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Do You Have Any Advice About SOAR?

A few people have asked me recently if I have any advice to offer about going to Interweave’s Spin-Off Autumn Retreat.

Yes. Here it is.

SOAR is intense!

Don’t try to plan for other things during the course of SOAR. Just go and do SOAR.

How does it work exactly?

Okay, here’s the deal. SOAR is broken up into two parts: the workshop portion, and the retreat portion. For the workshop portion, when you sign up, you’ll choose your first, second, and third choice of workshops from this list. You’ll only get into one of these! You’ll find out which when you get your confirmation and whatnot. For the workshop portion, you arrive Sunday afternoon or evening, there’s dinner and a kick-off presentation in the evening, and some unstructured social time.

Monday morning, you get up, eat breakfast, and start your workshop. There’s a break for lunch (and usually one coffee break in the morning and one in the afternoon). After lunch, you go back for more workshop, until dinnertime. All your meals are large group meals, buffet style, and you eat with whoever you eat with. After dinner, there may be an evening lecture for you to choose to attend, or not; and probably some unstructured social time as well. Tuesday and Wednesday are essentially the same.

On Thursday, the retreat portion starts. If you were only there for the workshops, this is when you’ll head out. The marketplace opens this day, and there’s nothing scheduled for it. There are still group meals. People who are coming for only the retreat portion start to show up. Thursday evening, there’s a kick-off session and you sign up for retreat sessions. You get to choose four total; two per day. Thursday would be your main shopping day at the marketplace, too.

Friday, you’ll get up, eat breakfast, go to your first retreat session, be there till lunch, and then after lunch, go to your second session, till dinnertime. After dinner, there may be evening programs. Saturday is the same, but generally Saturday night there’s the big spin-in gathering. There are informal spin-ins and socializing and whatnot all week, of course. Sunday morning, there’s breakfast, and generally a closing program, and people start to head out.

Will my family likely want to go along?

In general, I wouldn’t count on it, unless they’re fairly fiber-obsessed. Like I say, it’s intense and pretty nonstop. Whatever down time you have you’ll likely end up spending on fibery pursuits. If that’s likely to cause strain, you may be happiest not trying to fit it in together with a family trip.

If I can only do one of workshop or retreat, how do I pick?

Tough call. I’ll assume for the sake of this post that you don’t have a scheduling issue one way or the other, and just talk about choosing one.

The first thing I’d do is take a look at the workshops. Have you, for example, always wanted to take an in-depth class on carding with colour? If so, Deb Menz’ workshop session would be three days of that. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to take a class from Nancy Bush or a class from Judith MacKenzie McCuin; this year’s SOAR offers both in one class… for three intensive days. Or maybe you just know that it’s time for you to take some serious, no-joke hands-on and in-person instruction of a general nature; there are a few such options this year. But the bottom line is, is there a workshop — or multiple workshops — which you are just dying to take? Are you looking for three intensive days of study? If you are, then there is probably nowhere better to go get it. One teacher (or two for the Nancy and Judith class) for three days! I can tell you that as a teacher, it’s an exciting prospect, because all too often you’re trying to fit a lot into a smaller length of time and it’s hard to do the topic justice, or you have to pick and choose what you’ll cover. Workshops are terrific intensive classes.

If, on the other hand, there isn’t anything you definitely want to commit three days to, or you aren’t sure; if you’d rather have a larger chunk of uncommitted time; if you would rather get smaller chunks of more teachers, and more variety… well then in that case, the retreat may be the way to go. For a first-timer, the retreat is possibly more approachable in that you get to sample various teachers, and then reach those conclusions like “That’s it, next year I want three days with Sharon Costello if she’s teaching here again,” or “Wow, cut silk pile is amazing! I had no idea! I need to know more! Lots more!” But at the same time, the retreat is a little bit more hectic because there’s more going on and more moving from place to place; for the workshop, you set up in a classroom and that’s where your activity is.

What classes would you pick?

It dawned on me belatedly that, as a SOAR mentor, I wasn’t going to get to take any classes. I know, I know, it’s obvious, right? Still. That’s the down side.

You’ll say this is a cop-out answer. It’s really really true though! Anybody who’s teaching at SOAR is going to have fabulous stuff to offer. Every single one of the classes offered is going to be excellent. No matter who you are, there is something for you to learn in each and every SOAR workshop or retreat session. You could literally pin the schedule on the wall and throw darts at it to pick, and you’d get great classes. Last year, for instance, I talked to someone who’s been spinning since before I was born, been to pretty much every SOAR, and who was taking Maggie Casey’s Spinning 101. And she learned stuff. I took Sharon Costello’s needle felting retreat session, even though I thought I had less than zero interest in needle felting; I loved it, and it changed my mind about all kinds of things.

