Our afternoon class was "Spinning for Knitting" with Merike Saarniit.
This is Merike Saarniit.
I went into Merike's class with a Bad Attitude that makes me want to smack my own head. The reason? That curious object she's holding in her right hand: a drop spindle. In the registration packet I received for Stitches Midwest, the description of this session had been amended to note that we'd be using spindles in class, and could only use a wheel if we brought our own.
Upon reading that, my inner brat kicked into high gear. You see, among my many neuroses is a gigantic fear of doing something in front of other people if I'm not reasonably certain I can pull it off. This has made me a pain in the neck to many people on more occasions than I care to ponder. Even worse, it has often kept me out of situations in which I might have learned something new and valuable.
I'd gone ten rounds with my spindles, of which I possess two, and been knocked out cold every time. On my wheel, I'd turned out acceptable beginner's yarn. On a spindle, I'd spun exactly 17.5 inches of a nice Merino singles while Ted was there to watch. Everything else: Variations on a Theme of What the Fuck Is That Supposed to Be.
Things improved somewhat, I will admit, with the arrival of a new spindle. I had been working with a spindle of which I am fond because 1) it is lovely to look at and 2) it was a present from one of the best bloggers on the Web, of whom I am even fonder. Ted admired the spindle as well, but suggested that for my purposes another tool might be better for learning.
And did he have a specific tool in mind? He did. And here it is.
This little gem is a 1.6 ounce top-whorl comet by Tracy Eichhelm of Woolly Designs. Ted gave me my spinning lesson on one of Tracy's spindles, and I was encouraged enough to immediately order one. It's made with tender loving care. Look, it's even signed.
As well it should be. A tool of superior make is a work of art, after all.
More about Tracy's spindle further along. Now, back to Merike.
When I found out I was going to be called upon to spin on spindle in front of a class, and therefore make a Gigantic Honking Ass out of myself, I wrote a couple things in this blog that sounded exactly like the noises you would expect from a Gigantic Honking Ass. I did something one ought never to do: I judged something before I experienced it.
So when Sean and I arrived at the classroom, I was actually shaking. That may sound bizarre; but I was confronting one of my great fears. And I was immediately set upon by Merike, who ran up to me, said she loves this blog–and gave me a big hug.
Whereupon I blushed beet red with shame and the neon "ASS" sign over my head began to flash.
It burned brighter as class progressed. Merike is so in love with spinning that the warmth pours out of her in great waves and within about two minutes, I realized I was no longer shaking. She was not at Rosemont running through the basics with Beginner's Class #2,752 just to make rent money. She was genuinely joyful to be sharing her spinning know-how.
I wrote the following quote in my class notes and surrounded it with stars:
"The best way to learn about spinning is from other spinners. And with this knowledge comes the responsibility of passing it on."
When she said that, a frisson ran through my entire body. The sheer arrogance of what I'd been feeling appalled me. There I was, a link in a chain of spinners going back to the beginnings of twisted fiber. To learn to spin from a good teacher is a privilege. And to presume that I could, or should, know everything perfectly before even showing up was not only absurd, but an affront to the subtleties of the craft.
At a pace that was (for me, anyhow) perfect, Merike took us through the steps of changing Coopworth roving into yarn using our spindles. She was such a good teacher that even the two women who had brought their wheels did not (so far as I saw) even touch them. We spun, and we spun some more. And then we plied.
There was a feeling in the room that I hope I never forget. Most of us, it turned out, were spindle novices and there was a release of warm energy as our spinning found a groove and we began to produce. Round and round the spindles went, copps were built up, and although we were mostly silent you could almost hear a buzz of happiness.
And then Merike told us we were going to ply what we'd spun. She set us up around the room and neatly demonstrated the technique, and before I knew what was happening I'd created the best yarn I have ever spun: an almost perfectly balanced, miniature skein of pretty, even yarn.
Here it is, knitted into a swatch. Until now, I've never liked my yarn well enough to bother knitting it.
It ain't much, but it means a lot to me.
Thank you so much, Merike. What you taught me is already making me a better spinner on the wheel, too. And kids, if you ever get a chance to take a class with her, do it–even if you think you hate spindles.
More About Tracy's Spindles
They spin like a dervish on speed, the prices are insanely reasonable, and Tracy can also provide you with one of these:
It's a spindle safe. I was able to carry my spindle around even in the crowded Market without worrying it was going to get bent or broken. In these days of You Can't Take That On a Plane Anymore,* can you think of a better invention?
One Last (And I Mean Last) Word About the Missing Men's Room
I note that two commenters have no sympathy for the removal of the men's room from the Stitches Classroom area. That's okay. I still have sympathy for you, and the fact that all too often you encounter a long wait in public spaces. I hope things will improve for you.
Next, my complaint is not "hating on" XRX. I don't hate XRX. Why would one waste valuable energy hating a fiber publications company?
If one has an issue with a business, one has three options. One can suck it up and keep buying. Or, if the business is doing something truly egregious, like polluting the environment, one can (and should) protest and take action. If the business is merely unsatisfactory or unresponsive, one can withhold one's business. This is what I will do if XRX confirms that they truly would prefer to keep Stitches a women-only event. I hope it will not be so.
As for my not being senstitive to the enormity of the task of putting on a large event, I am part of a staff of 26 who are responsible for roughly 100 events per calendar year ranging in size from theater evenings of 100 to multi-day class reunions of several thousand. We do this in addition to a punishing schedule of producing publications both print and electronic, running educational programs and providing customer service for other areas of the university.
And this is what I know: the needs of all guests are to be taken into consideration. This is why wheelchair access is necessary, and vegetarian options must be part of a meal plan even if one is only expecting three vegetarians and one person in a wheelchair. That a particular paying customer is in some way a minority is no excuse for neglect. The XRX folks could have changed over that restroom and also put up a sign directing the men to their alternate accommodation, but they did not. That very simple act of kindness would have alleviated much of the ill-feeling.
Now let's talk about something more savory, shall we? There's too much good stuff in the world to dwell on urinals.
*No, I haven't heard anything about spindles not being allowed on planes. But you never know what's going to change, do you? Nota bene: Please DO NOT start a discussion of knitting/spinning equipment and airline travel in my comments or I shall be very cross. I mean it.