Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part IV: Well, Shut Mah Mouth

Saturday dawned early for Jon, who had a morning class. Sean and I were suffering somewhat from Stitches overload and so took our time getting out to Rosemont after morning of lying about and playing with yarn.

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.

Spindle Signature

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.

Handspun Swatch

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:

Spindle Safe

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.


Rabbitch said...

At my spinning and weaving guild they always say "each one, teach one". And as soon as I can make something that doesn't look like weasel vomit, I shall do so.

Unless someone wants to learn to make weasel vomit, that is.

I knit my very first handspun. It's FAT and ugly and way stupid and I knit it on needles that were exactly the wrong size.

And I'm going to purchase a shadow box and put it on the wall of my studio, I love it that much.

Congrats on finally falling in love with your own yarn. You'll never escape from the dark side now.

(insert evil laugh here)

TurnipToes said...

You always make me insanely jealous of your knitting escapades. How wonderful is it to attend a yarn class only to be recognized and fawned upon by the teacher?!

You always give me inspiration of some sort or the other, whether it be spinning from this posts or just a different outlook on the world.

thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Great yarn, Franklin, and a good looking swatch. I'm so glad it was positive for you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your final comment! I thought I was the only one who's irritated by "Can I take it on the plane?" discussion threads. (The TSA publishes a list! Just look it up, people!)

Anonymous said...

CRAP, did I just start a discussion of knitting/spinning equipment and airplane travel? CRAP CRAP CRAP!!! Can I delete it? NOW FRANKLIN WILL BE MAD AT ME. @#$&!!!

*slinks away*

Anonymous said...

This may be too saccharine for you, but honor must be paid where honor is due. Once more you have demonstrated what an extraordinary human being you are. Even though I have never met you, I feel you are part of my day. Reading your blog helps restore my faith that there might be hope for humanity.

Anonymous said...

Oh Franklin... Thank You for responding/reacting to this class in just the way I would dare hope most participants would. Thank you for sharing your experience so eloquently. I realize "spindle spinning" in a class description can turn off a lot of potential attendees, but - as you now know - this class is more about learning about the inherent energies involved and how simple it is to get just the yarn you want by being aware of and working with these energies rather than trying to force the fibers into something you *think* will pass as viable yarn. Ah well - here's hoping that your lovely review of my method of teaching with the spindle (which can certainly lead to vastly improved wheel spinning) will encourage more people to give it a shot. Warm fuzzies - Merike

Anonymous said...

I have been very closed to the idea of starting to spin because a friend has been doing it for years. After reading this entry I realize if I want to try it, there is no reason not to. Maybe I'll never reach her heights but I can have the fun of trying something new.
Takes a "big" man to express his opinion for many to read and then to admit he made a mistake. Glad you did about spinning.
As a female, I also think you are right about the washroom. A sign and helpful staff attitudes would be VERY appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I'm delurking to add my voice to the anonymous post above. He/she said it better than I ever could. You know your beliefs and stand by them but you are also open to another's thoughts/feelings or points of view. I could get more sappy/syrupy sweet but I won't! You're not only a great person but you're fun! And you knit! Yay! I'm getting a hankering for taking up knitting myself. And look - that sweet teacher posted to your blog! :)

Darci said...

I so have the same "fear of not being successful, perfect, masterful" in front of others when trying something new...

southern gal said...

can one teach oneself how to spin with a spindle?

its something i have wanted to try for awhile but havent let myself start another craft that requires more stash enabling... however, i think i have to. at least try.

Anonymous said...

How strange. I know so many bloggers who spin and dye, but this is the first time I'm telling myself "wait... and what if I actually learned to spin?"

Either this woman has incredible powers - or perhaps you really got some!

However, I was just passing by and wanting to let you know how much I am enjoying reading your blog.

PS: your handspun swatch looks great!

Anonymous said...

I do so agree that if XRX had put up a sign apologising and directing you elsewhere to pee (politely, I mean!) that would have alleviated the insult and probably defused any arguments. Often it's being made to feel that you are being walked all over or ignored that upsets you far more than the act itself.

I'm a new addict to your blog, Franklin! Your descriptions of Stitches or Meg's camp make a poor event-deprived Englishwoman feel much comforted - I can experience them vicariously - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well, I wanted to tell you not to worry, Merike is a great teacher, but you sure didn't seem open to hearing it! Besides, it could have still been something different for you. Glad it wasn't.

Tamarack Gerrie who can not remember this password...

Karen said...

As someone that wants to learn to spin(and a longtime lurker) either on a spindle or wheel, your yarn looks beautiful to me. I agree that one needs to learn from another spinner. Teaching yourself from a book just doesn't cut it(she says knowingly). Now, if I can just find someone local to teach me....

