Tour de Fleece Spinning

Valentina spun this!

You know, there are a lot of things I love about spinning.

I love the fiber. Simply adore the concept of choosing a specific fiber, and spinning it in a specific way to create a yarn that I can do something beautiful with.

I am really happy that I am not a process spinner, or a product spinner – I am a little of both.  That whole process: playing with fiber to make choices, working with fiber to make yarn, and then using the yarn to create something ELSE really works for me!

The feel of my tools – I enjoy that most of my fiber tools are handmade, made of wood, and are pretty to touch and to look at.

And how can you not appreciate the amazing history of spinning – the shoulders, of the shoulders, of the shoulders of the women I stand on whenever I spin fibers together just gives me chills.

All of this is lovely, and seriously is my favorite thing about my life.

But my favorite thing about spinning?

Easy.

This is Iona. She made a video to teach us how to ply on the fly!

It’s the people.

I can honestly say that I can count on ONE hand the number of fiber people who are out and out nasty.

We don’t always agree completely with other people’s opinions or their choices, but one of the magic things when people start talking about spinning (unlike politics or religion) is that we all seem to grow and expand and accept that we are all different – and that IT IS FINE that way.

Melissa spun this!

Some spinners swear by a particular wheel, others by a favorite fiber.  Some spinners cant’ get enough of Navajo plying, others think it’s a waste of time.  Many spinners love hand spindles, while other would much prefer a wheel.  Some like it short, or soft, or purple, or birdseye maple – All of us are NOT LIKE THE OTHERS and yet we still enjoy spending time together.

I have yet to see anyone scratch someone’s eyes out because they didn’t like to spin with Dorset.  Never seen anyone punch a spinner because they love to spin with a charkha. I have never heard of anyone refusing to speak to someone EVER AGAIN because they prefer a Magicraft over a Hanson, or an Ashford over a Loet.

I really think it’s magic.

Kristin spun this!

And for me, this is the start of the most magical time of the year. Yes, there are more fiber events which is marvelous, and yes, it’s shearing season so there is new fiber in my basement which is wondrous. But the really MAGICAL thing about this time of year is that I start to get ready for the Tour de Fleece.

What is the Tour de Fleece?

If you haven’t been reading my blog for long then you might not know what the Tour is, and you can get a basic run down here.  But what is it REALLY?

Casey spun this from fiber she won!

It’s a whole month of fiber comes first.  It’s months of being able to talk about, show pictures of, complain about, be ecstatic about, and SHARE my love of fiber. Which could be amazing on it’s own, but I get to do all of this in the company of LOTS of people who feel exactly the same way about fiber.

Last year we had 149 people on our Tour de Fleece team, and I admit that I was worried.  So many people, I thought, there is bound to be a rotten egg in there somewhere. Nope.  There must be someone who doesn’t get it, who will not be supportive of others or who will not get along with people or push their own agendas. Nope. There has to be someone who I will wish wasn’t on the team. Double Nope.

They were universally lovely, warm, sharing, giving, supportive and caring.

Like I said. magical.

Helen spun this!

Tour de Fleece 2017

This year I asked the whole team to re-sign up (after three years I like to refresh the list) and I was worried. What if no one came back?  More than half the team from last year signed up for the new list in less than two days. Just wow.

Sometimes, when I am tired and there is still a lot to do, I wonder if it’s really worth it. I don’t get paid to run a team. I do a lot of extra things for the team that other teams don’t do, and it takes a lot of time. So, yes, I do wonder sometimes if it’s a good idea. I mean, it happens in July, and I start working on it in FEBRUARY!

It’s worth it.

Here are some of the comments I got from people from last year’s team:

  • You have revolutionized my wheel spinning for life!! 
  • This was an excellent experience, so much advice and inspiration and sharing, thank you!
  • I would like to thank you all for the support, encouragement and inspiration you provided, it’s been a pleasure to be part of this team. 
  • The Tour de Fleece  has the built in challenge days but this Team has the attitude and sets the constructive, supportive tone.
  • I have gotten to understand my wheel so much more during this Tour and have accessed so many helpful online resources. 
  • This team is super friendly, helpful, and positive. It was nicely varied in experiences and approach and the camaraderie was lovely!
  • I love the social contact with other spinners. It is so lovely to have a group with whom one can be gushingly enthusiastic without their eyes glazing over followed by a sudden change of topic…and I love how engaged the team captain was!
  • I truly enjoy Spinfoolish’s writing style. She is funny, educational and keeps my interest, the daily encouragement was one of my favorite things about the Tour de Fleece.

Anna spun this!

And suddenly, it’s very clear that it’s TOTALLY and COMPLETELY worth it!!

So here we go – three months of planning, scheduling, organizing, and creating – which turns into 23 days of pure bliss.  I am already thinking about NEXT year!

(Are you a spinner? Join us! It’s free, low stress, and a HUGE amount of fun!)

No one does it alone.

I once read a book called Outliers (by Malcolm Gladwell) that gives his theory that no one succeeds by going it alone.  No one does it on their own. Even great or famous people who accomplish a lot or do great things in their lives are only able to do so because they met the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time, in the RIGHT place. These people are great or famous because of a set of circumstances that happened to fit together completely right, not because they are smarter, stronger, wiser or better than the rest of us. (I thought it was a fascinating book!)

