Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking a Break

After weeks of thinking about, talking about and working on spinning classes, I was getting a little snarky. So, I took a little break to celebrate the passing of another year in my life. Yup, I took the weekend off to party for my birthday!
Our little household set off on a mighty expedition to Edmonton, where we spent some time with family and friends. On Saturday, we went to the St. Albert Farmers Market and got some fresh veggies and some other nibblies. Then I settled out on my Mom's patio and spent the afternoon knitting and chatting in the sunshine. There was a yummy barbecue supper, and some more knitting. Our plans for a fire and s'mores were curtailed by a thunderstorm, but we had a swell time on the covered patio watching the storm.

Sunday was my actual birthday, and I got to do anything I wanted. So here's what I did: First, I went to the zoo.

...and unusually tiny pictures were taken.

I visited Humpty Dumpty.

I nibbled on a little cotton candy. (Of course the pictures upload larger when I am making a pig of myself!)

I got a sheepie puppet! Her name is Meryl Sheep. Of course!

Then we went to visit Brendan at work, where he made me a special birthday cone!

Then we went to Red Lobster, where Meryl got into the Sangria. I may have sipped a little, too...

Then I opened many fabulous fibre-related gifts from my family, including 4 skeins of Lorna's Laces sock yarn, some Lantern Moon dpns, a sheepie tape measure and a Steiff sheep key chain all the way from FAO Schwarz in New York! There were also some gorgeous earrings and a Starbucks coffee card and a whack o' lottery tickets (no big winners, though) and a really awesome little windchime. Wow!

Monday, we rolled on home, rested and refreshed and much less cranky than I have been for weeks. Ready to face the workshop prep ahead.

I also got the knitting finished on my piece for the Gibson's Landing Fibre Festival Instructor's Exhibit! Woo-hooo! I beat my deadline. It's blocked and drying right now--pics to come. For now, here's a peek at the yarn:

Mohair, spun from locks that I bought at the Olds Farmers Market last summer and dyed up inJune. I flicked the locks, then spun them in random sequence. The singles were Navajo-plied to retain the colors and the resulting yarn is about 24 wpi. I gave the yarn a soft brushing to bring out the halo and soften the hand and cast on and entrelac scarf. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oh No! She's Been Thinking Again!

There is much work to be done, yet here I sit, pondering the imponderable. Sometimes the meditative aspect of spinning is a little too, well, meditative...WARNING: Personal Rant content ahead!

But first, a random picture of my garden to put you in a happy place...

I am working on the Colour With A Twist workshop for the Gibson's Landing Fibre Arts Festival. This is work that should have been done weeks, if not months ago, but I allowed myself to be sidetracked by life. I have redesigned the workshop and its exercises half a dozen times since I sent in the proposal, and I am still adding and editing, exactly a month away from the workshop. And I am wallowing in philosophy, which is almost counter productive.

Here's what I'm bogged down in: What makes a good workshop instructor? What makes a good workshop? How can you meet the needs of everyone in a workshop group?

There are no easy answers, and I am hardly the first to ask these questions, but so many recent experiences have raised these questions again and again in my mind. Over the past four or five years, I have seen the full gamut of teaching and learning at a series of conferences, festivals and gatherings and I am trying to find my place within it.

The one thing that I am really wound up about is the teacher-oriented versus student-oriented approach to teaching. When I took the Instructor Skills Workshop at Olds College this spring, the instructor emphasised a student-oriented approach. This was fine by me, because it supported my personal philosophy. I believe that I am there to teach the student what they want to know, or what they need to know to be successful at what they are doing. I believe that my role as an instructor is to inspire and mentor. I will share my personal opinions on the craft, but I will allow room for debate and exploration. I am not there to boost my own ego, but to boost the confidence of my students. I learn as much in each workshop that I teach as my students do. This is my very strong personal philosophy and I'm stickin' to it.


I am really getting re-started at this teaching thing after a couple of years of laying low, so I am still feeling like the new kid on the block. So, over these past few years, I started observing and talking to more experienced instructors. And I was amazed and, frankly, horrified by some of the things that I heard. I heard people say that they had been teaching the same thing so long that they could do it in their sleep. I heard people say that they didn't have to teach certain techniques because, while the technique was useful, they personally did not like doing it. I heard people say that if you talk to your students outside of the classroom, they lose respect for you and you no longer have any "authority". I heard people say that students who did not have state-of-the-art equipment weren't serious and were wasting the teacher's time. I heard people say that they didn't like it when people took their workshops and then went home to share it with their guilds because "it cuts into my revenue" (!!!) I heard people say that if you criticize a student's less-than-stellar work, it will motivate them to do better next time to avoid the criticism (!!!!!!). I heard that laughter and conversation in a classroom means that no one is learning anything.

On the other hand, I heard that if only one person in the class goes on to practice what was taught, the class was successful. I heard that teaching to the level of the most challenging student in the group taught everyone in the group the technique more thoroughly. I heard that great friendships could be made in the classroom. I heard that there is great wisdom amongst people who take workshops and that sharing this wisdom goes both ways for an instructor. I heard that changing up workshops to keep them fresh and up-to-date is a lot of work, but always makes you learn something new so you don't fall into a rut.

