When I finished my undergrad, I didn’t read for a year.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as my journey as a Master Spinner student is over. With a text-heavy major and minor, I was forever reading through all five years it took to get my degree (an extra year because I took work experience). When I was done, I was literally done with reading. I continued to buy books, but just never found myself sitting down to read them. This was very out of character for me. The earliest fights my sister and I had were because I wanted to read and she wanted to play. Books were my friends, my escape, and my parents still expect me to write the great Canadian novel someday (though they may be giving up on me as I get older!). So that I didn’t read for that one whole year was… huge.
Master Spinner is a six year program, one year longer than my undergrad, and in its own way just as heavy. I have been doing spinning homework of one form or another for over half a decade, and I don’t mind telling you that at some points over the last couple of years, I’ve wondered why I was putting myself through it, and sometimes I think I got through not so much on love of the craft, but on sheer willful determination and stubbornness. And in the same way as I bought and received books throughout my undergrad and after, I’ve been buying and receiving spinning fibre throughout all the years of my certificate.
But unlike reading, spinning is a physical skill. And despite being finished, I know I have so much more to learn and practice. So this year, I actually set out with a plan for Tour de Fleece.
I was going to get through a lot of fibre. Small Spinning Box samples on my Traddy, large Spinning Box samples on my Hansen, ridiculously huge Corriedale project on my Joy, and a random Polwarth/silk I pulled from the stash on my great-grandmother’s wheel. Did I expect to get it all done? If I’m honest with myself, no. But that wasn’t the point of the plan. The point was to not have to think about it, but to just spin.
My volume of output was hampered by traveling two weekends in a row, and temperatures breaking 30 C for a good part of the Tour (and my fibretorium is one of the warmest rooms in the house given its south face, two windows, and hardwood floors). But I am not displeased. Those nine skeins measure out at 452 grams, 1,707 yards total plied, and if you want to add in the singles yardage (taking into account pieces of the two large skeins on the right were spun before), that’s another 2,818 yards, for a total of 4,525 yards that I spun over 23 days.
(As an aside, while I know why we all measure yarn in yards, the actual total means nothing to me because I’m Canadian and we measure the height of people in feet but everything else in metres. So for anyone like me, my total plied yardage is 1.56 km, my singles yardage is 2.58 km, and my total spun yardage is 4.14 km. That last is an hour’s walk if I’m having a good day!)
I used three of my four wheels and a spindle. I played with fibre I’ve never used before, and some that I have. I tried to match a singles I spun a good two years ago, and despite thinking I did pretty good, still have 40 grams of the newer singles left over. I have some great yarn, and some not so great yarn, and some yarn that really needs the right project to make it useful. I didn’t get to any part of the last two 200g skeins of the Corriedale project, nor did I do any spinning on my great-grandmother’s wheel. I still have quite a few small samples left to spin, and one big one. But you know what? I spun.
I didn’t put it aside and say that I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel burned out, like I did after my undergrad, though I was afraid I would. And my hands, even on the days where they were sore and not moving well, knew what they were doing. I spun woolen, and worsted; I plied from bobbins, I chain-plied off a plying ball, I plied on a spindle; I challenged myself, and I just let the fibre and my hands do what they wanted.
Somewhere in the last three weeks, and I’ll have to apologize because I don’t remember when or who said it, but someone was admiring my work and said, with all affection and a little teasing, “It’s almost like you’re a master spinner or something.” And I had to smile and say yes, but I’m more a master spinner in the way that Master Li was a wise man in Bridge of Birds, with the half-closed eye on his sign: “Part of the truth revealed. Some things I see, but some I don’t.” (Hughart, p. 18)
Wisdom and mastery is not about knowing it all, but about knowing how much you do not know. But after these three weeks, I know that I’m a spinner, and I’ll stay behind the wheel.