Anonymous said...

It's even possible for men and women to share 'facilities'. At last year's Knitting and Stitching show in London that's exactly what happened. Staff stood by (outside!) to make sure everyone uderstood what was going on. I noticed that the men washed their hands very thoroughly! We (women) just looked straight ahead as we walked up to the cubicles. No problem.

Susie said...

The more you use that spindle the more you'll love it. I had Tracy make me a 2.1 ounce Comet with a 12" shaft (no salacious comments please..) because I like to pack a huge whomping copp of yarn on the spindle without it wobbling, and the extra room gives me that option. It's a dream to spin with. Aren't you glad you stuck with it?

And I envy the class you took. I've been spindling for 14 months and have never seen another spindler spin...I'm self taught. There's so much one can learn from such a wonderful instructor. Maybe there's still time to catch up with Merike before summer's over?

Congrats on the beautiful handspindled yarn. You're in deep now.

Anonymous said...

The last time I went to a Jimmy Buffett concert at Tinley Park, women used the men's room along with the men rather than wait in long lines. Maybe if they start serving margaritas and Coronas with lime at Stitches ... just a thought. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Heheh! You don't even want to know what kind of fit I can pitch if there are no handicapped facilities. The last time I was turned out of a store by a security guard because of my service dog (despite the state supplied ID we have and despite the fact I was actually AT the check out paying at the time - had he shut his fool mouth I'd have been out of there in 1 minute flat), I went out to the car, got the state cops on one phone and the store manager on the other. Let's just say that there is one security guard who isn't going to quickly forget that service dogs are allowed - not just seeing eye dogs.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Franklin, great-lookin' yarn there! You've had the breakthrough; now you'll just get better. Ok, there'll be the inevitable plateaus where it takes a while to get some additional technique - but you've gotten over the hardest one. And as Merike said, spinning with a spindle does help with your wheel spinning. Plus a spindle is a heckuva lot more portable. Kinda like a small knitting project. ;)

Side note to sogalitno - Yes, you sure can teach yourself to spin from a book! I did, back in the 70's when there were very few books with enough tech details. Took wheel lessons as soon as I could find a teacher, which sure helped, but by then I had the basics from the drop spindle. Search Amazon for books, read the reviews, pick a few out. Try to find 'em at your library first, so you can see which would work best for you. Then go for it. Just stick with it, it'll come. Although if you can find a local guild, you'll run into more people willing to teach than you can shake a spindle at.

Unknown said...

Merike is so right. That's why I include spinning in my blog. I've been seriously thinking about doing a spinning get-together at Rhinebeck. I'll be happy to bring my Joy and my wonderful Comet spindle. Anyone up for it? I'll be happy to help beginners, any time.

I will only buy spindles from Tracy. He's a great guy and his spindles are fabulous.

Unknown said...

Oh, and your handspun--just outstanding! I'm so glad you took that class. I wouldn't mind taking a class with Merike myself.

CP Warner said...

Way to go, Franklin!!!! I resisted hand spindles of any kind for years, though I had some. Then I signed up for a knitting/spinning/dyeing retreat in Scotland this summer, and I knew I could not bring a wheel. That would have been way too much luggage. And lest I spend more time "dropping" than "spindling" and thus looking like an ass in front of the teacher (Freyalynn Close-Hainsworth, who has recently been published in Spin-Off), I bought more spindles and practiced my head off. Because I had a handle on things when I got there, I was more willing to try Freyalynn's suggestion of breaking away from the bottom whorl spindle and trying the top whorl. Needless to say, I am now addicted. We all had so much fun playing that afternoon! I even bought Viking replica drop-spindles from a Viking re-enactor in the Shetlands. Yes, they are primitive. Yes, they wobble. Yes, I succeeded in spinning nice yarn on them anyway. And working with "problem children" makes other spindles seem so much easier to use! I adore the portability and am surprised at how much yarn I have been able to make in a short space of time. My goal is to spin and ply enough of my Coopworth in-the-grease locks to make a pair of socks. Your swatch looks terrific! I hope I may have a chance to take a class with Merike someday myself. Thanks to your recommendation, I will make it a future priority! Keep up your good work and ENJOY!!!!


P.S. -- Hey. how come the first three letters of my word verification are "tsa"???? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well done. Well done spinning,well done blog, but most of all....well done on dealing with a fear,and turning it in to joy (no wonder they named a spinning wheel that name.)

To Sogalitno , yes you can lean to spin yourself, I spun for 15 years before I took lessons,then I took some lessons and learned how to spin better.You know, even spinning bad yarn made me happy.