These comments came from a variety of instructors--I have spent time with over 40 different individual instructors from a wide range of fibre crafts over the past couple of months alone. And most of them were wise, gentle, and supportive of both me and their students. But I am alarmed by the number of negative comments. Why were there ANY negative comments? Sure, people are entitled to a bad day or a slip of the tongue, but the comments that upset me were within context and seemed to be a part of a whole attitude on the individual's part. So it's not really the negative remarks I don't like, it's the negative attitude. It's the sense of "it's all about me" that these remarks betray.

What we do is not hard. This wee craft of spinning has been done for millennia by people of all ages, races, and creeds. Cultures without written language and those with highly advanced libraries of lore have all relied on spinners. It can be done with the crudest of tools--you do not need the top-of-the-line, newest, shiniest, trendiest wheel/spindle to make a good yarn. You need two hands and a lick of common sense. And a little gentle guidance in technique.

What we do is not crucial to our survival. Before the industrial revolution, without spinners, there were no items of clothing, no household linens and blankets, no sails for sailing ships, no string for bows and arrow, no nets for capturing food. The economies of entire civilizations rested on the shoulders of spinners. Now we do it for relaxation, for personal expression, for the sheer joy of the craft.

So we take classes, workshops, seminars. We seek inspiration, support, help. We do not seek authority or criticism. Most people who take workshops are not seeking to be the greatest spinner in the world (that's my job--you can't have it!), they just want to try something new and have fun spinning. Why not go into a workshop, as the teacher, with that in mind?

Let's make teaching an "it's all about you" thing, and forget our quest for personal glory. That's what I'm going to do.

Whew! Now that I have that off my chest, I can show you a picture of last night's amazing sunset and get back to work building THE BEST DAMN WORKSHOP EVER!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What I've Been Up To: Part Three

In the last episode: Michelle had travelled to Olds and triumphed over the forces of tpi. She now journeys north to Edmonton...
...and winds up in the 14th Century! Knights and Ladies and combat, oh my!
I attended the Knights of the Northern Realm's Annual Tournament, ostensibly as a vendor, but mostly to demo spindle spinning. I had a blast teaching young 'uns to spindle, or letting them think they were spinning...

These particular young ladies actually took to it quite well, but I had a wide range of visitors. There was the little wee one who wanted to do what her big sister did and turned the "magic wand" round and round until yarn came out the end. There was a young boy with Down syndrome who waited sooooo patiently until it was his turn, then laughed while he drafted because the roving tickled his hands. There was the mom who was abandoned by her teenage daughter because she spent an hour getting the hang of spinning. The Historian, the Goth girl and boy, the weaver that I knew. So many interesting people. In the end, though, everyone who visited went away with a piece of yarn to show for their time spent in the Gazebo.

And I even sold a couple of spindle kits to some potential new spinners--I love luring the unsuspecting into fibre addiction! Mwahahahahaha!

After the long week at Olds, and a long hot day on my feet at the Tournament, I was bagged.

But did that stop me? Oh, no. Sunday morning, up and at 'em and off to Ikea. Then a visit to Number One Son in his new home, and a 15 block (each way!!!) walk to and from supper. The big drive home on Monday, then back to it on Tuesday morning.

So now I am prepping material kits and handouts for my workshop in Gibson's Landing, power-spinning ( I like that phrase so much better than the more accurate "panic-spinning") the second skein of mohair for the scarf I designed to put in the Instructor's Exhibit there, salvaging what's left of my garden now that the chickweed has taken over, assembling Ikea furniture, and getting laundry and housework all caught up after a week away. Whew!

I am also scrambling to organize the flood of workshop proposals that have come in for Fibre Week next year. Holy smokes! They tell me that they have never had to do a selection process before, and have had to, in fact, hunt down workshops to fill all the slots. I do not anticipate that problem. My problem will be choosing which of the fabulous proposals get a place in the schedule and which I have to say no to. And I hate saying no--especially when the proposals all look so good!

And speaking of a spot in the schedule--I have one in the Association of Northwest Weavers Guilds Conference next year in Spokane! Wheee! The spinning continues!

Pause. Breathe. And continue...

Friday, July 11, 2008

What I've Been Up To: Part Two

When we left Michelle's adventures yesterday, she had packed her wheels and her wools and had headed south to Olds. Let's join here there...

Olds College Fibre Week is a growing institution in the fibre world, the marvelous gathering together of fibre fanatics, producers, seller and teachers. All those lovers of string in one place must, in some way, shift the world on its axis for that week!

I took two days to drive down to Olds, stopping in Edmonton to visit with my Mom and Number One Son for an evening. The actual drive to Olds was filled with dread and trepidation. I was off to teach the Master Spinner curriculum for the first time, and the hardest level at that. The dreaded technical Level 3.