It really works with knitting. I am a perfect example: why did I end up a knitter (not a great or famous knitter, but a Knitter just the same)?

PEOPLE

The people were RIGHT: I am a knitter because my Mum knits.

MumShe crocheted a lot when we were kids, but prefered knitting, so it was always around when I was growing up. I could have had a Mum who hooked rugs, or painted, but I had a knitting mother which obviously made a difference.

I used to babysit for some lovely little girls, and their Mum owned a yarn shop. The shop, Martha Hall Looms and Yarns, was part of their beautiful and old sea captain’s home in
Yarmouth, Maine. Once the little girls were in bed I could creep into the shop and smell the yarn. Back when I was a kid yarn had a lot more lanolin in it that we get in yarn now, and the smell was lovely.  I remember how large and intimidating I thought the looms were, and how you must have to be VERY smart to operate one of those. (That opinion hasn’t changed!!)

I wasn’t a particularly popular kid in school, so I had a lot of free time and spent most of it either with my Mum or at the yarn shop. On weekends, or when there was a sale, Martha Hall often had me help in the shop – and by help, I mean carry huge bags of yarn and sweaters out to customer’s waiting cars.  The cars always seemed big and black, driven by men in suits and the women always seemed to wear lots of perfume and jewelry.  So even when I wasn’t knitting, being around people who knit and who thought knitting was an important skill made a big impression on me.

I learned to spin because my parent’s took a trip and left me and my little brothers with a babysitter.  Looking back now she seems ridiculously young. She showed up with a backpack and a dulcimer.  She taught us all to play it (I think she had more luck with my brothers, it made very little impression on me.) but I remember when she pulled a spindle and some fiber out of her backpack. Like Mary Poppins, she had whole worlds in that backpack!  I was fascinated watching her MAKE yarn! Make yarn? Didn’t yarn come from a store?  She was obviously pretty creative because she grabbed a pencil and an apple from the table and made me my own spindle and taught me how to spin.  My spindle didn’t last long, and the ability to practice spinning left when she did – but the idea and feel of it in my hand lingered.  It was many years before I was able to spin again, but I doubt I would have tried if she hadn’t been my babysitter when I was so young.

None of the people my age knit as an adolescent (that I knew about) so it was like having a secret ninja skill. I might not get invited to parties, or get to hang out with the “cool” kids, but I didn’t have to buy my sweaters, I could make my own – in whatever shape, color or texture I wanted! I enjoyed that secret.

Really, the list of people are endless who play a part in making us who we are, but most of the important ones when I was growing up, were fiber people

PLACE

The place was RIGHT: I spend my adolescence in Maine, where it’s cold.

MarthaHallStore.jpgMy town had a LYS where famous people came to teach classes (Elizabeth Zimmerman, for example) so the fact that people could be respected for being excellent knitters was an early revelation for me. I remember my mother going to some of the classes – and my mother NEVER went to classes, she was a stay-at-home mother without a driver’s license, so for her to go somewhere without my Dad was a big deal.

Our LYS owner paid me for babysitting for her girls, but she also paid me to work in the shop sometimes, and to knit sweaters for sale in the shop while I was in  junior high and high school.  I could never had afforded the high quality yarn used for the shop sweaters, and as a shop owner she had access to an amazing array of patterns.

This was pre-internet (I just dated myself, didn’t I?) so the only way to get patterns back then was to buy them in a wool shop or make your own.  Since money was pretty scant for “frivolous” things like patterns, I soon learned that I could imitate a pattern, or a sweater I saw on a kid at school, and make my own improvements as I went along.

Being in a place that allowed me to knit many, many different sweaters of different styles and with different wools gave me a huge amount of experience at a fairly young age.  I would have been unlikely to have enough experience to create my own patterns if I had not knit so many sweaters, and so many different kinds of sweaters.  It was also, sadly, an education in how some people will take advantage of your skills and your youth.  When I think of the beautiful sweaters I knit for a pittance that she then sold for hundreds of dollars it makes me sad. But it makes me proud as well, and I learned more about knitting and the business of knitter THERE than I could have learned at almost any other place, I think.

TIME

The time was RIGHT: Hand knitted sweaters were very “cool” when I was young.

Growing up with a mother from another country is always interesting. One of the more interesting things about being a small child with a “foreign” mother (even though she has been a citizen since I was small, that accent just won’t quit!) was that going to Grandma’s house wasn’t just a sled ride through the woods.

One of the fairly few times we went to visit Granny in England it just happened to be at sheep shearing time. What an amazing opportunity to learn about wool and the people and creatures that produce wool!  I remember so much about that trip! The shearers from New Zealand and all the interesting new words I learned from them.  The smell of the freshly shorn wool. The looks on the sheep’s faces as they jumped to freedom and weighed…nothing!  I have always been grateful that we went at shearing time!

It’s odd to me, thinking back, that owning and wearing hand knit sweaters was very fashionable when I was a kid, but actually doing the knitting itself was dorky and socially unacceptable to my peer group.