But that said, you could start by ruling things out. Let’s suppose I were picking classes for me. For example, I’d love to take a Deb Menz class, but I also know that she teaches regularly at the Cincinnati guild near me (and which, one of these days, I’ll make it to a meeting of — it’s just that I keep remembering it’s the first Thursday of the month *after* the meeting is over). Anyway, I could go take her class there, and look for someone at SOAR who never comes to the area where I live. And I took Judith’s workshop last year; maybe I should let someone else have a chance, and besides, I can’t just always take the same person’s class, even if it’s Judith!

It’s also worth considering things simply from the perspective of when you’re likely to be able to take another class with this teacher. For example, even though I don’t think I have a major interest in colour in knitting, this is the first time I can remember seeing Vivian Hoxbro teaching at a venue I can get to in quite some time. That was why I took Margaret Stove’s retreat session on spinning fine wools for lace last year, and boy am I glad I did.

For retreat sessions, I think you pick two that you know for sure you want, one that’s from a teacher you’ve heard great things about but have no idea if it’s a subject you’re interested in, and one that you think you just aren’t interested in at all. For me last year, I knew I wanted to take Carol Huebscher Rhoades on spinning big yarns, and Margaret Stove on lace yarn… and I’d heard great things about Maggie Casey as a teacher so I took her class even though it was about long draw, a subject I know fairly well. And I wrapped it up with Sharon Costello about felting, expressly to broaden my horizons unexpectedly.

I have nothing but praise for all the SOAR mentors this year. Except maybe that Abby chick; what a poser, who does she think she is? But seriously though, maybe I’m lucky I can’t take any classes this year, because it would be impossibly hard to choose.

It’s not all about classes or shopping!

My father used to tell me I’d really like SOAR if I went. “Oh sure,” I’d always say, “I’m going to go, and hang out with your friends… great. Whatever.” I’d been to plenty of fiber shows and conferences and the like as a tagalong of various kinds. I really didn’t need one more, y’know? After all, it’s just one more fiber event.

That’s honestly what I thought, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s so much more than just another fiber event. SOAR is without a doubt the major fiber community event. It’s where you go as a pathological fiber-obsessed nut job, to be with your own kind; to realize that you can just walk over to the author of some of your favourite books, and have a totally regular conversation; to meet people you would never have known were out there, let alone that you’d end up best friends; to have your boundaries pushed and your brain picked and your assumptions challenged and the seeds of a jillion new projects planted. You go to SOAR, and you realize you’re not alone, and this is your fiber family, and you have things to give to it just as you can count on being able to come home for Thanksgiving dinner in a pinch. It’s where a chick in a conversation (Hi Rachel H!) says “I’m really interested in building wheels,” and is then rushed over to meet a bunch of dudes named Ashford, Schacht, and Lendrum, who are all standing around chatting. It’s where you can stand around socializing with the people behind those shops you’ve mail ordered from, and really realize what they do for the community.

After it’s over and you leave, time passes and you pick up your next Spin-Off, or you look at the Interweave books on your shelf, then magically, there are faces behind all the names. You’re looking at the masthead that says “PUBLISHER: Marilyn Murphy” and instead of that being some nebulous name, you know it’s that tireless, hard-working lady who was everywhere at once and still had time to chat with everybody. You know that the Phreadde Davis who wrote the ankletto article is actually Fibergal and she and her husband are driving forces behind many things at SOAR that aren’t on the program but are traditions all the same. You know that Carol Huebscher Rhoades, Spin-Off’s tech editor, has absolutely stunning hair and works her tail off making sure things are right. You know that everybody involved is a person, a fiber-obsessed textile nutjob just like you, who has made it a personal mission to spread the lore and the community. You know for certain that it’s not like in many other pursuits, where it’s just a job for people. It is simultaneously humbling and uplifting.

Should I take projects to SOAR?

You should! You should take finished things to put in the fashion show and gallery; you should take things to show and tell with; and you should take stuff to work on, too. There won’t be any shopping till Thursday, so if you want extracurricular stuff to spin or what have you, take that along too if you’re going for the workshops.

Anything else?

I can’t think of anything right now, but ask me a question if you have one, and if I can answer it, I will!

15 thoughts on “Do You Have Any Advice About SOAR?

  1. So, it’s a con without the people smoking all weekend in the consuite, and also possibly without the masquerade, where people actually attend panels and that’s the main focus, then.

    OK. We have paradigm. Paradigm grasped.

    Very unlikely (and expertise-level inappropriate) this year, but dude, OK. Dude.

  2. Man, is that comment above mine spam? Cause it’s making NO sense to me!

    KO. I’m taking (I hope) a workshop from the poser. ;o)

  3. I am not taking classes with the poser, because if I did I would wear her down. Fast. We would not be friends after. I’m hard on teachers. Ask my first spinning teacher, oh wait you can’t, she stopped teaching soon after I took her classes for 2 years.

