Certificate of excellence, part 1

A question from Meg Caulmare (whom it looks like I will finally get to meet this year!):

I keep meaning to ask you if you have already earned the COE in handspinning. If not, is your work with rare breeds a base for that (which you would, of course, do in your spare time)?

COE stands for Certificate of Excellence, and she’s referring to an extensive self-study program in handspinning skills devised and administered by the Handweavers Guild of America (HGA).

Meg suggested that I could either answer privately or in the blog. The temptation is to drop her a quick e-mail, but I think it’s a legitimate question. It will take three posts to answer in stages.

I have not earned a COE in handspinning, nor a certificate in any other textile craft. While my work with rare breeds might be a base for the focused study required as the final stage of the COE process, I won’t be traveling that road in the foreseeable future. As Meg suggests, this choice concerns how I use my so-called spare time. While I do have time and I constantly consider how best to invest it, I can’t say that any of my hours (or minutes) qualifies as “spare” {wry grin}. But there are deeper issues here, and a lot of history.

The thought of participating in a certificate-focused program has certainly crossed my mind several times, beginning in the 1970s, shortly after I began to weave for real, when I became aware of the Handweavers Guild of America’s Certificate of Excellence program in handweaving, and then again when HGA started to formulate the criteria for the now well-established COE program in handspinning.

Thirty-five-plus years ago, I was spinning and exploring on my own, and with a group of friends. We gathered in my living room almost every Tuesday night and figured out among ourselves how to spin. We did not have access to classes, workshops, or readily available sources for tools or prepared—much less dyed and prepared!—fibers. Our guides were such books as Elsie Davenport’s Your Handspinning (a quietly delightful piece of work, now almost completely overlooked) and Marilyn Kluger’s The Joy of Spinning, one for techniques and the other for spirit. Our primary suppliers were a handful of mail-order companies. We placed a wholesale-quantity order with Ashford in New Zealand for a dozen spinning wheel kits, which was the easiest way at the time to get a wheel. We made our way forward through a lot of experimentation.


My copy of Marilyn Kluger’s book appears to have been lost in the flood that hit this area in 1997. It destroyed most of my textile library, and my Glimakra loom. I’m very pleased that Elsie Davenport’s book survived. I’ve been able to replace a number of the items destroyed by the flood, but The Joy of Spinning is not on my bookshelf right now so I can’t take its photo.

In 1977, when an ad for the first (annual) issue of Spin-Off magazine appeared somewhere, probably in Interweave magazine (which I don’t think had yet become Handwoven, although I’ve been digging in enough boxes that I don’t think I’ll check that fact right now), I immediately ordered it—oh, the wonder when it arrived in the mail! A magazine dedicated to this craft we had rediscovered! I read it cover to cover. I couldn’t even have begun to imagine that only a decade later I would assume responsibility for editing the magazine, a role I would fill for forty-nine issues’ worth of content.

Spin-Off covers-all


The value of pursuing a certificate seems to me to be devoting one’s energy and time to a systematic and careful exploration of an area of interest, of stretching one’s capabilities and experiments beyond what one would naturally pursue, and of then putting together materials that represent the studies and having the presentation of words and samples evaluated by other knowledgeable folks.

My work has allowed me to do this in many respects. In other significant ways, my work has channeled my energy into contributing to the spinning community (as well as the general textile and publishing communities) in ways other than those provided by investing my time in earning a certificate.

To be continued in part 2.


5 thoughts on “Certificate of excellence, part 1”

  1. I never do any kinds of certifications either. It’s always seemed like a waste of time to me, however I do understand that other people feel it’s beneficial or even necessary for them. Then again, I also quit high school and I quit college 4 or 5 times before I decided that getting a degree was not going to be part of my life.

  2. It’s interesting to hear your reflections on this certification thing…I’ve thought about this a lot. Although I have constantly explored and learned as a spinner, I have no deep interest in getting a certificate. I’m proud of my academic degrees but also feel like I am done with that part of directed learning and grades in my life. I don’t know what earning the certificate would prove at this juncture–I already get to write and teach about spinning, which I love doing!

    I’m curious to know why people seek the certificate and what it “earns” or does for them..aside from an organized and expansive approach towards learning. Thanks for talking about this and why some people choose -NOT- to do the certification.

  3. Joanne, if all else in my life were equal, I'd probably do it, because I have seen the depth of learning that comes to those who have. Yet I think I have achieved a certain depth of learning by what I've done instead.

  4. I took a spinning class in 1978. Our “text” was Elsie Davenport’s book. I still have it and still treasure it. As a shepherd said to me once, “I doubt the information has gone out of date….”

  5. Elsie has definitely **NOT** gone out of date, Laura Sue. She’s pretty amazing. Just no fancy color photos. Basics? Yup. Designer yarns? Yup. Great background info? Of course.

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