A little more about SOAR…

I really had every expectation of blogging from the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR). “It’s a resort,” I figured, “there’ll be net and plenty of time and it just won’t be a big huge deal.” I couldn’t have been more wrong, and the fact that I could have gone with such expectations is a clear indicator that I went into it as a SOAR novice. But, I’ll tell you, now that I sit down to attempt to write about the experience, I wish I could have kept a journal. It would have gone something like this:

Day 0

Dear Diary,

Drove all day and found the very secluded Shanty Creek by the skin of my teeth, just before sign-in was supposed to end. My room wasn’t ready and a nice lady at the sign-in table said I should go talk to Phreadde and wait with the other people whose rooms weren’t ready yet. I was a little nervous, because though I knew there were folks coming who I knew from mailing lists and so on, there wasn’t really anybody I really knew knew, though I was aware there’d be folks around who were friends with my parents. Which, well, you never know how that’ll go.

My room was finally ready just before dinner (which was a giant buffet). I threw my stuff in the room as fast as I could, learned I had a roommate (some chick named Denny something), and ran back to the buffet to eat something before the welcome program. I had had a note at sign-in from Amy Clarke Moore, the editor of Spin-Off, filling me in a little on the scheduled items I needed to know about as a scholarship winner, and I’d just heard from Amy (who I had met once before) that she had to leave due to a death in her family.

At the welcome program, all the SOAR mentors were introduced, and there were logistics discussed, and scholarship recipients were introduced as well (I’d been warned). I had meant to just sit in the back and observe so I’d know the score, but it didn’t end up working that way; I blame the aforementioned Phreadde.

I was very relieved, after putting names to faces and so on, to discover that my roommate also considered coffee a priority, and had brought strong coffee with her. There was a several-hours long blur of meeting people I’d only known online, or only heard talked about, and now it’s time to pass out so I can be up at 7 AM for Judith McKenzie McCuin’s class on Primitive Breeds. I don’t really think I’m interested in the subject of primitive breeds and in some respects talking about breeds in general can get boring, but everyone keeps telling me I really need to take a class from Judith and I would really like to meet her. I’ll be very interested to see how this goes.

Day 1

Dear Diary,

Okay, so breakfast was a whirlwind, the coffee was weak, the stuff Denny brought is much much better but there’s no time to make it, and I did get my stuff to class and get set up in time. Why did I forget my hand cards and combs? Ah well. Loaned someone the Victoria; glad I brought extra wheels.

By lunchtime, I realized I was completely wrong about not being interested in primitive breeds of sheep. In fact it’s been a lifelong fascination of mine, an obsession really. I just didn’t really realize it because some knowledge of sheep breeds has sort of always been there for me and I never stopped to think about the whys and wherefores of breed development as it relates to culture, ancient history, and the development of civilization. I mean of course I’ve thought about textile technology in that context, but never about the sheep breeds and what that would tell you also about how civilization spread and…

By dinnertime, I said this to my roommate, who told me that a friend of hers had said “I would take a class on boiling water from Judith — and I’d learn something amazing that I never knew was related to it all.” I wonder if she teaches about boiling water? Maybe she should. What’s more, it was really nice to handle raw fleece with nothing but my hands, again. Also I wonder where one might see one of these artificial knees for thigh-spinning from that Bronze Age dig. I have to come up with something like that, I totally want to try the thigh-spinning thing that makes a good 2-ply yarn with a down, then up. I bet you could do a lot with it really fast. Damn, I forgot to ask where the spun yarn is stored that way and if you can walk around doing it.

After dinner, the evening talk was also Judith, and on the same subject as the workshop I was taking… but far from redundant. After the talk, I met a bunch more people, all of whom are awesome, and then somehow accidentally ended up spinning some cotton, and I even enjoyed it! Must sleep, more class in the morning.

