Friday, July 24, 2009


It happens every year. I go to Olds for Fibre Week. I spin, I talk to spinners, I fondle the loverly fleeces in the fleece shows. I covet fleece. I buy fleece. I come home and want more fleece. I buy more fleece.

I now have 2 1/2 fleeces in my living room, 1 in the studio, and 8 in the basement. This is not counting the two that I blended into batts last fall and have stacked against the studio wall, waiting to be spun. I am, more or less, up to my a** is fleeces.

Now, normally, this would be a good thing. Except that I am a lazy spinner and really do not enjoy fibre prep. I looove greasy fleeces, I even like washing them. I live to spin. It's just that in-between bit where you make the clean fleeces open and aligned and spinnable that I try to avoid.

I have a perfectly wonderful drum carder. I have 3 sets of handcards. I have 4-pitch English wool combs. I have mini-combs. I have a marvelous hackle. I just don't want to use them.

So here I am. Swimming in fleeces. Beautiful fleeces. Clean, well-skirted fleeces. Creamy white and natural black fleeces. The aroma of lanolin in the air is ambrosial. Now what?

Roll each one open out on the deck. You will notice signs at the end of the deck. One says "No: Bicycles, Skateboards, Rollerblades" and one says "No Playing On The Deck". Nowhere does it say "No Fleece Sorting", so I am good.

I did a super-finicky final skirt, taking out any cotted areas or bits with too much VM (about a handful on this particular fleece from Jody McLean--she does an awesome job of skirting!) I had to break the fleece into quarters to fit it into my sink. Scoured each quarter and laid them out to dry.

On to the next fleece, same procedure. So far, I have done a lovely Cotswold cross from Joybilee Farms, 1 1/2 BFL Merino crosses from Jody, and 3 of the 6 Scottish Blackfaces that I inherited. There is a flock of clean, shiny fleeces scattered about to dry.

Apparently, this makes the animals happy...

At least someone appreciates all my hard work!

So I have the fleeces clean. That means they can be stored for a while, while I wait for the Fibre Preparation Fairies to come and turn them into nice, spinnable rovings and tops. right?

Good! 'Cuz meanwhile, I have a whole lot of spinning to do!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Hey, remember these guys?
My Fibre Week Master Spinner class from this year, whom I mentioned in my last post. Yeah, them. Amazing women, all, each in her own way. It is because of people like these that I teach.
I have been knitting for 25 years, spinning for just shy of 15 years. Over those years, I have taught individuals what I knew at the time, passing along the skills and concepts that I had acquired. In time, my skill base expanded, my knowledge and understanding of techniques increased, and teaching individuals led to teaching classes. And that has led me on my greatest learning adventure of all!
I am continually astonished by the people who take spinning workshops and classes. They come from everywhere--all levels of education, all economic levels, all geographic regions, all races, religions, and creeds. There are women, men, and children. There are people who have overcome enormous physical and personal challenges. Phds, high school drop-outs, shepherds, urbanites, artists, accountants, young, old. Spinning appeals to a remarkable range of individuals, and for as many unique reasons as there are those individuals.
I have taught students whose only previous exposure to a spinning wheel was in illustrations from Sleeping Beauty. I have taught students who have been spinning for longer than I have been alive. What I have learned has far outweighed what I have taught.
Firstly, I feel a responsibility to have as much information to impart as possible. I read, I take workshops to upgrade my own skills, I practice new techniques. I am on my own continual journey to learn new things, so that I may share with those I teach. As long as I teach, I have to continue learning.
Everyone who comes into a spinning class has a different personality, a different learning style, and a different physical structure. In order to be able to teach all of these different people, I have had to look at spinning techniques from different angles. Sometimes this leads to me changing how I myself approach a technique. Other times, this means I gain new insight into a theory, breaking it down into tiny pieces to examine every aspect. I have dissected the minute movements of my hands, and I know where I make my mistakes and can correct them. I know so much more about myself and my spinning, because I have to be able to describe it to my students.
And then there are the tips and techniques that I have learned from them. There are a lot of people out there who have figured out how to make things work for themselves, or have spent a lot of time reading obscure books, or have taken a workshop that I have not. There are an awful lot of ways to make string, and I have learned any number of nifty tricks from people who were ostensibly there to learn from me.
I have also been blessed with students who are patient enough with me to work through new material in books and modules that I am not as familiar with as I could be. I, personally, suffer from a bit of mathophobia, which means that I have to slow down and work carefully through anything that involves a formula. I have had students who speak math a lot more fluently than I do help me break things down, turn them over, and understand them better. We have worked together to make the formulas work, and I have learned.
But what I love best, what keeps me going back to teach, is the sheer joy that my students take in spinning. Whether it is the thrill of creating a new yarn, outside of their comfort zone... Kristi and her novelty yarn, or overcoming a preconceived notion or an outright fear of a technique, it is the thrill of their discoveries that make what I do worthwhile. I get to share in their "aha" moments, and that is...a rush. There is no other way to describe it.
So here I am. Somehow, without really noticing it was happening, I have gained a reputation for knowing a bit about technical spinning. (Which is vastly amusing to me, who was never going to count treadles!) I make string, I keep alive ancient traditions, I make cloth, I learn, and I teach. Spinning has brought me a great deal of joy, but the greatest joy has come from the people I have met, the friends that I have made, and the students who have taught me so much about the craft and about myself.
So I'll make you guys a deal--I'll never stop teaching if you never stop teaching me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

