Posted on


There are those teachers out there who are vastly more experienced and graceful than I am, and were able to blog from SOAR. I think Sara’s secret is that she does not sleep, and that this in fact is part of what gives her the opportunity to make all the rest of us look like total disorganized slackers — as I’ll note that she’s the only SOAR mentor who blogged at all during the week.

I arrived Sunday afternoon, confident that my shipped materials had already arrived. I had shipped my Louet S45 and Louet Julia, along with 110 spindles and a huge pile of fiber, much of it in packets ready to go for my workshop. I had packed an Ashford Joy in my hard-sided suitcase, and was carrying on my Victoria and my laptop bag. I was pretty sure all my prep time would pay off with the hectic week to come.

Just as I was getting out of the airport limo at the hotel, I spotted a familiar face unloading from a van in front of me: Paulino Huarhua, husband of Nilda Callañaupa, my lifelong friend and mentor who I knew was coming to teach at SOAR as well. Just inside the door, there was Nilda, along with a lady named Aquilina Castro, and there too were a whole slew of folks I hadn’t seen since last year’s SOAR: folks with whom I’d spent one week, and undeniably forged incredible bonds.

We went to the introduction session, where I realized I had totally forgotten to prepare an answer to the mentor question: what one piece of advice would you give someone who is just starting out spinning? I seriously considered simply saying “Take a class!” and sitting back down, but that seemed wrong. So then I thought about saying “Take a class, and here’s why!” and explaining it, but then that seemed… I don’t know. Sort of like I was preaching to the choir, to say that at SOAR. Plus, you know: “Hi, I’m a teacher. Take a class!” I wracked my brains while the list of folks whose last names started with letters before F gave their advice. Then it was my turn. I know I said I couldn’t pick just one, and that I had three things… but now, after it’s all over, I can only remember one: that spinning is really a pretty low risk proposition. You’re not likely to poke your eye out or be seriously injured and you’re not likely to cause major damage to person or property other than yourself either. Worst case, you’ll get a result you don’t like, and even if that happens, you’re going to learn something.

Then I said more words. I’m usually pretty decent at finding words to say. Or so I’ve been told. Then we were off to dinner, which seemed to last forever, and as fatigue started to settle in, Denny and I went to go set up my classroom, which I’d looked at only briefly. It had been neatly arrayed with a table at front and several rows of chairs… you know, classroom style. That order had to be destroyed.

Ah, there’s a start… you really need a circle in my opinion, with everyone facing in. You could do it other ways I suppose, but the circle is best. Denny helped me arrange chairs and get things set up.

I like to stake out my spot in advance if I can — I want a power position of course! I want to be able to see the whole classroom, but get in and out with relative ease if I need to; I need an area close at hand to stash things; I want to be able to see the door so that if something unforeseen comes in, I can be prepared. I don’t want the coffee service guys coming in and me not knowing! I don’t want the class distracted by something and I don’t know what it is! No, teaching a class is a little bit of a control freak thing where you have to set up the room to your best advantage. I want people to walk in the door and feel like they’re in a welcoming, yet controlled, environment, with me as benevolent dictator. Totally.

Denny is very helpful. She talks a lot of trash and isn’t the meek type, but she’s a get-things-done kinda gal. A trained professional, really. I’m very fortunate with my permanently-assigned SOAR roommate. We were thrown together last year as newbie scholarship recipients, and it really worked out.

It was her suggestion, in fact, that photos needed to be taken before and after the workshop. “You know you trash the place at all your gigs,” she pointed out. So yeah. Observe above the neatly ordered fiber packets with the little booklet about what we’ll cover. Observe… well you can’t, but there are 2 extra spots set up just in case. Anything could happen, and it usually does, so I like to be ready just in case. JUST IN CASE!

Denny also clearly snuck in with my camera at some point because I found these when I pulled off the photos — I thought I had nothing but the before and after shots, on account of how hard it was to take my camera with me and take pictures. Bad, bad blogger. I should be fired. Anyway, she snuck in and took some great pictures to show how I really need to be hitting the gym.