Day 2

Day 2? Really? Whoah. I’d swear I’ve been here a month. So it’s really interesting that all these so-called primitive breeds are multiple-coated. It was really clever of Judith to bring commercial, mill-prepped variants of the same fibers, and not let us spin those till after handling the multiple-coated fleeces totally by hand. You know, much as I’m glad there’s a ton of prepped fiber available nowadays, you do miss things if you don’t do your prep, and geeze is it nice to be working with fleeces that were vetted by someone who really knows how to pick them. And the stunning black on this one Shetland fleece, and the three fabulous coats… I want more.

Seriously, the Shetland really impressed me a lot. I think if I were going to just have one kind of sheep, these guys would probably do the trick. The outer coat is probably almost as good for rope as real llama is, and oh! The teacher totally didn’t think I was nutty when I said that, and didn’t go off on a thing about how llama can be soft and fine. I mean, I know it can, but then what do you use for rope?

I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Crap, did I miss dinner? Not yet? Oh, tonight is the official scholarship dinner? I gotta hurry then, oooh, and get my things for the gallery. Fooey, I forgot to write down that these are all handspun objects I use all the time and there’s a theme and… oh well. I wonder what other people brought to show.

Denny says she has some other friends from Canada coming tomorrow and we have to show them our stupid yarn tricks. More on that later.

And then there’d be a gap; a blur. Nothing but the groggy morning of getting ready to leave. I could tell you what I learned, what I saw, who I met, conversations that were started that I know will take forever to finish; I could piece together the sequence of events from various clues. But I have no idea what order to put them in, where to start, how to make sense of it in a principled manner. So here it is, disjointed instead.

I met Clara from Knitter’s Review, and totally dared to take her picture while she had her hands full of comb. You would not believe the carnage she and Theresa left at their feet in class…

And they had BIG cups of coffee, and I did not. I have no clue where they got it.

Oh, so this is the famous Judith:

She’s taking a brief detour here, having just had us spin a marled yarn from three colours of mill-prepped Shetland top, and then gone for some commercial merino top to demonstrate drafting across the top with fibers that everybody knows, and give folks a few things to practice with respect to that drafting style.

Oh, I guess this is the other view…

but, I’m afraid I spent a lot more time watching hands than anything else, so those stand out for me.

I tried to take pictures, but then they’re a blur…

I love the faces in this shot. Not just because I loved meeting folks, but because everybody’s facial expressions are anything but neutral.

Above, in the foreground, Phreadde is undoubtedly stating an opinion about Denny’s hand card solution. In the midground, Janel may look understated about the flair and zazz she exhibits with her use of a popular Andean plying technique, which she uses to better advantage than most of the Andeans I know… if not all. She brings style and attitude with her beautifully.

I won’t even name names for who all is engaged in ritualistic sock worship here. But just look how gracefully Janel handles it.

And then in the background, Jenni is doing her usual subtle quiet thing, spinning yarn so fine that I think it’s absurdly fine, on her WooLee Winder-equipped Ashford Joy. Beth is right next to her, spinning away. I really wish I had more good pictures of Beth, because she was constantly… okay, here’s the thing. Beth was, without a doubt, the most egregious user of the line “Oh, this old thing? I just threw it on,” at SOAR this year. With an absolutely deadly twinkle in her eye as she downplayed the magnitude of her absurdely nupp-ridden lace shawl, then walked around acting like she thought people might not think she was cool enough to be there. C’mon Beth, you should know that anybody who owns a fiber shop is everybody’s BFF for life in the crowds we run with. But that’s all it is. Certainly none of us like you just because, you know, we like you. In fact, I never liked you. “Just a few nupps,” my… uh… sainted Aunt. Some people.

The one back there in the chair with the glint in her eye and smothered grin? That’s Sara. Unlike Beth, who I never liked at all, I used to like Sara, right up until she gave her “official SOAR mentor advice for the week,” which was “Finish things.”


