The 30th Spin-Off Autumn Retreat

Last week I took a quick trip to Granlibakken, in Tahoe City, California, to participate in a few days of the 30th Spin-Off Autumn Retreat, best known as SOAR. This post will consist mostly of a series of not-too-great but definitely on-the-scene photos, with captions.

SOAR began because Linda Ligon, who founded Interweave Press, thought that spinners needed their own gathering, not just to be the stepchildren at weavers' conferences.


At the time, Anne Bliss was the editor of Spin-Off magazine, which was transitioning from an annual publication supplemented by quarterly newsletters to the quarterly magazine it still is. (Spin-Off editors over its thirty-five years—the publication is five years older than SOAR—have been: Anne Bliss, Lee Raven, me, and Amy Clarke Moore.) I don't have photos of Anne or Lee handy.

Linda asked Dale Pettigrew to put the first event together, and Dale went on to become the SOAR coordinator as the gathering grew and moved around the country.


I came in at the fifth SOAR, which was bigger than the previous ones (because it was the fifth) and had the first real marketplace and added pre-retreat workshops as well. That was 1987. It worked so well that the market and additional offerings continued.

A lot of the event's spirit and practices were shaped by Dale. In 2008, she was in a bike accident. No one's exactly sure what happened, because there were no witnesses (she was found by a passerby on the ground next to her bike, on a bike trail), but she spent a month in a coma, including several weeks on a ventilator. She has had to slowly re-learn how to talk and walk. Initially, she thought she would never spin or weave or knit again.

But the brain and the spirit are both amazing, resilient things.

When the idea arose to get Dale to this big-anniversary SOAR, she had been spinning again for a while and had begun to weave once more, using a rigid heddle loom. Interweave and several individuals pitched in to get Dale to Granlibakken, with me as her traveling buddy. One of the biggest challenges turned out to be transporting a spinning wheel for her. She has two wheels, one of which is a Rick Reeves that needed to stay home. The one we needed to get to and from California was the first Louet S-90, which had been introduced at SOAR in Silver Bay, New York, in 1997 and signed by a bunch of folks there.

First we had to find a container large enough. We tried suitcases, and ended up finding U-Haul flat wardrobe boxes. Then we had to make that box fit within the allowable luggage dimensions for Southwest Airlines and reinforce it so it would be sturdy enough to fully protect the wheel. We ended up using two of the wardrobe boxes, one inside the other, cut down so that there was room enough to pad the wheel on the inside and yet had outside measurements within the airline's requirements. We ended up with an inch to spare on each critical constraint, and the wheel traveled in both directions unscathed.


It was snowy at Granlibakken (Dale and snow seem to go together), so we needed to rent a 4WD vehicle in Reno rather than the compact we'd reserved.


But there was so much warmth at SOAR! Here Dale and Jodie, a much-loved long-time SOAR participants, look through, and identify people in, one of the many SOAR albums. (I snapped the photos of Linda and Dale at the start of this post from one of these albums. They are from a very early year, but not the first.) Pat Wagner Thompson was the SOAR photographer for many years. We missed her!


The SOAR community extends over years and also across the globe. Richard Ashford is often there, and his wife Elizabeth got to come this year, too. Here they are with Jodie. (The handspun garments everywhere are enduring "friends" as well.)


I didn't get photos of so many people: Gord Lendrum and his wife, Linda; Selma Miriam; Charlene and Charlene; Stephenie; Jeannine; Kris. . . . the list goes on. We invoked the presence of many others by remembering them, and we also quietly welcomed new community members who were present for the first time.

A few long-timers attended in unusual forms. Here's Dale (center) with instructor Maggie Casey and wheel-maven Cindy Lair, whom sometimes is able to be at SOAR three-dimensionally. (In the background that's Maggie Reinholtz, who started out as a member of the events staff a while ago but I hear got to participate in a workshop as well this time!)


SOAR is more a community than a conference, and a lot of the reason that's the case is Dale Pettigrew. She set and maintained a tone that still imbues the event.

On Thursday night, I gave a talk on rare-breed wools. . . . 


. . . after which we got Dale up there to talk. This is Amy Clarke Moore, Spin-Off editor; Dale, wearing a gorgeous sweater made and given to her by frequent SOAR participant Paula Shull, who unfortunately wasn't there; and me.


The gallery and the market were wonderful. I have about forty snapshots from the gallery, one of which I want to share here. This is Lundie Robb's "shepherdess and friend," made from rare wools and absolutely exquisite. Talk about capturing the joy of the craft, its history, present, and future:


What joy there is at SOAR throughout the gallery and the market and the dining room and in the workshops and walking through the halls!


It all started with a seed of an idea, grown for thirty years into a sturdy connection around the globe and, now, across generations.

Thanks to those who began this group adventure: Linda and Anne and Lee and, most of all, Dale.

And to everyone else who has participated, or thought about participating, or will be joining the community in the future. It might be snowing outside, but it's plenty warm when we gather together to spin and learn.


Long before I came on the scene, Dale found a poem by Pamela Kelly that has served as a touchstone for SOAR since its beginning:

AS I SPIN . . . 

As I spin,
I watch the fibers
Assuming a stronger character.
I reflect on the twists
I have endured today. . . .

As I spin,
I think of other
a parade of a thousand
hour after hour
at the spinning.

I, like Gandhi,
fold up my wheel
and carry it with me
to the meeting place.

           —Pamela Kelly



Thanks to Kris Paige for wielding my camera at critical moments.

Interweave, the company that sponsors SOAR, has been sold twice in fairly recent years. Seven years ago it was sold to Aspire Media. About three months ago, Aspire (including Interweave) was acquired by F&W Media. It's not clear what effect this may have on future SOARs. There have been some layoffs, predominantly in departments other than editorial. The events staff will be changing. The spirit of SOAR will continue, although it may need special care and nurturing to weather the newest transitions.


3 thoughts on “The 30th Spin-Off Autumn Retreat”

  1. Although my heart would prefer to spin using only my own muscles, circumstances make an electric wheel the best choice for me. It is a fairly steep learning curve going from a hand spindle to an electric machine, but I think will be worth it.
    Reading your blog (and the F&F Sourcebook) have fanned my interest in rare wools and I think the best way to explore them is via spinning and perhaps using them as part of collage-type artwork next year. Thanks for the inspiration Deb :-}

Comments are closed.