    My advise on SOAR (don’t care if you didn’t ask my advise, here it is any way) If you are a teacher or work retail in the yarn/fiber industry, you NEED SOAR. You need it to replenish your soul. The fiber soul that you give with every student you teach, every customer you serve,every on line question you answer. You not only owe to yourself. You owe it to the community you serve. You need SOAR. And so do I.
    This year has been very hard for me to pick (Deb frickin Menz people). But I think I’m going for Sharon’s just cause it’s not spinning. I also have always wanted to make this type of felt.
    I still have 2 days of classes that will be spinning. And I will take yours Abby, just for the fun ….of wearing you down.Good times baby.

  4. @elizabeth: Sorry, not spam. Were I spam, I think Abby would have taken me out back quite some time ago and done considerable violence.

    Translation: Was attempting to assimilate what SOAR is by comparing it to the thing I do have in my background, and then expressing a hope to attend in future. This year is out of the question for me for both logistical reasons and sheer being entry-level in the fiber world, but I would hope to attend in future. It sounds delightful.

    (Wow. That… compared to WHAT? wow.)

  5. …and then I repeated “attend in future” twice. I claim shock as an excuse for poor editing skills.

  6. That night when I got to stand talking with Gord Lendrum and Richard Ashford is still one of the most remarkable of my life. Very damn cool.

    Oh and Weds, just so you know, the part about being entry level in the fibre world? Totally not an impediment to having a fantastic experience at SOAR and learning a lot more than you thought you could. Last year I went into one class I was Absolutely Not skilled enough for, and as it was on the second day of the retreat which followed two late night swilling sessions my lack of skill plus lack of sleep equalled a bit of a melt down. Not my finest moment, but I had a chance to regroup and reset my expectations of the class and Loved it. And there’s not a single person there who isn’t welcoming and encouraging of us entry level types. The logistics part I can’t argue with, but don’t let the experience level sway you.

  7. So, Abby, would you like a friendly reminder about the Cincinnati guild meeting BEFORE it happens? We would love to see you there. has lots of info about upcoming events with the guild.

  8. Your wonderful blog’s been my while-knitting reading for the past week, and I just now finally ran out. I say ‘ran out’ rather than ‘caught up’ because the latter implies being glad to be done, which I ain’t. 😀

    I just want to say thank you. For a whole lotta things, too many to list; so many informative articles, and little glimpses into your philosophy and history and process. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this stuff and put it out here for folks to read.

    I got here from a google search: ‘how to spin art yarn’. I never really ‘got’ art yarn, but I felt I had to learn to spin it or I’d just be duplicating commercial yarn and overcharging for it. Then I read what you had to say on the topic, and a great weight lifted from my heart. I really don’t have to festoon my yarn with butterflies and daisies to justify my time at the wheel. I can strive for excellence in utility, and that’s okay.

    So thank you. I’m not usually chatty comment guy, but I’ll be reading. 🙂

  9. Aack! I’m so excited about all this – it will be my first time attending this year. Maybe your right about just throwing a dart. I’m not lucky enough to live in an area where any of these teachers ever really come – so choosing one workshop has left me changing my mind every other hour or so. Hope to see you live and in person there 🙂

  10. OK, OK, I’m going, I’m going! (assuming they let me in) Now, what can you recommend for an elbow that flares up with tendonitis every time I spin more than an hour (sliding supported American long-draw mumblemadeitupmyselfmumble style, sort of, hey, it works, style)?

  11. The saddest thing about SOAR is that it is size limited. Not everyone who signs up gets to go. 🙁

  12. yo Ellen that is true, but dude don’t harsh on our mellow man.

    kidding. They better let me in, I’m bunking with a poser

  13. For crying out loud you guys! stop telling people about this thing. I wanna go and my chances are shrinking with every new convert.

    Course if I go as the mom of a scholarship kid I may get a psecisl pass right?

  14. I am so jealous. I got to go in 2000, and it was wonderful. It would have been better without the forest fires that blocked the view of the beautiful mountains in Asheville, where we were.

    It was intense, it was fun, I learned a lot, and I just sort of absorbed fiberish stuff. I also spent a bunch of money at the market (the guy from Treenway Silks knew me by name by the end. I would be three booths away and hear him calling me. Which reminds me–I still have that terrific pink & grey silk waiting to be spun. Sigh.)

    If you can get in, go. I don’t think I can do it anymore with my fibromyalgia. Just getting there would require two days of post-travel sleep, and then it would be over!

    Last paragraph–the first thing I saw when I walked up the steps at the hotel was Phredde sitting on a porch support (with her foot in a cast) spinning with a Hatchtown (I think) spindle. It was a great start!

  15. Hey Abby, Just found this post. Sara Lamb has an interesting comment about teachers and teaching on her blog today, and I was writing about both her and you as great teachers on my site. Hope you’re doing well.

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