Friday, January 31, 2014


I am a Master Spinner.

What does that mean? Well, on the surface, it means that I took 5 years of classroom teaching and followed each class up with a year of home study. It means that I spent a week of intensive testing, making yarns to specification. I means I wrote an In-Depth Study, examining how to make a yarn and how that yarn will perform in use for socks. It means I fulfilled the requirements of a college continuing education course.

But it also means so much more.

It means that I have taken the time to think not only about how to make yarn, but why to do it that way. It means that I have read and studied the works of others, drawing lessons from their work, then applying it to my own. It means I have made mistakes and learned how to correct them. It means I have learned to think critically and independently.

I do not blindly accept that we do things as spinners because that is "tradition". I do not mindlessly follow gurus or trends. I have the means and the skills to set trends, if I feel the need. I take risks and make yarns that I know I will never use, just to see if I can make them. I read and think and analyze, and I draw my own conclusions. I understand my craft intimately.

There is a school of thought, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a skill. That, with enough practice, anyone can become great at the task they have set out to learn. While I agree that time and repeated practice will make you more proficient at a task, I do not agree that repetition alone will make you a master.

I recently stumbled across this post about the 10,000 hour rule. I highly suggest you read it, but in a nutshell, it says that new research has shown that it is not only the amount of time that you spend perfecting your skill, but how you use that time to analyze and improve those skills as you practice them. Doing scales, reviewing technique, problem-solving when you make mistakes. It takes an understanding of the skill that you are trying to perfect. It also means that many, no matter how long they practice or how dedicated they are, will become true masters.

My friend Margaret tells of her early spinning experience. She had been merrily spinning yarn for twenty years, but when she took her first level of the Master Spinner Program, she says she realized that she had been "spinning for one year, twenty times". She did not know that she was repeating the same patterns over and over,  doing the same things right and the same things wrong again and again. She was not analyzing her work, understanding only the how, but not the why.

I am often asked what it takes to succeed in the Master Spinner Program, and my answer is always the same. It takes practice and patience and humility. That last one is a big one for most people. Humility, admitting that we do not know everything, the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, are rare commodities today. Modern media makes us all believe that we should be instant experts in everything we try, that we all deserve greatness in our chosen fields.

The terrible reality is that this does not happen in real life. To learn any skill, be it spinning or baking bread or tightrope walking, takes practice, conscious thought, and the horrible realization that you will never be as good as you want to be. A true master is always seeking to improve, to learn more, to understand more deeply. Stopping our practicing after 10,000 hours, assuming that we are now masters, stunts our mastery and limits us. For others, even 10,000 hours of practice will not overcome a hurdle placed by a skill or an assignment.

Instead of assuming that the learning has ended and the practice has made you better, continue to learn and experiment. Guys, we have 40,000 years of spinning history to explore! New fibres, new techniques, new concepts await every one of us. Push out of your comfort zone, take risks, make mistakes. And learn. Always learn.

That is truly the road to mastery.

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