I arrived mid-afternoon and loaded in my classroom, found my bed and hauled in my groceries for the week.

I found friends old and new in the Merchant Mall, and after a cafeteria supper, I attended the keynote address by Lucy Neatby. A glass of wine and a little studying, and I was off to bed. Where I did not sleep a wink, between anxiety and the screeching of the furnace fan that my roomies were running to cool the condo.

Monday dawned hot and sunny, and off I went for a fortifying breakfast. And off to class where I found a huge gap in my spinning skills! I can't do math!

Fortunately, the Universe was smiling upon me and I had an inquisitive, intelligent and fearless classroom full of people who worked with me and my stack of reference books to clarify the problem. By lunch time, each and every person in the classroom knew their tpi formulas cold! Especially the slightly red-faced instructor!

Thank goodness for the Silk Spin-in generously sponsored by Erynn at Twist of Fate. We got to play with all sorts of silk preparations and blends, soooo soft and soothing...

So, after hitting that huge obstacle, the being comforted by amazing amounts of free silk, the rest of the week went swimmingly! The two Level 3 classes joined forces for a natural dye day on Tuesday, with fabulous results:

...25 colors from one dye pot! Times 14 students--skeins galore!

All neatly sorted by mordant and modifier, 1-25.

Lots of happy dyers! Support spindles were played with and perfected while dye pots simmered. A busy, but satisfying day.

The fashion show and silent auction took place that evening, and as tired as I was, I went to bid on the goodies. I won a basket of coffee and books by Otto Pahl, and a Viking Santa spindle, which just happens to be the same shape as one of my favorite snacks, Old Dutch Butter Spindles (no wonder I love them!)...

...Mmmmm, spindelicious!

Wednesday brought cotton and count systems, leading to some super-fine spinning, and the amazing 3-person ply method that I first saw practiced at a Judith McKenzie-McCuin workshop years ago...

It happens to everybody at least once! Now that it's out of Kammy's system, she will spin brilliantly from now on! (Just like she has been all along, I might add. And now she's spinning cotton!)

Thurday we spun silk and made mawatas from silk cocoons, which is always mayhem. Hot water, nail frames and bugs--how could it not be a blast?

Friday brought reproducing commercial yarns, which tied together all the theory bits from throughout the week, then novelty yarns, which throw all those rules out the window. I felt a little rushed with the novlety yarns, but I covered the hard stuff really well, so I was okay with the compromise, this time. I will get it right in the future, I hope!

So, utterly drained and brain-dead, I struck out for Edmonton again, where we will pick up the final installation of our trilogy when next I sit down to blog.

Edited July 24, 2008.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What I've Been Up To: Part One

The last two weeks of June and the first week of July passed in a blur. The good news is that it was a fibery blur--I worked at something fibre-related for 8-10 hours everyday, then fell asleep dreaming of fibre! The bad new is that I have been too busy to blog, so now I have a blog-jam to clear. So, I have decided to divide things into chunks and blog separately about the different topics, rather than spend the day writing an epic that would rival War and Peace in its length and scope!

Part One: Prep and Packing

Getting ready to go away to teach spinning for a week is an adventure in and of itself, but this time I worked to coordinate materials with the other instructor, who had been preparing materials for the whole Level 3 class before it was split. That went really well, but in the end, there was still a lot for me to do on my own. I have never taught to someone else's curriculum before, so there was a real learning curve in sorting through the information and breaking it into exercises, then breaking the exercises into materials. Many emails were exchanged with other instructors and with purveyors of fibre, and the stash was dived into several times before I got things under control. My studio looked as if a flock of sheep had exploded in it, after a tornado had hit!

I was also madly spinning to prepare a yarn to submit for the silent auction, plus frantically knitting to get my Phoenix sweater done (which I didn't!). And then I decided that I had to have a dye day.

Now, I may or may not have mentioned that I love to dye, but that the work takes a toll upon my creaky knees and back. This means that I tend to let dye projects accumulate, then do a day-long blitz. This is also partly because I do not have a dedicated dye space, so I have to set up my temporary place out on the patio. So I set up and go, go, go.

This day's results:

...kid Mohair locks in 7 different colors (A friend dropped by, saw this pile and said "So I see you've been scalping clowns again, Michelle". Again?!?);

...painted Corriedale roving in a colorway I named "Opal";

...and the same roving in "Jade"; fat yarn from this post, handpainted in blues and greens;

..and the silent auction yarn, handpainted in "Shiraz".

I also handpainted some silk hankies for my Level 3 students, but neglected to photograph them. Much mess, but fabulous results!

And when it was all done...

...we ate dinner on the coffee table.

The painted Corriedale went into "learn to spindle" kits, the "Shiraz" yarn got yoinked back into my stash, the fat yarn got alloted to the silent auction, and the Mohair got bagged up for sale. Then I packed all the materials that I had accumulated into kits for each student, sorted books and equipment, rounded up clean undies and my toothbrush and took my show on the road.

Next time, in Part Two: Our intrepid heroine goes to Fibre Week.