Teaching at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR)

Sunday night at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern time (the time zone I woke up in) or 11:30 p.m. Mountain time (the one I'm readjusting to), I arrived home from teaching at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat, or SOAR, the spinning-focus conference sponsored by Interweave Press that was held this year in Manchester, New Hampshire. I've been part of thirteen previous SOAR gatherings, between 1987 and 1999 . . . but had not been to one for the past eleven years.

Previously, when I worked at Interweave, I was part of the staff, making sure both mentors and participants had what they needed to enjoy and benefit from the event. (Examples: Filling goodie bags. Running to town for carrots and nuts to feed an unannounced vegan. Distributing air fresheners to cabins that were stale-smelling. Finding electrical cords. Locating boxes of fibers. Hauling, stacking, and shipping cartons on Sunday afternoon before catching a flight back home with the rest of the generally slap-happily exhausted crew.) I also, of course, did lots of things that related to my position as book editor and/or editor of Spin-Off magazine: talking with people about book ideas, hanging the gallery, uninstalling the gallery, being the announcer for the fashion show, and cruising the whole rich environment for ideas to feature in the magazine.

So this was my first time in another role: mentor, or instructor. Because it had been so long since I was part of a SOAR, I knew the event would have changed. For one thing, there are a lot more people. (In 1987, for the tenth anniversary, we had 300 people and the first marketplace. In general, there were between 125 and 150 attendees. I heard rumors this time about 400 participants. I didn't count.) For another, we were in a hotel, rather than one of the environments that both required us to cope with weather (rain, snow, mud) and gave us the opportunity to experience different settings outside of hotel-neutrality (North Carolina, Vermont, Oregon, Missouri, California, and so on). For many reasons, then, I went into this experience expecting some continuity but also prepared to have the event be entirely different than I remembered.

This will not be a tremendously coherent post. I had a great time. I loved meeting the people who were in my classes and the other folks whom I chatted with elsewhere around the hotel. Yet the SOAR schedule doesn't leave a lot of time to refill the well from which buckets of energy are constantly being drawn! I missed talking with a lot of both mentors and participants whom I saw from a distance. (I would have loved to have taken D. Y. Begay's sessions, and could happily have learned lots from every mentor on the program.)

I love to travel light. That wasn't a possibility for SOAR.

Here are my suitcases, packed and ready to be loaded onto the shuttle to the airport:


The two on the left contain class materials. The second-from-right contains my personal basics. The small gray backpack on the far right holds my computer and its cords and accessories, a water bottle, travel food, my iPod Touch, two books, and a couple of magazines.

On Saturday a week ago, I flew from Denver to Chicago to Manchester, New Hampshire. The Chicago flight arrived six minutes before the Manchester one was due to depart. Southwest kindly held the plane a few minutes for the handful of us who were making that connection, the last flight of the day. There obviously wasn't enough time to stop and pick up a salad. It's a good thing I had packed enough trail mix, apples, and almonds to get me through. I boarded the 737 in time to get one of the few remaining seats.


Night fell as I traveled 2,000 miles east, arriving at, oh, some time when the restaurants in the area had closed down and I was too tired to cope with finding, ordering, and eating dinner anyway. The bartender at JD's Tavern in the Radisson Hotel, where SOAR was being held, kindly sold me a to-go glass of milk and I enjoyed granola in my room. About an hour after I got there, my roommate, Stephenie Gaustad, arrived, and we did chat a bit before shutting down for the night, or, to be more accurate, early the next day.

Sunday morning, thanks to Twitter, several mentors and early-arrival participants managed to coordinate gathering for breakfast in the hotel's cafe. I snapped a picture of Stephenie (in green), who taught cotton spinning and spinning on the tahkli, and Beth Smith, who taught classes on breed-specific wools (in pink and orange).


The rest of the day was dedicated to finding the rooms we would be teaching in, retrieving the supplies that had been shipped in, and setting up to teach.

I had hoped to have photos of all the materials for my classes, but I got so involved with unpacking and sorting that I only got an approximate record. There were the suitcases, shown above. There were also three boxes that Beth Smith packed and sent from The Spinning Loft (the brown ones), the box of record sheets I'd shipped (the little blue one that weighed 22 pounds [10kg]), and the handouts Interweave had copied and sent ahead (the white box). The third photo in this series explicates the numbers on the packages—i.e., shows what was in each container.


Around supper time I connected with Jennifer Heverly of Spirit Trail Fiberworks, who had brought nine (I think) big black bags of wool in her van. I missed getting a photo of those packages in all their puffy, space-consuming glory. Piled into one of those hotel luggage carts, they left no room for anything else. Here are the mostly deflated bags after I did the initial unpacking:


Those items expanded to these types of materials:


1 = handouts

2 = record cards

3 = fiber samples

There were 33 pounds of wool (acquired, washed, divided, and labeled) to provide 1,004 fiber samples, representing 19 rare breeds of sheep, ready for 106 participants in three groups: a three-day workshop, a one-day workshop, and four half-day retreat sessions. The specific rare breeds presented to at least one of the groups, and sometimes all of them, were:

  1. Black Welsh Mountain
  2. Clun Forest
  3. Dorset Horn
  4. Gulf Coast Native
  5. Hog Island
  6. Jacob, American
  7. Karakul, American
  8. Lincoln Longwool
  9. Manx Loaghtan
  10. Navajo-Churro
  11. North Ronaldsay
  12. Portland
  13. Romeldale / California Variegated Mutant (CVM)
  14. Santa Cruz (tiny bonus samples, thanks to a participant, whom I'm happy to credit if she wants the public notice!)
  15. Shetland (also here and here and here)
  16. Soay
  17. Southdown
  18. Tunis, American
  19. Wensleydale

My prep work included sorting the fibers by workshop type (right number and right fiber amounts for each), making lists of which breeds were actually present so I could put together the final versions of my slides, making sure the Interweave projector worked with my computer, counting out record cards in groups that would be quick to distribute, and so on.


