Teaching workshops about wool at The Spinning Loft

Okay. The maps for the book are due by overnight delivery in 2.5 hours. I need be ready to check the maps. Deadlines are coming closer together. The book is scheduled to go to press on February 19 and to ship (not from the printer, but into people's hands) on May 4.

There's a story about the maps, of course. It's also a little convoluted, of course.

I was asked to prepare the material for the maps a number of months ago. I spent a week putting together reference information and shipped it off. Then the rest of the book's material filled up the inside pages, including extra signatures. During photography, multiple phone calls and e-mails went back and forth between the staff in the studio and the editorial and budget folks back in the office, and the book got bigger. A couple of times.

Yet in the end, even with the additional pages, there was no room for the maps.

"Oh, well," I said, and put together decent-looking versions of a few of them to use when we filmed the DVD. I haven't seen the DVD so I don't know whether they'll show up as the printouts I was holding when I talked about them or whether they've been inserted as separate images. I gave the production team the Illustrator files, so it could be either.

I also used some of my prettied-up versions when I taught at The Spinning Loft in Michigan in November.

Last week, however, the folks at Storey apparently spent 36 hours contemplating and discussing what to do with the maps, because they didn't want to give up on them.

Solution: They'll be printed on the endpapers. It's a great idea and the perfect location. Aesthetically pleasing, easy to locate when readers want to refer to them, and hey, I'm all for making good use of every page that can be printed.

Thus I need to check the artwork (which will be much more lovely than mine).

QUICK! I need to finish this blog post! I started it shortly after I finished teaching the workshops. That was in November.


The shop: The Spinning Loft

In November, I flew into Detroit to teach for an evening and two full days at The Spinning Loft, which is a wonderful, unusual shop owned by Beth Smith with the indispensable help of her adult daughter Chelsea (who's discovered fiber dyeing and is really good at it).

Beth's the one with the Wall of Wool. In addition to stocking masses of prepared fibers (natural colors and custom dyed), she collects fleeces and lets spinners buy sampling (or larger) quantities of many varieties of grease wool. The website only hints at the possibilities; if you want something, ask. She also makes up sample packs, so people can get to know a variety of fibers without a huge investment in both time and money to locate and acquire the supplies.

Beth also often has gorgeous textiles made by the Peruvian spinners, weavers, and knitters of CTTC, the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. Wow.

(Fancy new CTTC website; read in Spanish or click at the bottom right for English. Older, more pedestrian, but also informative website.)

Beth sponsors amazing workshops. They are informal and lively, and the instructors are treated very well. Her youngest daughter, Maggie, a spinner herself who had recently traveled to Peru with Beth to help with international textile dialogue, came to one of the sessions. Her youngest child, Ryan, is a generous livewire who politely and quietly made sure that I had a candy on my pillow every evening when I went to bed. Chelsea kept the rest of the business rolling so Beth could focus on making the workshop participants and instructors comfortable. It all went beautifully.

The space and the participants

The Spinning Loft recently moved from its original space into a new, two-room shop. The back room can be (and was) filled up with a workshop while its normal life goes on up front. The Wall of Wool is at the front of this back room, so we had ready access to its inspiration and walk-in customers could also get to it without disturbing us. 


We had a terrific and diverse group of participants, at a variety of skill levels. The classes I teach require basic spinning proficiencies (ability to spin and ply on wheel or spindle or both), but nothing special. We experiment a lot. And, as it turns out, I talk a lot. I keep trying to be quiet and let people experience the fibers, but then I think of things I want to share about what I'm seeing in the material we're working with.

I'm smiling right now, thinking of the terrific people who gathered in that room, with different backgrounds and personalities and approaches to spinning, and how much I enjoyed spending time with them. I'd like to get together over tea with each person and talk more.

In addition to Beth, I knew one person from my previous work life (Jillian Moreno is a former co-worker whom I hadn't seen since Interweave days) and had met Ellen Bloomfield (@ellenspn) through the internet but not in person, and had e-mailed extensively with Sasha Torres, who interviewed me for her SpinDoctor podcast on the afternoon before we got the workshops rolling. I'm basically an introvert, and all of the folks in the room helped me feel at home and comfortable. Then there was all that wool, of course. . . .

And the lovely spinning wheels. Several folks had really cool cup holders on their spinning wheels. Most amazing—and practical, especially in a crowded room . . . and what spinning room, even with one person in it, isn't a bit crowded with fibers and tools?

The weekend program

Beth set up the weekend so people could register for the parts separately or as a sequence. Almost everyone signed up for the whole weekend. Because of commitments in other parts of her life, my friend Lynn (ColorJoy . . . I had met her in person at Sock Summit) was only able to come on Friday evening for the introductory talk, and Jillian had a conflict and couldn't come then but arrived Saturday morning ready to meet new fibers. Otherwise, everyone set up their wheels and stayed throughout. This was super, because they could compare the categories, instead of just experiencing one or another of them. But I liked that they had the choice.

Beth set up the categories she wanted me to cover and arranged the framework so it would work with the shop's resources and people. That means space, experience levels of likely participants, and travel requirements. A number of people came quite a distance to be part of this experience, and that needed to be taken into account in the schedule.

