Long Thread Podcast: Susan Druding

Season 2, Episode 10: What do you get when you give a Free-Speech Movement activist a spinning wheel? A lifelong teacher, a Bay Area institution, and a spark for fiber arts exploration.

Anne Merrow Jun 4, 2021 - 3 min read

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Susan Druding was a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley when she first learned to spin and weave. In the Bay Area of the 1960s, fiber interest ran high, and when she was pushed out of the PhD program in the Department of Zoology, the design department next door welcomed her in to pursue a master's degree.

Without a business plan but with a lease on a small storefront, Susan and a business partner opened Straw Into Gold, a store devoted mostly to spinning and dyeing. Spinning legend Bette Hochberg, author of Handspinner's Handbook and Spin Span Spun, was a regular, and legendary spinning wheel maker Alden Amos set up shop in the basement. Award-winning spinner Celia Quinn ran the old carding machine that they used to create rainbow batts. They became the first United States distributor of Ashford spinning wheels and equipment.

Meanwhile, what kept Susan and her store going was teaching. From the early days when she put signs on lampposts inviting, "Make your own yarn! Learn to spin!" to chemical and synthetic dyeing workshops, education became an important and rewarding part of Straw Into Gold. After all, to keep a spinning store in business, they needed to make some handspinners.

It's a fascinating journey, one that involves being dragged onto a police bus during the Free Speech Movement's 1964 sit-in, providing charkhas to the Hollywood production of Gandhi and materials for the Star Wars cantina scene and Ewoks' forest, and having some of her wares seized by the government for fear of contamination. Whether as a shop owner or storyteller, Susan Druding has yarns like nobody else.

Links

Straw Into Gold is now closed, but history, dye materials, and other information remains on its website.

Susan's quilting patterns, articles, and a gallery of her quilts can be found at equilters.com.

The history of the Free Speech Movement can be found at their Archives.

Lolli Jacobsen is Program Director of Pacific Textile Arts near Mendocino, California.

Sally Fox's natural colored cotton project can be found at Vreseis Limited.

Susan's article about handspinners in the Bay Area will appear in Spin Off Fall 2021.

Knitting with Dog Hair is, sadly, out of print.

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