Carolyn and the Courageous Cushion

B. Lorraine Smith
6 min readFeb 1, 2022
A handspun creation inspired by the joyful, courageous Carolyn McAlpine.

Carolyn McAlpine — McA as some of us called her — was the youngest member of the Etobicoke Handweavers and Spinners Guild when she died a decade ago from an aggressive brain cancer. She was 33 years old.

She was the most joyful, fun person I have had the pleasure of spinning yarn with. And if you’ve ever hung out with spinners you’ll know that’s saying a lot — we are a pretty fun-loving bunch if I do say so.

It still breaks my heart when I think of her being gone, but there is something she left behind for which I am deeply grateful. It’s something I have been drawing on a lot lately: her joyful approach to courage.

The other day I was out running some errands when the weather took a kooky turn — fierce wind and swirling snow combined with bright sunshine. There were a few of us out there, suddenly caught up in the sparkly light of snowshine, looking at each other with a little more light and laughter than we had just moments before. Carolyn sprang to mind — it was the kind of beauty from turbulence she had a way of summoning.

She’s been springing to mind a lot these days, perhaps because everything feels kind of swirly and I’m working at staying open to those bursts of light. I am shifting gears in my work, and all around me (and everyone, really) there is so much that is being called into question. Some other time I’ll explain more about my work, and maybe explore some of those other questions, too. For now, I want to shine a light on Carolyn’s approach to courage — an approach that I believe illuminates the path ahead.

Carolyn was one-of-a-kind, from her dimply smile to her willingness to go hors piste at a Tim-Horton’s drive-thru during a snowstorm. She radiated a kind of magic, and I don’t use the term lightly.

She shared her magic with us even when she died, as some of us learned at her memorial service. Her nearest and dearest (numbering in the hundreds, not surprisingly) came to celebrate her life on an early summer day in 2010, on the Eastern Ontario farm she shared with her husband (photographer Gary Mulcahey). During the festivities we were each invited to choose a ball of yarn or bundle of spinning fibre from her stash to remember her by. At one point, a few of us were standing off to the side of the stash table, mostly…

B. Lorraine Smith

Recovering ESG "expert"; yarn spinner; distance runner; magical realist. Sensing a path to an economy serving life. also at