I suspect that here, I’m attempting to convince people that sampling really can be a low-risk, low-investment proposition — the sort of thing you can do the basics of using nothing more than the little teeny bit of fiber someone’ll give you while you’re shopping. Yeah, you heard me: we talked about how to shop for a purpose too. Because shopping, er I mean fiber selection, is totally part of the whole equation.

I did ultimately have to explain to victims students that I am, in fact, such a professional smartass that Interweave had made me a nametag that said so. Seriously. Then they borrowed it for setting up the workshop review session, in which they nobly demonstrated the many valuable things we learned in class.

Here, Kelly is demonstrating the proper technique for practicing one-handed long draw. If you have one hand totally tied up doing something important like managing your beer, you’ll have a harder time getting it into the mix with your spinning. It works, I swear! You could also use a cup of coffee or tea or something I suppose. But beer is traditional. No, seriously. It’s way important.

Speaking of beer, the Poconos are a great source of an old favourite of mine.

Mmmmm. And it was only $3 at hotel bar prices even. But there was also cheap swill of course. Never let it be thought that Phreadde and Dan would fail in that department!

Nobody could escape the cheap swill. It is best served very cold, in a disposable vessel.

Aquilina, who is from Pitumarca, Peru, is an astounding master weaver (and thus by extension, spinner and more). This was her first trip outside of Peru and she handled it all with enormous grace and aplomb — far more than most people would if plopped in the middle of a bunch of crazy yarn people in a creaky old hotel with weird food where you don’t speak the language or even have any way of knowing how much ricotta would usually be in the ravioli (which is not a common dish in Peru).

In addition to being well-known as a weaver and spinner, Aquilina is in high demand in her region for her talents as an entertainer — a singer of songs for all occasions, definitely someone who knows how to be the life of the party.

I was truly thrilled by the two-way exchanges everyone shared with folks from Peru: trying out wheels and fibers, sharing projects, so much of the lore of hands that was exchanged in both directions, which is something that isn’t always the case when folks come from somewhere else to share their expertise. This is part of what makes SOAR so different from many other events where fiber knowledge is shared: everyone there, the entire community, is a mentor and a teacher and someone with something to share, and everyone does — even those who are incredibly new to spinning have things to share, and it’s all treasured.

It was also wonderful to see Andean textiles for sale to an audience who understood them to a far greater degree than is typical. Helping out a little in Nilda’s booth at the market, I heard people say “Wait, this is cochineal? And so is this? Is it different mordants? Tell me more about the process!” and “Wow, the way the decreases and shaping are worked seamlessly with intricate colourwork in this hat… wow… from the purl side, you say? Huh…” and “Omigod, the spinning alone in this piece must be a year’s work!” If you’re a spinner, and you’ve talked with folks who don’t spin or knit or anything… you know how hard it is to convey the work that goes into an individual textile. Now imagine trying to do that across cultural and language barriers. Imagine spending a lifetime getting good at doing so… then going somewhere where you don’t have to. Seriously. Imagine. The shared love of all things fiber, the common willingness to really get your hands in there — it makes a foreign world less foreign, whether it’s a gringo going to Peru or a Peruvian in the Poconos.

I totally failed to take a picture of my mother, who came up for a visit, and brought my niece. I didn’t get a picture of Nilda and her husband Paulino. I didn’t get a picture of young Maggie Smith, 7-year-old scholarship recipient, who taught my almost-12 niece to spin with a spindle, then dragged her to the Schacht booth to get her started with a wheel. And speaking of Maggie, she did fabulously at her first SOAR. I’m so proud to know her… and even prouder and more awed by the incredibly precious gift she gave me: her very first finished object.

Seriously. Her very first FO. No lie. A knitted scarf from her own handspun — her first knitting, her first finished object. I didn’t want to take it off. A gift like that is precious. It is a once-in-a-lifetime treasure.

I didn’t get any pictures of my retreat sessions. Folks brought wonderful and fascinating spindles, and my only disappointment was not getting to spend more time talking about some of them, and not getting to sit with Triste, textile scholar extraordinaire, to discuss the subject in more detail.

