I’m taking a Blendlings break today, to reflect a little more about the crazy learning experience that has been the last two weeks.
Spinning has been an on-again, off-again thing with me, and generally a solitary thing. I’ve always enjoyed it, but tended to get caught up larger projects that quickly became awful slogs. During my earliest beginnings, I took a spindling class, and had an informal how-to-use-a-wheel session with a Cloverhill coworker who is an excellent spinning teacher, but aside from the few minutes she gave me, I’ve been almost entirely self-taught. Also, since I moved to Ambridge in 2010, my time spent spinning with others has been virtually zero. (The most local guild was an hour away and met at a time that I was obligated to go to chapel for seminary.)
Without that social aspect, I was not motivated to carve out the time for spinning. Knitting made a lot more sense in my life. So I spun, sometimes, but haphazardly, not really knowing what I was doing, and only semi-satisfied with the results. (I even taught spinning a couple of times. Lord save us!)
This particular spinning jag didn’t start with the social side. It started with Deb Menz’ Color in Spinning, though the idea clung on maybe tighter than it would have normally because of the social aspect of my plan of doing daily blogs about it. But as I googled around, with the intention of genuinely improving my skills, I found I was suddenly ready, not just to share my silly experiences, but for the Spinning Social Scene.
See, even when I had a Spinning Social Scene (i.e. in Maryland, pre-Ambridge), I wasn’t ready for how intense it can be. They talked about things like twists per inch and treadling speeds and how many wheels they owned and twenty kinds of draft, and that’s just the stuff I understood. Spinners are Technical Nerds. I just wanted to spin to relax.
Spinning to relax is awesome! There is nothing wrong with spinning with a relaxed attitude toward results. I mean, I always loved the yarn I made, like you love your own child that you pour yourself into, even when you have the kind of morning that has you cleaning out poop from under your fingernails. (Ask me about my Sunday.) No question, I loved my yarn. I just had a limited amount of input into what kind of yarn I was making, which left me with a sense of insecurity and unease about the whole thing. I wasn’t willing or able to invest in improving yet.
I’m ready to be a Spinning Technical Nerd now. Spinning will always be ultimately about relaxing for me, but as I wrote about before, I’m ready to start integrating intention and creativity, right brain and left brain, paying attention and letting go.
Blendlings 1-5, from left to right. You can see how much the yarn changes as I veer around experimenting towards what I want!
My access back into this social scene, and the Technical Nerdery, started in earnest with the Wool N’ Spinning blog by Rachel Smith, which I found while googling around for tips on spinning sweater quantities.
Since I never had a formal class in spinning (at least on a wheel), there’s so much I don’t know. A class would be awesome, but really, just spinning in the same room as a knowledgeable person would tell me so much. Watching a good teaching vlog is like that. For example, just watching Rachel’s awesome video on making samples, in addition to grounding me in that valuable subject, taught me things like:
- Wind on all the way then pull back to get an accurate sample. (Didn’t even know a wheel could do this.)
- Expect your yarn to have lots of twist when you take it off the niddy noddy. (Years of self-doubt for nothing!)
- Change the size of your yarn by changing tension, not by manhandling the fibers. (Oops.)
- Don’t expect to change your treadling speed; change your yarn by changing your tension and ratio and maybe your draft. (MIND BLOWN)
- Twist is about the nature of the fiber itself; ply is about what you want to do with the yarn. (I think?! Must acquire a giant reference work of sheep fibers! or this one!)
Some of these are tidbits; some of these are inklings of huge concepts that will take me years of practice and experiment to understand in a nuanced way, at my own speed. I can see a journey of thoughtful learning that I’ve danced around, not really ready to take plunge, but now it stretches before willing feet, ready to treadle. It’s like the other day when I found a fleece for pennies at the thrift store that fit me perfectly and was almost brand-new: I know I am going to love that thing until it’s shreds, but it’s not shreds yet, and I could see immediately that we have the whole of a wonderful relationship before us.
Check out my wee sample book. I started this before I even encountered Wool N’ Spinning, but the input has been refined. Next time I’ll use index cards, but for this project it’ll be neat to have a record of this whole crazy sampling experiment all in one place.
I connected with Rachel’s style right away, for several reasons. a) She’s super into the technical stuff and the learning process. b) Her taste runs in similar directions as mine, as in, she’s already made lots of yarns and garments that are like the things I want to make or have made. c) She has similar life-limitations that I do – 2 little kids and a demanding part-time job – and is very explicitly intentional about enjoying and prioritizing her family despite her obviously involved relationship with wool and spinning. d) She has a sense of intentionality that resonates with the strategic and purposeful thinking I’ve been leaning into for the last year.
More than that, I think I relate to her wider interactive process. On top of the blog, she started a Ravelry group, and is creating interactive content like color studies and breed studies.* The ability to interact about the things I am learning, with her and with others, is extremely motivating. I relate to that because, in a sense, that’s what my job entails: teaching and connecting with people publicly, in a way that’s open and real but discrete and professional, and in the process inviting them to a wider community and deeper relationship (with God, not spinning, but I think the analogy holds).
*(With the help of her Patreon supporters. I’ve joined at the lowest level, only because I want to make sure this spinning thing is going to stick before I commit to spending a lot, but I had to show a little appreciation for how much I’m learning!)
I’m becoming more and more convinced that pastoring is an art. I don’t mean that it’s intuitive; I mean that the process of doing ministry has a lot in common with the creative process in art and craft as I have experienced it. It takes a lot of trial and error. There are skills to pick up, but you learn by doing, and beautiful things come out of the failures as well as the successes. It’s more about vision than materials, though it’s easy to get caught up in materials since they’re important. The vision is not ultimately about what you made, but about what you are trying to evoke and bring to life in the people who interact with what you made, together and individually.
I know that one reason I’m digging into spinning so intensely right now is that I’m going through this same process at work. As it happens, I have a huge project that’s been building up for six months, and starts today. The difference is, it’s being made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Among other things, that is the only reason I’m not a train wreck of a human being. Talk about intention, creativity, and letting go, in the context of community: I do my part, I have lined up all my ducks, but what actually happens is entirely out of my control.
Parenting is like that too. I’m not a teacher, but I would guess teaching, mentoring, management, leadership, share a lot of that resonance. These probably true any time your ultimate goal is about people, rather than things. Connections are what make us and motivate us.
So I’ve had a connection, and that’s reconnecting me with spinning. I’m almost reminded of the heady days when I first discovered The Yarn Harlot, and she set me off spinning and blogging with a passion. I hope the connection is strong enough to make the spinning stick this time. Send up a prayer for me as I do something similar at work.
What about you? Do you find that’s true? What do you love to do now, for fun or work, because someone inspired you personally? Was it an individual, a community, or both? Do you still have those connections?
P.S. I know most of my readership is family, friends, and fellow knitters, but if you’re a spinner reading this, would you give a wave in the comments? I have been very open about the fact that I am learning; if you see I am using the wrong term or doing something dumb, I do welcome your feedback. I probably wouldn’t if you were commenting on, say, my parenting style. But, living three thousand miles from the nearest spinner’s guild, I’m happy to rely on that more charitable corner of the Interwebs that is the Online Spinning Social Scene!