Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spindling Class Begins Saturday!

A note to any of my students who read this prior to the class: you WILL succeed in learning to spindle - as long as you're willing to give yourself time to learn. Muscle memory isn't built in a single two-hour class, or even in three. It's built with patient practice, a little bit every day. It's akin to learning to play a musical instrument; in order to become proficient you must not only study theory (learn about fiber), but practice playing (spindling). Everyone knows that learning to play an instrument takes some time. So be gentle with yourself, and grant yourself the time needed to learn. The reward, as with music, is a lifetime of pleasure.

Now to the blog entry! I'm teaching a spindling class beginning on Saturday. My LYS is offering it because there's a lot of interest - partially engendered by my sitting and spindling or wheel spinning at Thursday evening work sessions and before or after my knitting classes. Not to mention showing off fiber purchases!

I'm looking forward to the class, especially since all the students have become fiber buddies, either through taking a previous class or sharing time at the shop. While I teach spinning one-on-one on a regular basis, it's been a couple of years since I taught multiple students simultaneously, and those classes are always fun. (I work hard to make them fun!)

I've been thinking a lot as I go about the studio and house getting everything ready. Not about the tools or the fibers, or even the instructional materials - I've been thinking about spinning itself. Turning it around in my mind, so to speak. Since I already know and like these folks, I'm investing a lot of myself in this class (even more so than usual). I truly want them all to succeed in learning this new skill so we can share that as well as our knitting and crochet. My thoughts have ranged widely, dissecting past classes and trying to incorporate lessons I've learned from teaching so many through the past fifteen-plus years. Since writing things out helps my thought processes, here goes!

The basis of spinning is deceptively simple - start the spindle going, pinch, pull, release the prepared fiber until the spindle is at the floor, then gather that make on your hand and transfer it to the spindle shaft; begin again. Children get it in no time - my grandchildren could spin usable yarn by the age of five, and my then pre-teen children were spinning wonderful yarn well before I was. Adults, on the other hand, find it more challenging. Perhaps because we've already built long-standing muscle memories for other skills; perhaps because we're not as tuned to our bodies as children. I have no idea. I simply offer it as an observed fact.

I've tried in several ways to communicate that to my students, with less success than I would like. They watch me demonstrate, listen to the steps, then many get discouraged when their muscles don't perform perfectly the first time - or even the tenth. Reminders that spinning requires muscle memory and practice to build that memory fall on already-discouraged ears. And at least one or two decide that they 'can't' spindle. (These are usually the same ones who want to spin enough to go ahead and invest in a wheel, practice even more steps on that until they have the muscle memory built, then come back to spindling a couple of years later to find that it isn't nearly as difficult as they thought. More on these students later.)

Perhaps it has to do with our initial monetary investment. A good spindle costs $20 to $60 - a couple or three of hours of work at most local jobs. So we expect to learn in a similar proportion of our time. A good wheel runs several hundred dollars or our salary for a week or more of work. So we work longer at mastering the instrument in which we've invested more hard-earned dollars. We have to justify the spending. I'm not sure this explains the motivations of everyone who gives up on spindling and goes on to wheel spinning, but I have seen it happen in about half of the cases of people who decide they 'can't' spindle.

Some students do spend the time to develop the muscle memory for the basic steps, but are unhappy with their beginner yarn. After they learn to spin, shouldn't they be producing perfectly even singles within a few hours at most? Explanations that practice is the only medium by which a beginner reaches intermediate or master status again fall on ears un-tuned to that wavelength. The spindle they bought gathers dust for a while, then gets put into a yard sale or tossed out with the trash during spring cleaning. Such a shame.

Still other students decide that spindling is too slow. They master the muscle memory, and make good yarn. But they don't comprehend the contemplative nature of the dance. The meditative pace of preparing fiber and then spinning, dyeing and finishing yarn distresses them rather than providing a sanctuary. Sometimes these students persist and eventually tune into the melody of history and nature, becoming dedicated spinners and even teachers themselves; sometimes they go back to buying all their yarns because spinning is 'just too slow.' Again, a shame.

The students who come to learn the dance, on the other hand, are frequently the ones who stay with spindling. Their expectations are simple and varied - to learn something new, to learn to use a tool they find fascinating, to make a connection with history or to make their own yarns from their own sheep. Or perhaps just to inject some calm and a semblance of control into their life. These students aren't always the ones who learn the fastest - sometimes they struggle long after the class ends. But they see something in spindling that appeals to them at a level they can't always express. They are the students who start out as spinners, requiring only the skills and practice to succeed.

Of course, there are the occasional students who pick up a spindle, hook it into fiber they've instinctively pre-drafted, give it a twirl, and begin to spin perfect lace-weight singles immediately. It truly is instinct for these lucky few - they seem to channel the spirits of spinners who have come before them. They make a teacher look good, and tend to earn the envy (at least) of their fellow students (grin).

I tend to feel for the other students when a student like this appears in a class. I struggled a bit myself in the beginning. And didn't have the luxury of doing so in private - I learned to spindle at a public demonstration, by demonstrating for the public! So all my first over-twisted singles, dropped spindles when I compensated by under-twisting, and lumpy, misshapen beginner yarn were observed by a couple of hundred strangers who all felt free to comment on my mistakes. After that sort of public humiliation, I simply HAD to learn to spin. So I practiced doggedly, learning mostly on my own, but watching other spinners at every opportunity. I was one of those spinners who 'couldn't' learn on a spindle, by the way. But when I invested a week's salary in a used wheel, I forced myself to practice until I mastered it all.

Upon coming back to spindling, I found something I had missed in wheel spinning - a level of contemplation and calm I found essential to my well-being. Now I spindle and wheel spin, and love both for different reasons, even though the final product, yarn, is identical in both cases. So identical that I frequently can't tell later which way I originally spun the yarn!

Hoping for a high level of student success as well as even more fun, this time I've broken the instruction down into the most basic single components. We'll complete one stage before we move to the next. We'll begin with fondling, investigating, and tearing apart a little fiber, then move on to basic drafting. We'll add finger-twisting, then hooked-stick twisting, and then team spindling. Only after we've done all those will we actually tie a leader onto a spindle, loop prepared fibers through, and begin park and draft spindling one at a time. This may not (probably won't) all happen the first week, but hopefully by the end of the third week I'll have seven new spinners to add to the fold, and three weeks of happy memories on which we can all build!

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