I swear I tried to do what Sara Lamb and Deb Menz told me to, and make a checklist of everything to be sure I said, because by the time I was going through 4 classes of the same topic in a row I’d totally forget what I had and hadn’t said. That helped; but it wasn’t enough. But even so, every class is different. Every group of people is different; every single time, a teacher must be prepared to rise to the occasion and teach differently. I hope I pulled it off. I hope it was fun. I know I had fun, sharing spindle obsession with about 80 people over 2 days of retreats.

That’s the real privilege of being a mentor at SOAR: you get to share your pursuits with around 100 people in a classroom setting, and another several hundred informally in the hall, waiting for dinner, standing by the bar, walking through the gallery.

The only down side is that you don’t get to take the other mentors’ classes. I would have loved to take Sarah Anderson’s innovative “Wrap and Roll” class. Spending lunch with Deb Menz talking about carding was delightful to be sure but oh, it could have been in a class with carders and fiber and everything! I never got to sit with Nancy Bush and look at her amazing Estonian lace collection. I forgot to ask Judith about 800 things. I barely saw Robin Russo and Rudy Amann. I barely traded a few wisecracks with Maggie Casey. I neatly avoided having Sara Lamb ask me if I’ve yet finished… certain projects about which she knows quite a bit, though, so maybe that’s a win. I would have love to have felted a fish with Sharon Costello, who last year showed me that felting is way cool and way harder than I thought. I wanted to get to really meet the famous Patsy Zawistoski after having learned so much from her videos and writing over the years. I almost cried with envy at the things Vivian Hoxbro was getting folks to do with colour — she was magically, masterfully making people like colours they hated, I kid you not! And as for Nilda, well, she’s one of my oldest teachers, role models, and friends. She’s like my big sister. And I still envy everyone who got to have three whole days of her time — a rare treasure indeed considering all the work that she does and how huge its scope is.

And that’s just the mentors. The list goes on and on for attendees I didn’t get to spend enough time with. That’s the thing about SOAR — it’s a crazy, hectic, breakneck-speed event, where you’re ON the whole time, where you don’t stop because you can’t. You steal time to sit with true masters of the field, obsessing over details of yarn design, minute qualities of fiber that others can’t even necessarily see, swooping out to the broader picture and thinking really really big about what could be made to happen if the right people all come together to work on something, and omigod, they’re all RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, let’s have a meeting, and… then it’s over. And you pulled off a lot of it, but not everything you wished you could have. There just wasn’t enough time. Every instant that you could squeeze out was still somehow not enough.

So there’s nothing for it but to go back next year. Anything else is inconceivable. One way or another, you know you have to go back and do it all again, because however fatiguing and crazy it was, however strange the food may have been, however tired you are and even if you caught the SOAR cold, you know you have to go. My father told me so, years ago, and I didn’t listen, and he was RIGHT, and I’m sorry.

So now I’m on to the next part of the SOAR equation: working on my proposals for classes for next year. As part of the SOAR’s self-aware, dastardly humour… I have to get those done in under 2 weeks. So my mind is roiling with thoughts of what classes to propose. There are so many possibilities and I want to teach them all! I want that, even as I don’t know yet whether or not this last round of victims students found what they wanted, found something else, or would come back for more. So now’s your chance, folks — if there’s something you’ve always wished I would teach… let me know, because I’m in a proposal-writing frenzy, and whatever doesn’t go into SOAR applications will likely go somewhere else.

And as to the rest of you SOAR veterans out there, the ones who told me last year, in 2007, that I’d be back, and that I’d keep coming back, and that I should try to teach there… yeah, you guys were right too. The nerve of you lot, with your “being right” and everything! I swear. But I’ll see you next year, and by then, I’ll have thought of a good smartass retort, I promise.

34 thoughts on “Whew.

