Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Judith MacKenzie McCuin - Another Rock Star!

Writing about Judith MacKenzie McCuin yesterday started me thinking about the workshop I took last September.  It was hosted by the Greater Los Angeles Spinning Guild, which reminds me of one of the reasons why I love my fiber arts community so much.  I knew only one member of the group that took this class, yet I was given such a warm welcome and everyone was so friendly, I felt like I was among old friends.  I think there are no strangers in this craft  - just friends you haven't met yet.

The workshop I attended was one of three offered -- one titled "Spinning for Color" and two sessions on "Popular Wheel Mechanics."  In hindsight, I think I would have tried to sign up for all three if I had had any idea how interesting and inspiring Judith would turn out to be.   She shared a lot of personal anecdotes as she guided us through the mechanics of different types of spinning wheels, shared techniques for getting different results with a single type of fiber just by making a couple of changes to the wheel, and shared quite a few samples of different fibers -- which was what I needed to finally begin to understand how the characteristics of the fiber affect the spinning.   The class was conducted in a circle and it was fascinating to look around and see all but one or two people (there are always at least a couple of THOSE people) hanging on her every word.

I was so caught up in the class that I forgot to take pictures except for this one:


Pretty pathetic, because I really would like to show the whole circle.  But that's Judith using a Hansen MiniSpinner, third from the left.

 During the course of the class, Judith made it a point to talk with each person one-on-one at least a couple of times, look at their wheels (she even helped several people replace their drive bands and did some minor repairs) and their work, make suggestions, give gentle praise and even gentler criticism.  This is my idea of a true teacher -- one who shares knowledge, points out where, and more importantly, HOW you can improve, and makes students believe they can master the task.  I'm sure it helps to have students with the desire to learn, but she was working with students at all levels from rank beginner (me) to near-experts and somehow everyone seemed to come out of the class with new skills.  I will definitely take this class again (and anything else she teaches) if the opportunity presents itself.

The moral of this story:  if you have the chance to study with a rock star, take it!  One of the best things about spinning and weaving is the centuries of tradition that have led us to the point where we have access to wonderful tools and all kinds of wonderful fibers.  The best teachers not only share their skills with us, they share the stories and traditions they have learned along the way.  They not only inform, they inspire.  Which may be the reason that I now have pounds of wools and silks in my stash just waiting to tell me what they want to be when they grow up.

 What I actually learned in this workshop:  spinners usually develop a treadling speed that doesn't change regardless of what they're trying to spin -- so to change the thickness of your product, you must vary your tension and whorls.  I made this sample using just three whorls on my Joy and some Corriedale roving.  For each size, I increased the tension until it became impossible to spin, then moved to the next whorl. at the lowest tension that would draw in. 

We also tried several different techniques: woolen, worsted, semi-worsted, over-the-fold, techniques for joining fibers, plying, some novelty yarns with slubs and boucle.  And different types of fibers - blends of wools with cashmere, silk, and bamboo, as well as several types of sheepswool. 

By the time we reached this point my brain could take in no more and I didn't finish sampling all the fibers and techniques Judith presented.  All the more reason that I would take this class again in a heartbeat!

Oh, yes -- and reminiscing about this workshop and the wonderful people I met, I was reminded that I had been intending to join the guild because they have such great programs.  Sent in my application form today.

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