Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spinning Lavish Luxury Yarns at the Campbell Folk School

In honor of NaSpiMoMo, though I won’t exactly be showing you much spinning today, I’ll be talking about it. Because, last week I had enough spinning to qualify for a month’s worth. Knitters, I used to think spinning posts were boring too. It won’t hurt my feelings if you want to come back later.

jcc2008 Spinning Wheels
That's a mess o' spinnin' wheels

I’ve been struggling with how to write about my week at the John C. Campbell Folk School, which is why it’s taken so long. So, I started jotting down random notes and thoughts, and that’s how this was written – as impressions, fragments, and bits. And it's gotten long.

The School

The week was amazing, wonderful, inspiring, useful, informative, rewarding, and more, but in an experiential more than quantifiable sort of way. The experience was almost overwhelming, but that’s a good thing. The last couple of days, it’s not that we didn’t want to go home, but no one wanted it to end. And I would love to go back for another workshop. It’s worth mentioning that I attended an Advanced Week, so all classes were intermediate to advanced level. The level of interest and commitment among all students and instructors was very high, and it was so energizing to hear what everyone else was working on and excited about.

jcc2008 Sunset
Sunset on the mountains

Located in Brasstown, in very western North Carolina, the School is about a two hour drive from Asheville, or Atlanta, or Chatanooga. (The Hub was going to drive me down then visit clients and friends for the week, but there’s so much going on with family and work that instead I flew to Atlanta and drove up). It is a beautiful rural setting, with Blue Ridge mountains in the distance, and the campus sits in an open valley that rolls through woods and fields, down to a creek. The numerous buildings that house the School’s operations range from simple and rustic to new and well-designed for their function. For early January, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Yes, there were chilly frosty nights and some rain, but mostly we had clear warm sunny days and mild evenings. Which made walking from my room to the main lodge to the dining hall to the classroom quite pleasant.

The food was wonderful, fresh, and mostly homemade. The bread, Oh! the bread was fabulous. Served family-style in the dining room with its high ceilings and windows all around, meal times were some of the highlights of each day. You never know who you’ll be sitting with, or what they might do in “real life”. If you want hilarity, sit with the Blacksmiths, those guys are nuts. Be ready for bad jokes and flirting!

Housing ranges from dormitory style rooms to double rooms with a private bath. When space permits one may pay an upcharge for a single room, though it may still have a shared bath. I was in the Hubbell house, which is newer, and it was quite comfortable. Rooms have no telephone or TV, but if you really need a fix, and bring a laptop, there is wireless broadband in the library of the Keith House.


It was a true escape from the rest of the world, and to tell the truth, other than going to knit night at Yarn Circle, I didn’t even leave the campus. It was full immersion spinning, and in addition to the 30+ hours of class time, I spent almost every waking moment in the spinning studio, even skipping the other crafts demos and contra dance. On my next trip, I’ll get out more.

jcc2008 Samples
Click for big, and check the notes for all the fiber types

I don’t have much product to show for my week, just a collection of lots of sample skeins and control fiber and yarn in my notebook, although many things were tried and learned. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have had a workshop like this so early in my spinning career. It wasn’t so much about drafting, or woolen vs worsted, or which hand is where. It was more about the process of trying new fibers and techniques, and where they can take you.

jcc2008 Notebook page 1
Fiber mustaches and control yarns

We were so busy spinning, and watching, and asking, and doing that I barely had time to take notes much less remember to get the camera out. And that’s my excuse for not having many photos, but honestly did you really want to see photos of us sitting and spinning? Or dirty goat hair? Or wondering as we waved around our hand combs what TSA would say if they were in our carry-on bag? OK, Well, click HERE for a small set of photos on Flickr that you can view as a slideshow.

Patsy Zawistoski, our instructor, has more than earned her nickname Most-Excellent Hand-Spinning Guru.Calm! In addition to knowing a whole lot about spinning, she is funny, easy-going, engaging, and can set an exceptionally fast pace for a week-long workshop. We worked with luxury fibers from alpaca to yak. Seriously, angora, huacaya and suri alpaca, camel, cashmere, llama, mohair, possum (no not our opossum, NZ brushtail possum), silk, and yak. We used some commercially prepared roving and top. But we also picked, washed, dyed, carded, blended, and combed. We plied with thread, woolly nylon, wool, and beads. We made faux boucle, slubby yarn, cabled yarn, thick yarn, and thin yarn.

jcc2008 Capelet 3
There IS a story that goes with why her shrug is on her head

Our class had so much fun together, and really got along well. What a great group we had, all women, ranging in age from 20’s to 60’s, professional, non-traditional careers, retired, and just starting out. New spinners, veterans, skilled and unskilled, even several with goals of producing handspun to sell.

jcc2008 Davidson Hall
Davidson Hall

Spinning and Dyeing classes are held in the “Wet Room” on the ground floor of Davidson Hall. Cooking classes are held next door, and too bad nothing was scheduled during our week! The large room has wonderful natural light, long expanses of countertop, cabinets full of tools and equipment, three stoves, four sinks, washer/dryer, many tables, a full complement of stainless steel pots for dyeing and soaking, clotheslines, and ample room for a baker’s dozen spinners and all their gear.

jcc2008 Mohair in the dyepot 1
Mohair in a "scouring dyepot" - wash it and dye it in one lazy step!

The School has a broad range of equipment available for student use – many and varied spinning wheels, hand cards and combs, drum carders, swifts, etc. About the only negative comment I have is that much of the equipment (our instructor called them orphans) was in need of more TLC than it has been getting – cleaning, oiling, minor repairs. In addition to bringing my Lendrum Folding Wheel, I spent time spinning on the School’s Majacraft Suzie and Kromski Polonaise, as well as a classmate’s Ashford Traditional. I like Saxony wheels more than I thought. For those that are curious, class participants’ wheels included four Traditionals, five Lendrums, one Schacht Matchless, one Polonaise, one Joy, two Louets (not Victoria).

jcc2008 Carded Blends
Our efforts with the drum carders

At the end of our week, all the School’s students gathered for a closing ceremony and Show and Tell in the big meeting room of Keith House. Ours was one of the largest classes that week, and though I said we didn’t make much product, it sure looked like we’d been busy when we set everyone’s samples out.

jcc2008 Display
Show and Tell

*Fiber Enabling Alert* For some beautifully hand-dyed BFL, merino, and Firestar rovings, go check out classmate Gale Evans’ new Etsy shop Gale’s Art, though, really, the photos don’t do her pretty rovings justice. Gale brought some samples with her to class, and she didn’t take any home as we snapped them up, and sent her back to her studio with orders for more! All the colorways can be dyed in merino or BFL. Though my favorite, if she still has the fiber, is Black BFL which gives each of the colorways a darker and deep smoky subtle look. PM her on Etsy to ask about semi-solids too, since I bought a gorgeous Leaf Green of hers at Knitch before I got to the airport. But, that’s another post.