  1. Oh man I envy you! I have met very few spinners in germany and those I have met have been… Strange! I mean I learned with merino combed top. On an old flax spinning wheel and a very crap bottom whorl spindle. And I really wasn’t very good but I’d been spinning for maybe a week or something, and I found a spinning “guild” or something like that. They meet up sometimes kinda near me, if I had a car. Anyway. I went there with my son and my wheel, taking the tram and another tram and walking. With my old wheel that’s kinda hard to carry around, but we got there and I was told “Oh, that wheel is crap, you’ll never be able to spin anything on it!” (I already had, it was on the bobbin, granted it wasn’t very nice yarn, but it was very much there.) Then I took out my spindle and got more of the “Oh, spinning on a spindle. That’s so tiresome, you’ll never get anything produced with that!” and then they put me in front of a Louet wheel. I as not able to make the dang thing spin. I mean seriously, the drive wheel swung left and then swung back to the right and didn’t complete a turn! The woman who put me on that wheel couldn’t believe it, but instead of siting me down on another wheel she made me practice drafting and spinning on the wheel that would not spin for me. With sticky greasy fluff when all I knew how to draft was combed top. I left after about an hour, after they had dissed my handknit socks because I had dyed the yarn with easteregg dyes “Those will fade really quick! You shouldn’t waste your time with that!”
    And the other spinners (except my friend, who got me into this whole spinning thing) have been equally horrid. One refused to talk to me and chose to ignore me at a festival (medieval reenacting, she was spinning bright green combed top on a wheel and passing it off as authentic..)

    Anyway, I better stop ranting. I just wish there were events like SOAR near me, or even some spinners with some sense! I mean, we’re all doing the same thing in different ways, why can’t we learn from each other, why does there have to be “the one true way!” and everyone who does it differently is doing it wrong? Grmpf.

  2. I was wildly jealous. At least I got to come for an afternoon, though leaving was painful. Maybe next year…

    Nicole, that’s so frustrating! I’m impressed that you’ve persevered. I bet there _are_ fiber people in your area – guilds are often not really the best place to look. Where are you, roughly?

  3. I’m pretty much in the middle of germany in the Rhein Main Area. But since I don’t have a car and rely on public transportation it’s kind of awkward transporting a wheel, especially since I’ve somehow acquired a second child (who’s somehow turned one last month!) which is playing “velcro baby” (sticks to me) 90% of the time.

    I’m happy with my online community/blogs where I can read others and share my experiences. I’ve learned a lot over the last 2-3 years and currently don’t really miss real live spinners.

  4. Dude. You totally pulled it off. And whatever you decide to teach next year, sign me up.

  5. Great post. I feel kind of weepy and emotional. I will be there next year (if the fiber gods are happy), ready to be victimized.

  6. Glad to hear you survived, Abby! I thought of SOAR with longing all last week 🙁 Being waitlisted sucked. I tried not to take it personally and failed 😉 Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get to go next year. Welcome home!

  7. I don’t care what you teach next year (although I’d like to make the fiber do what I want instead of pretending I’m all okay with being all Zen with it and it doing whatever it turns out to be), I wanna be there! It killed us to survive the silence of SOAR on Ravelry.
    And Nicole, I hope you’re on Ravelry-if not, come join us, we have tons of fun talking spinning and prying spindling and spinning tips out of Abby there. 🙂

  8. I want a class on plying on the spindle.

    And a back strap weaving class, and spinning for a warp for back strap. Steph wants a class on the knitting of those little bobble hats. pom poms for our hair….

    And what about ……. get going already, hurry.

  9. WOW. I saw that Michael Updated with a picture of you and Judith. Your making me miss Peru and seeming like Xmas isn’t close enough. Long blog, sad I couldn’t go to SOAR. I’m sad I forgot you lived in Ohio, wish I would have remembered that when I was at the TNNA Pipn thing in Akron this summer.

  10. You had so much fun! I will cross the sea and get there one year. Loved the detailed report, blog more often.

  11. …oh and a class in adding wee tiny beads to our weaving.

    And spinning for sock yarn, make that blending and spinning for sock yarn.

    Did I mention back strap weaving….. that too.

  12. You know what I think, I think you are finally refining your skills at being a smartass 😉

  13. I’m with Denny – definitely backstrap weaving, with homework starting now. And then more spindle classes (I promise to get tolerable between now and then). And while you’re in a proposing mood, why don’t you come teach at WEBS? I probably won’t make it to SOAR next year ($$$; I’d rather go to Peru), but WEBS is only an hour from me. In fact, I’ll suggest it to them.

  14. It felt like I hardly saw you except flying past…and I couldn’t even get into your retreat sessions. No one has enough time at SOAR, even if you’re not a mentor.

