- Abby Franquemont
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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.
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!