More than a ribbon


Spinners who love county and state fairs enjoy telling others about how yarn is made. These events provide opportunities to educate the public as well as demonstrate spinning, display yarns, and compete for awards. According to your newsletters, it is not uncommon for groups to hold a guild day and come in shifts to spin and weave for hours before crowds of people in exchange for a free pass into the fair and an opportunity to pass on their passion to onlookers. Categories in the Home and Family Arts Division are often sponsored by local guilds providing cash or in-kind awards for winners like a subscription to Spin-Off or a basketful of new fibers to try. Over the years, your newsletters have provided many insights about why it is important to participate in these activities. Here are just a few of your comments that tell of more to be gained than a ribbon or recognition.

An annual Fiber Festival with skein, garment, and fleece competitions is organized and sponsored by the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild (New York). Member Wendy Caffee thinks of the contests as a way to get objective criticism from a qualified judge on her entries rather than competing for the best place. Hearing the judge review others has provided knowledge of what makes one person’s work superior to another or the specific faults that indicate where further skill is needed. “I have improved a lot over the years and much of that is due to being aware of my weaknesses.” Setting long-term goals to attempt small steps toward improvement has made a difference for her. She asks others to enter the contests to “consider sharing with the rest of us” what they are doing and have learned that year.

To encourage entries into the state fair, Susan Quel of the Clotho's Children Handspinners (Virginia) commented on how easy it is to enter and (often) win in a category. But that is not the point in her opinion. “The point is to show visitors to the fair that handspinning is FUN! That it is an exciting, contemporary craft well within the grasp of the modern American fiber hobbyist/craftsperson.” She states how thousands of knitters, crocheters, weavers, and seamstresses walk past the display in the Arts and Crafts Building, often only having seen spinning performed by costumed historic interpreters. The idea of producing stylish modern garments from handspun yarns or seeing striking colorful yarns outside a knit shop may never have occurred to them. “Let’s show them how much we love handspinning and how many of us are out there to help them on their journey into the joy of spinning.”

One program held by the Contemporary Handweavers of Houston (Texas) consisted of a panel of experienced and knowledgeable members talking about different aspects of exhibiting work and entering shows and competitions. Examples of handspun yarns, felted pieces, and garments were discussed in depth. An issue that was addressed repeatedly was why we should exhibit in the first place. What seemed to be a common thread was a desire to share “the work of our hands with others in the hope of pleasing and inspiring. And because each person is inspired by different things, the more people there are exhibiting different types and styles of work, the more inspiration is available to us all.”

An example of that kind of inspiration taking place is the recent formation of The Pirates of the Treadle, perhaps the world’s only all-boy sheep-to-shawl team. Two years ago Sam C. saw an “all-girl lineup” card, spin, and ply at the Indiana State Fair contest on the youth team sponsored by Conner Prairie (Indiana) Living History Museum. He said to himself, “I bet we could do that” and watched as his friend Andrew learned the skills to become the first boy member. He says they “decided the time had come to break the antiquated stereotype and I was chosen to be the captain of this new posse.” At their first competition last summer, they were awarded third place with a scarf auctioned off “for a hefty sum.” For the 2008 contest, the team has added two new members, and Sam cautions us to “keep a weather eye out” for their crew. Sue Payne, an accomplished spinner, weaver, and knitter, serves as a volunteer mentor to the teens working with them throughout the year in the Living History Museum to hone their skills. She is quick to confirm how the kids teach and support each other, working on each team’s makeup (there are now three teams) so seasoned members are placed alongside newer ones. Sue says, “These experiences spill over onto the newer members and it creates a cohesiveness that is amazing to see.” In mid-September, the museum held a large agricultural event with a competition for the employees to show their crafts. Two youth spinners had created a red, white, and blue scarf in front of the public on July 4th in the Loom House. They entered it in the contest and won “Best of Show” for all youth categories. It’s this kind of challenge that entices others to find out what the fuss and fanfare is all about. I can hardly wait to see this year’s state fair when the Pirates of the Treadle go into action.

Do you spin in one of the following states or countries: Africa, Alaska, Denmark, Germany, Hawaii, Ireland, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, or Washington DC ? If so, we would like to catch up with your news! Please send your group’s activities and events to me at Finding a group of spinners near you is as close as a click away in the Spinner’s Resources where all those meeting regularly have listed the name of someone to contact via e-mail or snail mail. Your group does not have to be “official” to get listed. Casual gatherings or yearly get-togethers open to others may be listed, too. Follow the easy instructions for entering the required information and get connected!

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