Now I spin for speed, fast fast faster.
I own 2 wheels, a fast one and a faster one.

It's fun to make yarn, fat slow yummy yarn,skinny fast sweet yarn, going to the garden to spin yarn yum yum

Opps sorry to break out in song.
I a happy girl.

Anonymous said...

I sympathise re your lack of bathroom arrangements. As you said, organisers MUST cater for ALL their guests, not just the majority.

I was recently away for an craft weekend with friends at a campsite with dormitories, which is mainly used by school groups. I'm gluten intolerant (wheat etc) and not only did I not have to explain it to the cooks, they had alternatives planned for me. It was delightful to be specifically thought of, instead of left with only salad to eat.

FiberQat said...

Very nice handspun, Franklin. I've been struggling with my spindling and hope to find a class some time this year where I can find out what I'm doing wrong. I know the right teacher is out there.

Thanks for explaining what goes on behind putting on group events. I hope it helps others understand. Let's hope that your blog and others help the organizers of the next Stitches remember to consider their male attendees.

Lacefreak said...

Your hands-spun yarn is quite lovely! It sounds like you've found the teachers that suit your soul the best. Though you may be one of the "shy" ones, you too have been teaching with each post, you just were not aware of it:)

Anonymous said...

Your yarn is beautiful. I've been sitting next to an unused spindle just waiting for the "right moment"

Tallguy said...

Oh, Franklin, you did good! I'm so proud of you, and as happy as you are! But to be fair, you've had some excellent teachers along the way, not even knowing it. We have to remember the wonderful Ted, who showed you that indeed you CAN spin a yarn. We were all behind you, silently encouraging you, and knowing in our hearts, that once you experienced the thrill of making yarn exactly right for you, you would be hooked. Just one person at a time, and we will take over the world! haha

To those of you that are wondering why you can't gather up courage to pick up a spindle and spin, I would like to give each of you a kick on the far side, but will have to settle for pointing you into the right direction. Yes, you can learn from a good instruction book, or a website, and there are several. The best is to have a real live person at your side guiding you along. Where to find them? Check out the link at Spin-Off for all the spinning guilds, find one in your area, and go. They are enablers as much as I am!

You can also announce to no one in particular (the universe in general) that you want to learn to spin -- and then watch all the teachers appear right at your elbow. They are there, waiting for you to be ready and to ask.

You know, Franklin, we are expecting some truly fantastic knitting from your very own hand-spun hand-dyed hand-knit yarns!! Because we know you can do it. And you will!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed meeting you at Stitches, briefly but wonderfully. And Now i've gotten caught up with your blog. I'm the "susan" photo'd in an earlier part of your Report from the excessively controlled consumer-driven wonderment known as Stitches.

I'd gone to the big quilt extravaganza in Houston, so I sort of knew what I was getting in to.
I did LOVE seeing all of the things knitted and worn by other knitters (with the Men wore things, too....and I did challenge you to Make Lace-wear a must do for Real Men).

so next year-let's organize a Near-But Not Even Close anti-Stitches extravaganza where NOTHING is for sale. But borrow and exchange will be tolerated. Heck, I'd help organize (take it back, take it back).

susan-up north in Madison

Anonymous said...

I'm with Ted. Great yarn. Oh, and the handspun is nice, too. These are the stories that make me love ya like I do.

Anonymous said...

When I learned to spin I took some classes, and there was much of it that I resented. She made me learn on a spindle (I wanted to be on a wheel) she made me learn prep (I wanted to jump in.) in short...

She was a really good teacher. The best part though, was that she told me that each spinner has a responsibility to teach another. That passing spinning on has always been done this way, and that as the knowledge dwindles, it's important to tell people so nobody takes their knowledge out with them.

Like Rabbitch I heard "each one teach one" a lot. I get some sort of fuzzy glow when I think about saving spinning for the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled at the sight of your beautiful yarn. Primarily because of how much joy it obviously gives you, and the class sounded lovely, but also because it gives me hope for myself. I bought two spindles at MDSW I haven't used well on my own yet, but I also got a wheel on Friday. Hee.

marie in florida said...

dear; i like your pictures of people. all so natural, as if i'm looking at the people myself, not at all like i'm looking at photographs of people.
does that make sense?
a friend of my younger DD can spin with a bit of straightened wire clothes hanger; isn't that wonderful?

Anonymous said...

Great yarn, Franklin! It's amazing what a huge different the right tool makes, to say nothing of the right difference a huge tool makes (hey, minds out of the gutter -- I was talking about a Rick Reeves production wheel!).

