Alum donates fiber spinning wheel, looms to apparel, design and development program

She had a career in industry and as a business owner
UW-Stout alumna Cindy Boehm shows student Kennedy Lor how to operate a spinning wheel that Boehm donated to the apparel, design and development program. / UW-Stout photos by Pam Powers
March 26, 2019

University of Wisconsin-Stout alumna Cindy Boehm needed to find a home for the double treadle spinning wheel her husband made for her in 1978 and knew the apparel, design and development program at her alma mater would be the perfect place.

“I thought the students would appreciate it,” said Boehm, of Neenah.

She brought the spinning wheel along with three looms and recently demonstrated to students how to use them. “It was the idea they can learn something. We see historical references to spinning and weaving but haven’t had the opportunity to experience hands-on learning. This actually has a purpose.”

Wool, yarn and other fibers Boehm donated.While showing the students wool, yarn and other fibers she donated, Boehm said she has sewn since she was a young girl. “Now it’s my turn to pass on some of the things I have done in the last 40 years,” she added. “I hope it may spark something in some of you.”

Boehm graduated from UW-Stout in 1973 with a degree in clothing, textiles and design. She initially went to work in men’s and boys’ wear at Munsingwear in Minneapolis for about two years and then worked at Zwicker Knitting Co. in Appleton designing knit headwear. After raising her two sons, she taught sewing classes at Fox Valley Technical College and opened a sewing business for bridal gown alterations and design and prototype sewing for businesses.

“When I look back at my education, probably one of the most important classes was draping,” Boehm said. “We carried mannequins from our dorms to Harvey Hall the entire semester, but it taught me how to fit garments.”

Moving the two foot pedals on the spinning wheel, Boehm explained that the double pedal made the wheel spin more smoothly than one. “It is simple mechanics,” Boehm explained.

Her husband, Mike Madsen, who graduated from UW-Stout in 1974 with a degree in industrial art education, made the spinning wheel for her.

Boehm started spinning because she loves working with fiber. “Wool is wonderful,” she noted. “I also love the mechanics of stuff and how it works.”

Holding up wool, Boehm explained how working with it kept her hands soft from the lanolin. She also explained how fiber can be dyed using natural vegetable dyes and Kool-Aid to make bright orange, lime green and raspberry red.

Boehm shows students wool as she talks about fibers.

Sheri Marnell, program director of the apparel, design and development major, said she believes it is important to hear stories from alumni like Boehm and how they used their degrees.

Having the spinning wheel will give students the opportunity to make their own yarn from fibers including wool and flax and then make apparel from that. “It is so they can do it themselves and learn polytechnic style,” Marnell said.

In addition to the spinning wheel and looms, Boehm donated many books on sewing and fibers.

Kennedy Lor, a first-year apparel, design and development student from Menomonee Falls, was excited to see the spinning wheel. “It’s something new we haven’t done,” Lor said. “I think it will be fun to learn to use it and make something new of my own.”

First-year student Carleigh Roettger from River Falls, also an apparel, design and development major, said she had used a drop spindle when she was a child and was also looking forward to trying the spinning wheel. “It’s amazing people are so kind to donate items that will help us educationally,” Roettger said.

Boehm offered to return to campus in the near future and teach other students. “I would be happy to come back next year or once a semester to show them how to use it,” she said. “It takes skill. It takes practice. You’re not going to sit down and do it. You have to have a knack for it.”

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.



Wool, yarn and other fibers Boehm donated.

Boehm shows students wool as she talks about fibers.