    Nilda, Paulino and Aquilina were incredible additions to SOAR. Amazing! They brought so much to life that I have only read about, incl. on your blog. What a gift to all of us.

  15. Hm. Apparently there’s demand for weaving classes. Or at least _a_ demand, repeated. 🙂

    I’d love to teach one at SOAR, but don’t think I will make this year’s deadline.

  16. I’ve found that the only way to snag a cluster of mentors for a good schmooze is to bring an epic bottle of scotch, a good bottle of wine, something cheap to chase it all since nobody will notice after, and cocoa for the lightweights like me, then find an unoccupied lounge and send out invitations with cute bellhops. Of course it has to be for the middle of the night (bring some throws, too, for those who nod off) because that’s the only time anyone has free…

    If I could go to SOAR (not healthy enough), I would definitely sign up for the backstrap weaving class.

  17. Heh. As to backstrap weaving, which I do teach (and will be teaching at The Spinning Loft next summer), I’m probably NOT going to propose it for SOAR… because Nilda should be proposing it. Mwahahaha. If she’s not able to propose it in time, then I might (since I have that class outline ready to go as a standing thing anyway).

  18. All I know is that I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with you this year. Thank you for being so generous to Carl. Pray to the financial aid gods for me, so I can afford to go next year, or that I can make that other thing we talked about fly. (It’s really hard to type with my fingers all crossed.)

    I sat down over dinner on Monday with my 17 yo anthropologist wannabe son and told him all about Nilda and Paulino and Aquilina (especially Aquilina) and the textiles and the CTTC and showed him the tapestries I bought and the conference in 2010. (I got somewhat teary in the middle; he let it slide.) His response? “If you’re going to Peru, I am definitely coming with.”

  19. DUDE!
    I have been waiting for this SOAR blog all week! Mostly because I have to live vicariously, as I’m much too poor to go myself. More pics would have been neat for us po’ folk ;0)

    It sounds like so much fun! And really, wouldn’t any class with you be fun? You should just have a Q&A class, where intermediate spinners could just ask questions to improve technique.

    And if I win the lottery this year, I’M THERE MAN!

    Glad it was fun,

  20. So what you need is a magic cloning process then you can teach us all next year. I am voting for carding as we want to make abbybatts. You appear to have survived the SOAR teaching experience with grace and humor in tact. You kinda fell down in the smartass department and we all would like improvement in that area next year. And you really need to build up your swilling. You have to build up immunity every year, you know.

  21. Yah. What everybody else said, especially what Phreadde said about the smartass part.

    I wish we’d gotten to spend more time together, my no-longer-imaginary-friend. But such is the nature of SOAR. You can’t always get what you wa-ant. So you go next year, and get more then. Dum dum, de dum.

  22. Ellen is going next year. And there better be a backstrap weaving class!

  23. But if we cloned Abby, then I’d always want to know what all the *other* Abbys were doing and then I’d want to clone me too and that’s a lot of airplane tickets.

  24. I’m with Phreadde – carding!!! Of course, anything you teach would be great. I’m still trying to find words to blog my Sat. classes, (Nancy Bush in the am, your class in the pm) but the resounding theme is history, which I love(d).

    Glad the SOAR cold skipped you and I’m sorry I had to cut out before chatting with you again Sunday. Nilda’s talk made me weepy – there’s so much to learn and I’m thrilled that she’s keeping traditions alive! It’s a gift for all of us.

  25. Hi Abby:

    I totally enjoyed SOAR.

    I know what I would love you to teach next year. Backstrap weaving and spinning yarns for backstrap (wheel and/or spindle). To include spinning yarn that would hold up to the backstrap loom and doing some supplemental warp backstrap weaving. I was totally amazed at Aquilina weaving, and want to try it (although on a smaller and less complicated scale.)

    Another idea would be spinning pre-industrial age yarn. It would be awesome to try to reproduce yarns typically made by hand. Trying to duplicate those yarns from raw materials similar to what they would have had and sample the typical uses, i.e weaving, knitting, etc. You made the point several times how we try to duplicate commercially available yarns, but that is recent history and not typical of hand spinning over the history of hand spinning. I think many people would like to know what the “old time” standard was. I think we have lost a lot of good historical knowledge and it would be nice to reclaim some.