Also setting up the chairs so the correct number fit into the teaching configuration I prefer, with room for spinning wheels and for people to get in and out of the room.


The carpet made an interesting backdrop for spinning. Whatever color wool we were working with, it couldn't be clearly seen against that pattern! Fortunately, most people had spinning cloths with them to provide light or dark contrast. Me, I used my jeans. I'd remembered to bring a spinning apron but was too busy to put it on.

When I'm teaching, I'm teaching—so I don't have photos of any class in progress to share. I have fiber, though!



Those are North Ronaldsay locks and North Ronaldsay yarns. Yes, there are reasons that the different colors have different staple lengths and fiber composition, and therefore produce different yarns. I learned more about why that occurs from conversations at SOAR. I love meeting up with other folks who care about this stuff as much as I do.

On two occasions, I got to the market for quick browse-throughs. On one of those, I visited with Richard Ashford, whom I hadn't seen in quite a few years. We first met in the 1980s.


I also got to catch up briefly with Gord Lendrum and Barry Schacht and Chris and Phil Switzer and Florence Feldman-Wood, who had brought a super selection of old spinning wheels to display (not sell!).

I met folks I've heard about or communicated with on Ravelry, and through this blog. That was all lovely. And on Sunday, after it was all over, I even got to sit and spin and visit with a handful of late-departing participants in the hotel lobby, after we'd all checked out.

During the week, I got out of the building once, when I skipped the usual buffet and went out to dinner with Gwen Steege, the editor I worked with most closely at Storey Publishing on The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Gwen has a new book herself! It's called The Knitter's Life List.

As we walked out that evening, this one of a pair of dog statues in the park in front of the hotel looked like it was wearing a wig or had been yarn-bombed. Turned out there was a squirrel sitting on its head. I didn't have my camera, and wouldn't have been fast enough if I had been able to pull it out of my bag.


On Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk down Elm Street in Manchester. I finally got a picture of the dog, squirrel-less. I came across something else during my Sunday walk, but that's a subject for another post.

I'm home now. I hope to get my suitcases unpacked within the next few days. I've ignored them so far, while catching up with all the things that were awaiting my immediate attention when I got back.

Thanks to everyone who came to the workshops for sharing your interest and questions and willingness to try new things. Regardless of the surroundings and circumstances, so different than in the past, you brought to life in this new place the heart of SOAR. And I'm glad that hasn't changed.


11 thoughts on “Teaching at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR)”

  1. One of these days I’ll make it back to SOAR – it was one of the best trips of my life. You’ve had a fabulous time but, oh, the preparation. I do hope everyone was suitably grateful!

  2. Laura, I wasn’t worth much on the trip home, and am still taking naps when I can!

    Freyalyn, the preparation was worth it. Lots of discoveries and delight in that room. People LOVED some of the fibers, and found the others interesting enough to be worthwhile.

  3. Sounds wonderful – I hope to get back someday too. I still have/wear my much-loved SOAR sweatshirt from when it was in Missouri in 1991 🙂

  4. Joy, was that the burgundy-colored sweatshirt in 1991? I have two sweatshirts left. One was a prototype for one of the years, and I'm pretty sure the other is from the same SOAR that you were at–Potosi was one of my favorite spots. They don't have sweatshirts any more. They still have glass mugs to reduce waste, but the shape has changed.

  5. Hey, is that the picture I took in the market place Friday night? You both were even more merry in the ones on Rhichard’s camera. Thanks for a great retreat session Saturday afternoon! Hope you are recovering from the exhaustion.

  6. Diana, the best part of spinning is just enjoying it. The skill level increases come along for the ride.

    And Lynn, yes, that’s the picture you took on my camera at the market. I’m glad we were a bit merrier in the ones on Richard’s camera! We both look a little tired, although pleased with being where we were, in the snaps I have.

    Slowly recovering. Not pushing hard. Still getting stuff done, but in low gears.

  7. wow wooly heaven. I’ve been given several North Ronaldsay lamb fleeces, but I can find out very little about them. The ‘fine’ wool seems really difficult to spin, got any tips?

  8. Well, congratulations! Are the lamb fleeces pretty much consistent in fiber quality? I mostly mean "within a single fleece," but the question would be interesting in an evaluation over a group of fleeces as well. The adult fleeces often vary dramatically from one to another, and there's a corrrelation of type with color. Length? Lock qualities? I have to ask because North Ronaldsay is one of the most diverse types of fleece out there. Adult locks tend to be triangular, often consist of a significant quantity of undercoat and a smaller portion of long hair outercoat, and may be between a few inches and six inches long. Some of the shorter fleeces have minimal outercoat. Color is often different between outer and inner coat.

  9. Thank you,sorry I too so long to come back, I forgot where I left my question! You’ve asked me loads of questions and I’ll have to go and give them a good looking at now. I’ve done a blog post with images here http://ninafenner.blogspot.com/2011/10/free-wool-from-nort-ronaldsay.html Definately a lot of difference in colour between inner and outer. The finer stuff is quite short on the one I’m trying at the moment, hence difficult. I’ll try the others. Would you like me to send you some? I’m in England, would it need washing first?

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