The fact that I went to SOAR this year is really traceable to one email which I received from Sara early this year. It said simply, “I’m going to give you some advice, which may be rude and is certainly not solicited. Go to SOAR. Go this year. Figure it out.” I’m not sure that Sara takes “no” for an answer. She has that certain thing, I’m not sure how it works, which does mean she can get away with saying stuff like “Finish things,” and not simply be pelted with rotting fruit and driven out of a room full of people who are intimate with the work in progress. Even worse, I rather suspect I’ll finish a few things because she told me to. She can just make you do stuff. Stephanie said “I swear I might have learned something just from standing near Sara Lamb.” Here she is doing so:

At least, I’m pretty sure that’s Sara. If it’s not Sara, someone stole her jacket. It’s hard not to rip Sara’s garments off and run off with them, not only because they’re beautiful garments, but because they’re interesting from a technical standpoint. I did not steal any of Sara’s clothing. This time.

And hey, Steph’s shirt isn’t so bad either. “You know, if you get it, anyway,” she said. To which I say, “For great justice!” or maybe “You have no chance to survive. Make a stitch.” I mean, maybe you had to be there, in that geek past life… editing config files that said things like

# Are all your base belong to us?
$takeOffEveryZig = 1;

but… well, anyway. So there’s Steph learning something from Sara Lamb. Of course, whatever it was, I imagine she forgot it surviving the cheap swill…

…though she did good resisting Denny’s railroading for a while. I did less well.

I feel it only fair to say that at this point, this was after we’d talked about it earlier in the week, Denny had gotten me to demonstrate the classic Chinchero girl trick of plying off a terrace or balcony, and I’d come totally clean with her about the risks involved. I mean, I was pretty confident; I took my share of grief from the yarn breaking or the half hitches slipping, and the spindle going a long way down some ruins. But she still could have totally gotten her eye poked out. Low tech entertainment can still be high risk. 4 out of 5 handspinners surely agree this is a dumbass maneuver. I formally deny all responsibility for the teeth-catch maneuver.

I heard tell that Denny in fact credits Judith McKenzie McCuin (or J-Mac as some were calling her) for providing the insights which caused her to realize she needed to rip her sweater. At first as Denny was explaining this, none of us had any clue where this was going.

You can identify a SOAR attendee here easily actually — black shirt, covered in fluff and fuzz, the thousand-yard stare is measured with skeins of yarn, and somebody just said “Now put your hands like this,” and they’re doing it.

See? Obviously some of us were too tractable.

Steph almost paid for it with her neck a few times. Julia was only one of many people to nearly take her out in the Great Ripping Relay of 2007.

It was that dramatic. And admire that snarl that’s being repaired, too, by the way. I’ll leave that story to the yarn’s owner.

This is Jeannine. I could learn a lot from Jeannine and I hope to. As a member of a panel discussion, she commented “They didn’t give me a microphone, but that’s because I don’t need it.” She had no trouble making herself heard… but yet, managed to be understated somehow. That’s a skillset I simply don’t comprehend. But anytime you’d turn around, there was Jeannine or the evidence of her presence at SOAR. Many people were wearing these little sheep pins, for instance. “Jeannine, a few years ago,” someone explained. In the spinner’s gallery, she brought old-fashioned project documentation to a tiny little bowl that you almost couldn’t see, that you might have missed at first pass, that was a project fraught with vicious puns in fiber form. She wore garments made from nothing but samples from past SOARs. She brought us a handspun, handwoven ribbon…

…filled with words of wisdom, which I didn’t write down and wish I had, the one of which stuck with me the most was:

When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.

And that right there is why I do this yarn stuff. Some of it can only be passed hand to hand. No writing about it, no lasting objects, can save things if people don’t learn the hand to hand part… and no research later can bring those back. Don’t let those libraries burn with the lore unlearned.

See how long that is? It’s twice that long.

There is still tons more to say. TONS! But there is a start.

26 thoughts on “A little more about SOAR…

  1. I’m so happy to see all your great pictures. This was my first SOAR too, & I hope I can go back often. I’ve tried to explain to my friends where I went & what it was like but you did a much better job. Maybe next time I’ll stay up a little later & join in some of the excitement.

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