People at that time would pay a lot of money for a hand knit sweater from Maine. City people on holiday often stopped by the shop to purchase gifts for friends and relatives and paid what I thought were ridiculously high prices.

As a child I didn’t value them as HAND knit, because I had never purchased a sweater.  My Mum had always made our clothes and knitted our sweaters, and as I got older I had always made my own.  I couldn’t quite understand why everyone else wasn’t doing the same thing.  The value of hand knit sweaters from Maine came in handy when it came time to pay for college,  and made that little adventure possible.

I always spoke to my professors on the first day of class and told them that I had to knit during class in order to make the sweaters that made the money to PAY for the class.  I didn’t want them to think I was being rude. Most laughed and said that if I thought I could pass their class without taking notes then it was fine with them.  The only class I remember taking notes in was Biology, no knitting in that class! The rest were OK, I was an English major so I didn’t find it that difficult to not take a huge amount of notes.

What about you?

How did you become a knitter or a spinner or weaver? Think back on all the machinations of fate and time that allowed you to be interested in, learn about, and then excel at that skill.

I am always a little amused, and faintly sad when someone boasts to me that they learned to knit “from a book” or “all by myself.” What a missed opportunity!

How very sad that the time/place/people were not right for them to learn to knit from someone wonderful, in a place that appreciated their knitting, and at a time when it was considered a worthy thing to do with their time and talent.

Was there one person in your past that made it possible, or a group?  Was the location what made it happen or was it the timing of the learning?  There are so many small decisions and tiny happenstances that come through our lives that make things possible or impossible.

Take some time to think on how you came to be a spinner or how you learned to knit and stop a moment to give thanks for the people, places, and times that allowed it to blossom in your life.

I Teach Knitting

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never had any children, my garden patch is a perennial mess, and it’s unlikely that I can affect any change in social conditions, but I have taught people to knit.

That may not sound like much, but I am proud of that fact.  I am not going to win any Nobel prizes, save any lives, or cure any diseases, but I know that those I have taught to knit, those who really wanted to learn, and continued to practice after our class…I know that their lives have been genuinely improved by knowing how to knit.

I know that knitting has sustained them through a grief, or has calmed them during a crisis, or has helped them to breath easier at some point in their lives.  It’s a simple unassuming habit, knitting, but it brings such joy into our lives.  It centers us, it renews us, and it puts all things into perspective. It makes us proud, it sometimes humbles us, and it always keeps us mentally active – no matter how old we get.

Over the years I have taught hundreds of people to knit. If even 1% of those who I have had in a class go on to improve and enjoy their knitting then I feel that was a worthy contribution to this world.

Heavy thoughts to precede a list of classes? Probably, yes, but as the year closes and I hear everywhere evaluations of who has and who hasn’t “succeeded” in the past year I take comfort and satisfaction in knowing that many of us have knitted things that kept kids cozy, have expanded our minds by learning new skills, or helped others by sharing what we love.

Winter 2015 Classes

That being said, There are some new classes I have coming up this winter.  They are all held at the Crooked Stitch in Rocky Mount, VA and you can sign up through the Franklin County Parks & Recreation or by contacting me at Spinfoolish@spinfoolish.com.  You must sign up in advance to be accepted into a class.

Alee Socks2I teach a sock class, and a learn to knit class every month.  They are fun to teach, and fun to take!  I love having pictures of my student’s work. Here is one I got last week from the December class.  Aren’t they awesome!!

The sweater class in January is really intense.  We talk about EVERYTHING sweater related while working on the skills necessary to knit a simple top down sweater. There is a lot of room for experimentation, asking questions, and polishing skills you might find challenging.

New Shawl Class

3650795690_217dc096b2_zI am excited about all of the classes, but the one that is new this year is the shawl class.  In March we will be knitting the Aestlight Shawl by Gudrun Johnston.  Aestlight means “east light” in the dialect spoken in Shetland.  3598128995_9861a41025_zThis is the perfect shawl to learn about shawls with because there will be a bit of straight knitting (garter stitch triangle), practice learning to pick up stitches, some non-threatening lace, practice learning to use a chart, and ends with a beautiful introductions to edgings.

This is what Gadrun, the author has to say about it:

3598129431_fed2547395_zThis shawl is knit using a traditional Shetland construction. It begins with a garter stitch triangle increasing from the point outwards. Stitches are then easily picked up from the very visible yarn over loops along the edges and the border is worked outwards from the triangle. The shawl is finished with an edging that is knitted sideways and attached to the live stitches of the border as it is being worked.

3598130367_8acf46c41e_zThere are two sizes, so you need either 450 (smaller) or 550 (larger) yards of sock yarn.  I think it would look super in either a solid color, a tonal, a multicolor or a combination!  I am really excited to share this shawl with students!!  If you can’t wait until March let me know and we can organize an earlier session.  If the class fills up (4 students) we will arrange a second class, so let me know if you are interested!!

What About You?

What type of class would you like to take?  A hat class? A color-work class?   What would you like to learn?  What sounds like fun to you?