Mousie Does Yarn School

Greetings, readers!  It has been two weeks now since Mousie and I returned from yarn school with ALL THE FIBER, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to unpack the whole experience.

The premise of Yarn School is simple: twice a year, a couple dozen fibery people descend on a former school in the tiny town of Harveyville, Kansas for a long weekend of spinning, dyeing, fiber prep, good company, and really good food.  The actual experience is a marathon of making and making and making that leaves one sitting under several pounds of fiber wondering what just happened.

This was my first Yarn School, but I had attended Mitten School in the fall, so I was not entirely unprepared.  Dinners are served at a continental hour so I brought lots of snacks, Kansas weather is unpredictable so I brought layers (although not enough layers: I forgot to figure humidity into the temperature), and the bathrooms are shared so I got out my shower caddy (and then forgot it on the vanity at home).  I had registered in January, and had this crazy notion that I would drive there with my Ashford Traditional, my preferred spinning chair, and plenty of space to pile high with yummy yummy fleeces.

Yeah.  East central Kansas to Phoenix is 20 hours and I hate driving.

So Mousie and I flew, sans wheel (Yarn School has school wheels to borrow) and sans fiber (because I ran out of packing time and tumbled out the door at the last minute).  Two flights deposited us in the middle of a glorious Kansas spring afternoon, and there was the shuttle, ready to ferry a little handful of spinners out to Harveyville.

As an aside, I hated the drive from the Kansas City airport when I lived in Kansas because I always flew the cheap flights, the ones that depart at 6 am and land at 11 pm.  That late at night, the highway is a narrow little strip undulating through a black void with spotty radio reception.  I spent many hours steering grimly through nothingness, hollering along to CDs and blearily pondering my chances of survival if I hit a cow or a deer or drove into a ditch (depending on the ditch, hitting a deer might give better odds).

During the day and with company, the drive is a lovely jaunt through the countryside.

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Mousie rides the shuttle

I had forgotten how beautiful the Flint Hills are in spring.  Wide skies, puffy little clouds, exuberant green celebrating its victory over the freeze and fire…

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So much green

(I mean fire literally: they burn the prairie every year)

Topeka gives way to big homesteads and tiny towns, you pass a few large fields, and then you’re in Harveyville.

When I arrived at Mitten School, everyone was set up in the front hall of the High School, which doubles as a physical store for Art Club.  For Yarn School, there are enough people that the gym is opened up and everyone sets up their wheels in a big circle.

We found the school Traditional and joined in:

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This first night would have been the perfect time to break out my fiber from home and get practicing.  There are several hours between check-in time and dinner, as the spinners are trickling in and everyone is getting settled.  Shortly before dinner they hand out goody bags with fiber inside, but I had several hours before then so I dashed upstairs and found some fiber from a Merino/Romney sheep named Jayne Cobb.  That became my between-class project: get enough singles spun up to ply and bring home.

Day two we dove straight into Dye Lab.  I couldn’t get over how perfect it was that Dye Lab is held in the old science lab, complete with sinks. I had only dyed fiber once before, and then in a workshop that focused more on mechanics than color sense. Adrian Bizilia of Hello Yarn (*fangirl squeal*) taught us both how to get the dye onto the yarn and how to handle the colors to get appealing results.

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My color inspiration was desert plants: palo verde, bougainvillea, and blooming cactus. The results were a bit too poke-your-eyeballs out bright to be strictly accurate, but I’m pleased I even got this close (Also Adrian was super cool about helping me figure out dark brown: I threw out one batch of wonky brown dye but reeled in my perfectionism and ran with the second batch).

Lunchtimes, Mousie got to meet all the fiber animals.

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The alpacas did not want to visit

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Ashley the English Angora

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Mohair goats viewed from a safe distance

Saturday was a carding class.  I had seen Nikol (Art Club proprietor and Yarn School mastermind) carding batts at Winter Woolfest, but I didn’t realize until this class how addictive carding can be.

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Just one more rolag…

Drum carding most of all because you can fit so much fiber on the drum and it blends quickly, but with a nice big pile of fluff I found myself getting into the flow with the hand carders too.

In between classes I sat with the other spinners and worked on my Jayne Cobb fiber.  Many attendees were on their third, fourth, or fifth Yarn School and came with several years of expertise.  Everyone was friendly and eager to share tips, suggestions, and equipment (note to self: if you’re not going to bring your own wheel, do bring your niddy noddy to get your yarn off the borrowed wheel).  I was not quite ready to try out an e-spinner, but I did ply my singles on a tensioned lazy kate…oh my gosh, the world of difference.

Suddenly, it was Saturday night and I was chain plying my one bobbin of Jayne Cobb…

Mousie and the Chain-Plied Merino Romney

We made yarn!

Not perfect yarn, but better yarn than I’ve spun before.  Thanks to Yarn School I learned how to determine what the “right” amount of twist is for the yarn I want to spin, and how to adjust my wheel to get that amount of twist.  I know there’s a lot more to learn beyond that, and practice will help me get there!  My goal is to spin at least once a week and eventually nail a “standard” yarn (ideally a two-ply fingering weight) that I can reproduce reliably.  This fall is already booked up so I don’t know when I’ll get to return to Yarn School, but I do know that I want to go back!

Until then, practice practice practice.

Oh…and I may have some new fiber to practice with…

Ikea rolling cart piled high with spinning fiber

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