Once she set up the parameters, I got to play with her concepts, which was fun.

Friday evening: Talk about wool in general

Beth scheduled Friday evening for a three-hour session. I figured (and I told people!) I'd have about an hour's worth of words and then we'd just chat about ideas I'd brought up. Ha. I managed to talk for most of the three hours, although I invited questions and interruptions throughout so we had some of the back-and-forth that I love.

There's a lot to be said about wool in general: setting up the basic ideas about how amazing it is and what things are common to all wools. Once you get into looking at the variety of wools (and we had a diverse array ahead of us), it's easy to lose track of the commonalities.

Saturday morning: Primitive wools

The first question to be considered here is what the heck is a primitive wool? There's no easy answer to that question, and some time after I've thought about it for a few more years I may write about that, but I proposed a working definition and we began to experience some wools that could be, and often are, called primitive—they are very different from Merino, the quintessential non-primitive wool.

Beyond my introductory comments and handouts, we had about 45 minutes for each  sample breed in each session. That's enough to play around, but not enough to do more than open the questions. Folks' sample packets gave them enough clean fiber to use in class and to take home and experiment some more.

In this session, we got these wools to play with: Karakul, Shetland, Scottish Blackface, and Navajo Churro. (I'm linking to Valerie's lovely blog entries about her after-workshop spinning at Fiberewetopia . . . a great name. . . .)

 ** The maps just arrived, an hour and a half early. That's good, but it also means I need to abbreviate a little or this post will go unposted even longer. **

Saturday afternoon: Down wools

LOTS of wools are described as "Down wools" or as "Down-like." So many that if you start reading books on fiber you begin to wonder where the category begins and where it ends. When I was researching the book, I decided to set a baseline and figure out how to make this category less wobbly. I managed, by focusing on the six core, indisputable, historically based Down breeds (from a particular geographic region of southern England). They are Dorset Down, Hampshire Down, Oxford Down, Shropshire, Southdown, and Suffolk.

Categorizing breeds is a matter for endless debate, during which a lot of qualities of wool, as well as some history, can be taken into account. The point is not to categorize definitively but to understand more about the universe of wools. So that's what we did.

There are reasons to call other wools "Down-like," and we made yarn from very different types of wools as we considered their similarities and differences.

We experienced a core Down breed and some possible "Down-like" breeds during this afternoon: Suffolk (the baseline), Dorset Horn, Black Welsh Mountain, American Tunis, and Border Cheviot. The Black Welsh Mountain that Beth obtained for this class was quite Down-like. Not all wool from that breed is. (Dorset Horn, Black Welsh Mountain, and American Tunis are listed as rare by ALBC or RBST.)

Sunday morning: Longwools

Ah, the longwools. Beth is especially fond of longwools (and so am I). There are the classic British longwools, and then there are other longwools. Shiny, with extended staple lengths, and smooth profiles. We talked a lot about wool strengths and their appropriate applications, and what does (and doesn't) make for itchy wool fabrics.

For spinning, we had lovely samples of Romney, Border Leicester, Lincoln, and Coopworth. (Lincoln is rare.)

Sunday afternoon: Fine wools

Fine wools are good to have last, since they require some warming-up to spin comfortably. It's also good to have your fingers sensitized to different fiber qualities, so you can appreciate more subtle distinctions.

Beth did a fantastic job of arranging for us to have an array of both textures and colors to experience among the fine wools: Merino, Cormo, Corriedale, and CVM. (CVM is rare.)

It was just grand. Thanks to Beth for instigating and hosting, to Chelsea for managing the front end of the shop, and to the delightful folks who joined our wool party.


And now I need to return to my next irregularly scheduled interruption.



More teaching

May 2011: If all goes according to plan, I'll be teaching a 1.5-day workshop on rare-breed wools at the Conference of California Handweavers.

October 2011: Planning is in process for a 3-day workshop, a 1-day class, and four half-day retreat sessions, all on rare-breed wools, at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat in Manchester, New Hampshire. SOAR scholarship application information has been posted and the deadline is February 8, 2011.

Summer 2012: Discussions are underway about some workshops and classes in Canada. What we'll cover hasn't been determined yet. Thanks to Sue Meissner and Linda Cunningham for strong nudging in this direction.

Thanks to Beth for kicking this all off. And for, with Jennifer Heverly of Spirit Trail Fiberworks, providing the fiber-gathering, preparing, and packaging support without which these events couldn't happen. More notes about Jennifer coming in future posts.



6 thoughts on “Teaching workshops about wool at The Spinning Loft”

  1. I will look forward to hearing more about the Canadian workshops! With two little ones on the way, I imagine that kind of travel will be near to impossible for me to arrange, but I’ll dream about it for now. 🙂

    So glad to hear you resurfacing on the blog again!

  2. Not that I expect anything but beautiful, easy to read maps from someone as quality conscious as you are – but please don’t omit the scale, legend etc for the maps. So many sloppy maps around!

    Canadian workshops – where? I’m interested!

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