  26. I AM SO JEALOUS!!! I’m having mental pictures of throwing myself on the floor in a full-blown foot-kicking, fist-banging tantrum.
    Argh. I got to go to SOAR in 2000, but I swear I didn’t appreciate it like I would now. But I do remember Phreadde–she was sitting on a column support, spindling, with her foot in a cast.

    Oh, and to have gotten to mingle with the Peruanos!! Gah!

    Off to have another tantrum.

    BTW, where will it be next year? Do you know yet? Give us a hint if you do.

  27. Your description did the whole thing ultimate justice. Perfect catching of the continuous tenor of experiences, until you fall down asleep from exhaustion in your tracks. It was so good to actually see you in person.

  28. I had so wanted to go to SOAR, but with the waitlist and recent financial issues, I couldn’t attend, even when I was offered the added class, which I would have loved.
    My friend Laurie did go, and kindly got me your autograph, as I had hoped to take your classes since I learn so much from your blog and videos. Maybe I’ll get to meet you somewhere sometime soon.
    Glad it was terrific.

  29. Abbey, Thanks for the wisecracks and wisdom. So excited that SOAR will be in Oregon next year and I’ll stand a chance at being able to go. Would love to take your Spindling for Productivity but anything spindle related would be great. Cheers!

  30. Wow. I really want to go to SOAR next year, regardless of the distance and lack of justification. Spinning, so far, is avocation rather than vocation, which makes it so damned tempting.

    But, speaking of large gatherings of like-minded souls, you coming to TNNA this year? I’m the hometown hostess here in San Diego. Mi sofa es su sofa and all that.

  31. Lovely report – and now I really, really want to go to SOAR, which is next to impossible, but… but…

    Oh, you inspirational smartass, you!


  32. Abby,
    I so thoroughly enjoyed your workshop. You are an excellent, relaxed, caring and knowledgeable mentor and I soaked up everything you taught us like a sponge.
    Even though my sample yarn and swatch turned out not to work for my “project”, I learned so much in doing it that not only did I save myself from making a sweater’s worth of yarn that wouldn’t work, but I figured out exactly what will work and made a sample. Here it is
    Thanks so much! I hope to have the opportunity to take one of your classes again in the future

  33. Total SOAR envy. I have hopes of attending next year, since it will be in Bend, which is a lower altitude than Tahoe… that’s kept me from even trying in the past. I cannot even THINK of flying east.

    As it was, I wouldn’t have made SOAR this year, if I’d not been wait-listed. My father died unexpectedly,in the midst of it happening, and I’d just had surgery two days earlier, and was NOT released to fly or drive anywhere. So if I HAD been there, I’d have had to leave and head for South Carolina.

    BUT… the GREAT news is that I was able to go to Coupeville on Whidbey Island (next island over from me), and spend two days with NILDA and Floria… had the lecture in the morning, followed by knit workshop in the afternoon on the first day; second day was ALL BACKSTRAP WEAVING, all the time, and I want MORE. Nilda is a great teacher, fabulous person, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually getting to meet her, be with her, and learn from her, after all this time of having you talk about her! I am SO wanting to spend more time with her, two days were definitely not enough. I could easily see spending months or maybe years with her and the spinners and weavers there in Peru. WOW, what a blessing.

    I never would have known about this and undoubtedly would have missed it all, if not for you, so THANK YOU, Abby, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing about the whole Peru/Nilda experience with the rest of us. I want MORE. Gonna keep working on my poor little Jakimas, and hope to have made great advances (for me). I wish with all my heart I could go to Peru… they both asked me if I was coming. With hubby’s cancer right now, I can’t commit to anything, and with my altitude sickness, unless I am cured of that, I can’t possibly go.

    Hoping I can go to SOAR next year, and spend time with you, if not be in one of your classes!

  34. hi!
    i was wondering if its at all possible to spink human hair?
    i have a lot of hair collected that i want to use for an art porject. just wonering if its possible, to spin, knit, and crochet with human hair

Comments are closed.