I also love Tracey's spindles; they are simply amazing. Tracey is a consummate craftsman, and I always enjoy chatting with him and finding out what he's got cooking when I see him at the Estes Park Wool Market each June. I about died when he demonstrated his spindle safe by putting one of his glorious spindles in it and standing on it!

Thanks also for sharing your experiences with the class and reminding us about the power of a positive attitude.

Sherry W said...

Franlkin, I take back my comment about being unsympathetic as in relation to bathroom signage. I do still support the need to change a few of the bathrooms to ladies rooms at an event with so many more women, but that's no excuse for a lack of signs.

Julia (MindofWinter) said...

What a nice post. I am also self-conscious about spinning on a drop spindle in front of others. It's so silly - time to get over it!

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

I had a similar problem with spinning at first though I acknowledge that the actual problem was probably standing (cursing and snarling) between the spindle and the roving and not the actual spindle which was quite serviceable. It cannot be denied, however, that when I switched to a different type of spindle (in my case, a Bosworth) it suddenly got a lot easier and my singles got a lot better. I passed on the first spindle to someone else and she loves it. No troubles at all. Maybe they were a better match.

I noticed at the fab fiber fest in santa monica yesterday, that willingness to teach and talk and share the knowledge that is so common with knitters and spinners. It's rare nowadays. But when you encounter it, I don't know, you definitely do get that sense of being a link in a chain of knowledge. Not to mention the sense of community with a lot of other people who understand the need to constantly get more room for stash and perhaps hide fiber.

Anonymous said...

Nothing of great import to say - just that I thoroughly enjoy reading what you have to say. Oh, and I also thoroughly enjoy pestering my husband by reading him Dolores' 'pithy' comments while he's in the bath.
You just make me smile.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, Okay, I sympathize with the men's room thing, except you do have one of those pointer things making it easier for you to go in the bushes than moi. BUT Mongradon!!!! I mean, taking out the men's room is so minor compared to his main sin: ruining Knitters' Mag. Used to be such a good publication, has been shit since he got there.
And Amy? Where is Amy???? The best writer they had on staff. Warmth, humor, skill, that is, skill with knitting AND writing and teaching both, and did I mention humor??? Where is she since he got there?????

Lucia said...

Will Merike be in Rhinebeck? Will you?

Of course, unisex bathrooms. Looking straight ahead works very well. (Except for the one guy who would stride about in the altogether. I remember him and the ceiling all too vividly.)

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of "each one,teach one", but I also work in a yarn strore. And teach knitting there as part of my job. So sometimes I wonder, when do I teach for free,and when
for money. I can't teach everyone that comes into the yarn store,and some how I don't think I should if we run classes in the store. That goes for spinning as well.My good friend is a spinning teacher, and althogh she dosn't teach for her income,she does spend tons of money /time learning more skills by going tp spinning school every summer, in turn she does teach for money thru guild events or at local shops.
I don't think people should expect to get taught for free, but it seems to be that handwork,(be it knitting, spinning, sewing crafts) should be a free ride.Maybe it's because a lot of us were taught these skills by friends or family, we feel we should pass these skills on for free.
I get so mixed up over this topic, but I guess what I want to say is......
If you want to learn a skill be it knitting spinning ect. try teaching yourself,or look for a guild or stich and bitch,but if you are learing form someone for free,it is a gift.Remember that and maybe offer to pay,(lots if people will refuse payment) or gift them in a way they can not refuse. Knit them some socks, buy them a coffee ect.
So each one teach one but also mind your manners,
and don't expect free lessons. Sorry for the long rant. denny

Anonymous said...

It's a hoot how we all have to be perfect the first time out. It's the same with knitters. I had to ask someone in beginning knitting clsss to try a little positive thinking as she learnt to purl.

When crochet was kicking my a**, I was the same. My drop spindle contains about 10 yards of not the prettiest stuff in the world but it's a first go. I'm giving myself a month. Every time I get another mini-lesson I am told something new or wasn't ready to learn.

When people ask about it I show them and let them try. And tell them a little every day does it.

It can't be perfect in the begining or there would be no skill to it. There would be no joy in discovery and mastery.

dpaste said...

Well said and stated. I used to spin a lot when I was a kid, but I kept getting nauseous.

Oh, wait, I thought you meant...

Anonymous said...

Franklin, your yarn is gorgeous! We all knew you could do it! We just knew it before you did.

My t-shirts arrived today! Frabjous t-shirts! Almost as much fun to wear (no offense) as the Firefly t-shirts.

Anonymous said...

Well, you've made me want to spin! I'm so glad that you ended up enjoying and being enriched by the class you were so wary of.