Thursday, September 27, 2007

What I Learned on Summer Vacation

Okay, here are the musings on my experience that I promised. Since I'm limited on time, it is in the form of my interim report to the Lilly Endowment. The report is due Sept. 30; nothing like procrastination. The report requires introspection, so if you're not that into discovering aspects of my personal growth feel free to skip it! :-)

The stated purpose of my proposal was to purchase a spinning wheel and fibers necessary to create handspun yarn, as well as participate in spinning workshops in Nova Scotia. I planned to create handspun yarn for a one-of a kind knitted sweater. Upon return to Indiana, I hoped to use my spinning skills to demonstrate for students the process of turning natural resources into finished goods.

Using funds from the grant I purchased a Majacraft Rose spinning wheel. This is a high-quality wheel made in New Zealand and one that is versatile enough to meet a spinner’s needs for a lifetime. I planned and carried out my visit to Nova Scotia. This trip included two weeks of workshops at the Spinner’s Loft. While in Nova Scotia I also explored the province’s fiber community with visits to historical sites, sheep farms, and an alpaca farm and fiber mill.

I have yet to set up a demonstration for students. The beginning of the school year is so hectic for all concerned and teachers have not yet reached the point in the social studies curriculum which my demonstration would address. I plan to work with the teachers over the course of the school year to showcase this production process when appropriate. In addition, although I have begun spinning for my planned sweater, producing enough yarn for the project is quite time-consuming. I expect this to be an on-going task which will take most of the school year.

Although I have done most of what I planned with the project, so much of it has been unexpected. Above all, this experience offered me more than I expected. I learned so much more than just how to spin, I was offered more opportunities than I anticipated, and I was changed more than I foresaw.

Learning to spin was a challenge, in no small part because I had to step outside of my usual learning styles. I am very much a visual learner. I process things best by reading (no surprise in a librarian). I even learned to knit by teaching myself from a book. I prepared extensively for my trip by researching the area I was to visit. It became a joke among Leslie (the teacher) and Paula (my fellow student) during the workshops that any place they mentioned I had read about.

During the spinning workshops, however, I was immersed in tactile experiences. Both Leslie and Paula assimilated knowledge by doing, rather than reading or seeing. I was forced to do the same. Although Leslie demonstrated and explained all the steps involved, I could not simply follow directions in order to spin. There was too much information I could not understand until I experienced the work. It required lots of practice, literally feeling my way through the fiber. It was only as I practiced later the next week that I began to see clearly the various parts of the process that had been explained earlier. I began to have a better understanding of students who learn by this method.

The grant also opened doors and created opportunities otherwise unavailable to me. Although the financial support made this experience possible, the credibility factor was important as well. Instead of showing up off the street and asking to see behind the scenes at a historic site or to visit valuable farm animals, explaining that I was on a grant to study the fiber community gave my requests a certain legitimacy. If the Lilly Endowment gave me their money, surely I was trustworthy. In addition, people went out of their way to suggest other contacts I should pursue while in the area. I will add, however, that there was a certain amount of incredulity outside of the fiber community when I explained what I was doing. Generally people found it hard to believe that teachers would be given money “just” to explore areas of interest to themselves. It was yet another example of why this fellowship program is so rare and valued.

Finally, I was surprised at the amount of personal growth I experienced as part of this program. I fully expected to learn the skill of spinning. I did not foresee the amazing jump in self confidence that traveling on my own coupled with learning a new skill would produce. The logistics of being away from home for five weeks required a lot of planning. In addition to fitting all expenses into my budget, travel produced unexpected situations to be met. Whether dealing with the discovery that I had planned a drive of too many hours for one day or that there was no air conditioning in the dormitory during a week of 90 degree temperatures, I was left to my own devices to find solutions. Doing so more or less successfully showed me I can face everyday challenges at work with aplomb as well.

Simply leaving behind the day to day experience of my life, which had fallen into a rut, gave me new perspective on things as well. Every day did not have to fall into a routine. Change was exciting. On the other hand, the return home was comforting too. Although I settled back into my work routine within days, the memory of my experience reminds me that the four walls of my library truly are not the limits of my world.

Based on my new skills, my new confidence, and my new perspective, I hope to share my skills with students, complete the spinning of yarn for a sweater, and perhaps even begin a small Internet-based yarn business in the future. I would also highly recommend the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity program to fellow educators.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stealth Knitting

Lots of stealth knitting going on now as we come into the pre-holiday knitting season. I'm still spinning but for some reason I'm really motivated to knit right now so I'm taking advantage of that feeling to get a jump on Christmas gifts.

I absolutely love the colors in this mystery object:

A unstealthy (is that a word?) finished object:

Scarf from my handspun Ashford wool top. Modeled by Bear. Bear normally lives in my memories cedar chest, but I thought she would be the perfect model. She's been around since I was in the single digits age-wise (my mom - a very talented seamstress - made her).

I believe the official name for this colorway is "Thunderstorm," but I'm going to call this the "Nova Scotia Summer" scarf. The colors remind me of my trip -- green for the foliage, orange for the sunrise, red for the dirt roads, and of course blue. Blue for the sky and the sea. Since it's all wool and very bulky yarn, it should keep me toasty warm during outdoor duties at school in the Indiana winter.

I have three other finished objects, but they are stealth projects, so no pix.

Lady Jane is not impressed.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Two Weeks?!?!

It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since I posted.

How to spend two weeks and hardly realize it:

1. Grocery/laundry/post office/clean/vacuum/bank/oil change/bills/work [life].

2. Put together two bookshelves.

3. Grade papers.

4. Spin some more alpaca single.

5. Knit (while reading if possible). Most of my knitting recently has been stealth projects for the upcoming holidays.

6. Begin spinning some merino.

7. Remember to blog!

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm Still Here

Yes, I'm still here, in spite of a long silence due to my mom being in the hospital with complications from surgery and a couple of crazy weeks at work.

But the spinning and knitting go on (keeping me sane).

The first thing I've knitted from yarn I spun -- a small scarf from kid mohair. I love the colors blended with the brown.

More of the alpaca, although the bag of fiber left to spin still looks full. I've got about 330 yards of yarn now, so I'm hoping by the time I'm finished to have enough for a sweater. We'll see . . .

A sort of head scarf / wrap thingie a friend of mine found in a Spin-Off magazine and wasn't sure she could knit herself.

I think I look vaguely like a Russian grandmother in it, but Meghan is so elegantly stylish in a Victorian sort of way that I'm sure she can pull it off.

I've also snuck in some reading and audio books. I finished listening to The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto, a rather lengthy but fascinating account of New York City's days as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Recently read in print were Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson (turn of the century NYC mystery), The Squire's Tale by Margaret Frazer (medieval mystery), and Three Bags Full by Leoni Swann, which defies categorization but is sort of mystery solved by sheep.

Labor Day weekend and labor is calling -- house to clean, errands to run, spinning to do! :-)