There's No Place Like Olds

I'm home from Fibre Week at Olds, and while I am rested and happy to be surrounded by loving family, I'm already missing the amazing people that I just spent the week with!

For the past 10 years, I have been making the pilgrimage from Fort McMurray to Olds, first as a student, then as a teacher. And every year, I marvel at this gathering of fibre producers, processors, vendors, artists and aficionados--nearly 300 people drawn together by their passion for fibre. Here are just a few of them...

...listening to Jean Curry tell us about the progress of the Master Weaver Program. This is just a small corner of the group--trust me, there were a few folks crammed into the room for the welcoming festivities and to hear Sara Lamb's Keynote Address. Sara spoke on a topic near and dear to my heart-the sense of community amongst fibre folk. Nowhere in my travels have I seen that sense of community more clearly than at Olds!

I wore two hats this year at Olds: I taught the dreaded Level 3 again and I was the Fibre Arts Program Coordinator. The first job is pretty self-explanatory--I subjected 10 unsuspecting spinners to a boatload of mathematical formulas. And they appeared to have survived...

...with smiles on their faces, yet! (Or. perhaps, those are grimaces of terror as they contemplate their homework?)

I am always impressed with the people who take the Master Spinner Program. They come from all walks of life, all levels of education, and all parts of the continent. They bring so much collective wisdom and enthusiasm for the craft to the classroom that it becomes a joy to share what little knowledge I have to impart. I love that moment when someone goes "ahhh!" and sees something new. And I love learning new things from my class, from clever spinning tips to...ummm...colorful?...expressions and turns of phrase.

Of course, it's not all math and agony in Level 3. We get to play novelty yarn games, too. I have a raft of pictures of smiling spinners displaying... and funky yarns, like this one by Kristi. I enjoyed every minute of teaching this amazing group of women, and I hope they weren't too overwhelmed. I hear through the grapevine that one or two of them are planning to start their homework right away, so I'll start watching my mailbox...

My other job gave me the opportunity to get to know many of the guest instructors better. I ate dinner with "lah-ti-dah" Sara Lamb and "lah-ti-dah" Jane Stafford, and even got Ms. Stafford behind the wheel...

...spinning a pretty decent yarn. Now, I must confess that Jane told me that she had spun a little before, but I will still claim that I was the one who taught her to do it right!

I had several wonderful conversations with Joan Ruane, who was an enormous hit with her students. I chatted with Cynthia MacDougall about the realities of the fibre world, and I didn't get to spend near enough time talking to Sharon Costello (maybe next year, hey Sharon?).

With so many instructors coming and going, I had very little time to visit with Linda Cunningham, Nancy Walker, and Linda Wilson--but Tracy Kuffner did get a chat in while she was switching from adult classes to kids' camp mode. And Jen Black, who is now a fellow Master Spinner graduate, came and went a fair bit, but still took the time to get a good visit in.

All of these amazing people, along with our Master Weaver instructor Jean Curry and my fellow Master Spinner instructors Rosemary Harris, Gayle Vallance, Colleen Nimetz, Charles Vereschagen, and Birgit Rasmussen bring so much to our community. They share their skills, their knowledge, their humor, and their passion for fibre with anyone who passes through their sphere of influence. I am honored and inspired to be in their company.

Of course, I am honored and inspired to be in the company of the folks who were enabling us in the vendors mall, as well. I little bit of cashmere (okay, a lot of cashmere) from Spruce Haven Farms followed me home, along with a fair bit of a yummy alpaca/cashmere/silk blend from Alpaca Plus. Not to mention the little bits here and there from many other vendors, including colored roving, some rare Fox Fibre cotton, some glitzy threads, and...well...half of an amazing Merino/BFL cross fleece. (Thanks, Vicki!)

As I mentioned above, though, I think I am most inspired by the students who enroll in the various workshops and classes. These are the people who make Fibre Week...and I'll tell you more about some of them next time!