should make time for fiber every day.

Spin Off Editorial Staff Jul 31, 2020 - 4 min read

I Am a Spinner: Ellen Hansen, Professor of Geography Primary Image

Professor Ellen Hansen at her desk at Emporia State University. Photos courtesy of Ellen Hansen

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do professionally.

I have been teaching since 1999 at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. My research and teaching interests are in cultural geography, specifically in gender and women’s lives in different cultures and various places.

How and when did you learn to spin?

I first tried spinning when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the highlands of central Ecuador. One of the women showed me how to spin wool on a spindle, but I was so bad at it that first time that she quickly took it back from me. She needed good yarn for weaving, not the bumpy thick-and-thin stuff I made.

I really learned to spin in about 2009. A good friend of mine was a wheel spinner, and she encouraged me. I took a class where I was able to try out different spinning wheels and actually produced a skein of yarn. Although my first skein was a typical nobbly thick-and-thin one, somehow I knew I could learn to make yarn, and I persisted and eventually bought my own wheel.

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Ellen’s yarn.

Do you have fun fiber-related memories from your work travels to Korea, Kenya, Finland, Estonia, and more?

Ireland has to be one of the best. I was delighted when we visited the woolen mill in Cushendale. It is a small working mill still producing wool and wool products. In a tour led by one of the family that has run the mill for several generations, we saw the historic machinery they still use to produce yarn. And I found lovely yarn in Finland: handspun at a market in Helsinki—and a wonderful fiber studio attached to the University of Vaasa.

How does spinning fit into your everyday life?

I’m a firm believer that everyone should make time for fiber every day. My spinning wheel is set up in my living room, so I see it when I’m doing things in my house. It usually has a project in progress set up, so even if I just have a few minutes before leaving the house, or feel like spinning a little late at night before bed, it’s easy to sit down and let that fiber run through my fingers and see the magic of spinning fiber into yarn. I have a friend who also spins and knits, and we regularly talk on the phone or over Skype while we’re spinning or knitting.

Spinning and other fiber crafts are important in my life, in part because they are so removed from my profession as a department chair and professor. Being an educator certainly has its creative side, but that is a very different type of creativity. Some of the things I’ve made to sell are from my handspun yarns, and that’s the best—when people appreciate the work and skill that go into spinning yarn and creating something usable from it.

Do you know someone whom we should feature in “I Am a Spinner?” We’re especially interested in spinners with unusual careers, locations, and perspectives. Drop us a line at [email protected].

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