As I thought about how to begin this essay, describing my amazing time at SOAR 2011 in Manchester, the first thing I did was to bring out my SOAR notebook. It started its life as an unassuming lined notebook, but as the week progressed, the hole punch I had squirreled away in my supplies turned it into a festival of handspun yarn. Tassels of Clun Forest, Hog Island, Shetland, Lincoln Longwool, Manx Loaghtan, and many others adorn the edges, and index cards with bright stripes of handpainted handspun singles fall out at a moment's notice. It is the most tangible piece of evidence I own of what I learned last October, but the memories are worth even more.
Over the course of my fiber career, I have taken blushingly few classes, let along ones that were as stimulating as those I was privileged to take at SOAR. In Deb Robson's Rare Wools class, I learned that my path didn't necessarily need to be either/or: that academia and fiber had many possible combinations and iterations that I'd never dreamed of. My training in anthropology made me swoon at the possibilities in breed development—how would a major historical event effect breed characteristics? And how would certain waves of humanity meet with other waves, dragging their varied and wild flocks of sheep behind them? Besides giving us a stunning variety of information for the plethora of breed samples we had to play with, Deb's enthusiasm for our questions was unparalleled and wonderful.
Jacey Bogg's class on thick and thin and coiled yarn was similarly mindblowing. I am a workhorse yarn spinner—thin, even, 3-plies ready for sweaters and socks. I added Jacey's class to my registration because I knew it would be a kick in the pants—but it was so much more! Learning about her incredibly precise perspective on the physics of spinning brought art yarn from an unachievable and mystical form to something even my little nerd heart could love and grasp.
The other classes I took with Beth Smith, Stephenie Gaustad, and Janel Laidman left me reeling with new information and ideas. I had never spun cotton, nor played specifically with long wools, nor considered the various possibilities of pivot points and color shifts in hand dyed fiber. I left on Sunday morning completely overwhelmed, but wonderfully full of new information that I couldn't wait to implement.
However, alongside the learning experience I gained from the classes, I learned almost as much from my fellow participants. The nightly gatherings in the lobby, the conversations around the lunch table, the flurries and giggles as we all tried to fit ourselves and our wheels into the elevator in the morning—I have never been in a group of more interested and interesting people. I absolutely loved getting to know the other scholarship recipients—their dedication to furthering spinning in their community is utterly commendable. Among these wonderful, powerful women, I felt sure that their strength and love of spinning and fiber would keep it safe and flourishing for years to come.
In the months since SOAR and this revelatory experience, a lot has changed in my life. I was given the opportunity to work behind the scenes for one of my favorite yarn companies, Brooklyn Tweed, which necessitated leaving behind my teaching positions elsewhere. I have also spent the last year working hard on my knitting design career, only really letting myself take a break to spin on weekends. I've been so privileged with where I've gotten to go in my design career this past year; since SOAR, I've had eight designs published, with another seven in the pipeline. But even with my focus on the business side of the industry, the things I learned at SOAR are still with me-one of my current WIPs is a Sheep Heid hat (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/sheep-heid) using the rare wool samples from Deb Robson's class for the colorwork; the hat will make its way into the SOAR scholarship auction as soon as I've worn it at Rhinebeck!
I'm also dusting off my teaching shoes to prepare for the New England Fiber Arts Retreat (http://www.medomakretreatcenter.com/newenglandfiberartsretreat.php), where, among other knitting and felting classes, I'll be able to teach one on one spinning lessons again. And every few weeks, I thumb through that notebook, so full of funny overheard comments, scraps of yarn, and priceless notes, and remember what a wonderful experience SOAR was for me. Thank you again to the scholarship committee for giving me this amazing opportunity to learn!